The Acadiana Flag

We are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana led by “Beausoleil” Broussard with the Grand Réveil Acadien 2015 this October. Throughout Acadiana and beyond, from Lake Charles to New Orleans, we fête this event centered around Lafayette and Festivals Acadiens et Créoles. The addition of the Acadian ingredient to our cultural gumbo was decisive. We would not be Acadiana without Acadians. There is another important anniversary, the fiftieth of the creation of a symbol that has become over the years a representation of pride and identity and which in recent months has taken on a magnitude its origins could not predict. In 1965, Dr. Thomas Arceneaux designed the flag of Acadiana from multiple images and thus synthesized an emblem of our state that rivals the mother pelican tearing her breast to feed her young.

We know that the invention of the word Acadiana was accidental. One day in 1963, the new television station in Lafayette, KATC, received a bill with a typo that would leave an indelible mark on the area. Founded under the name “Acadian Television Corporation”, someone inadvertently added an “a” at the end of the first word. Someone else with a good sense of marketing found that the name “Acadiana” sounded good and described the region it sought to serve. There is another version of this story which, according to historian Shane Bernard, attributes its origin to the Crowley Daily Post newspaper which created the term to denote Acadia parish only. There may be a relationship between the two; anyway, the word gained momentum when the flag was presented in public. In 1971, the Louisiana Legislature created the southern region of the state composed of 22 parishes named Acadiana; three years later, Dr. Arceneaux’s flag was officially adopted to represent it.

The triple symbolism of the flag, Acadian, French and Spanish, announces our diversity. The star of Mary, the fleur-de-lis and the castle of Castile, in combination with the blue, white, red and gold, are as recognizable to us as the Union Jack for the British or color green for the Irish. It is seen flying everywhere in the region and our compatriots have unfurled it in faraway lands. Our young people have taken it to heart by the waving it with pride. It’s almost as if we would pledge allegiance to it just like the Stars and Stripes.

However, since the tragedy of the Lafayette shooting, it appears that this flag is even more significant. We deplore the death of two young women; Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson were symbols themselves of all that is beautiful and precious offered by our culture. It is all the more senseless and ironic that one of them had taken this flag and other marks of our identity to transform and modernize them for a new generation of activists. It was entirely appropriate that Ms Johnson’s coffin was draped with that flag. In all my years in the struggle for the defense and illustration of the Francophone languages and cultures of Louisiana, I had only seen that twice before. The first time was for Judge Allen Babineaux who, in addition to having been a peerless francophone jurist, was probably this flag’s greatest promoter. The second was for Richard Guidry, educator and linguist to whom the Louisiana French Dictionary is dedicated. I had the enormous privilege of having had these two men as my role models and mentors. You cannot follow a better example on how to live out our history, our language and our heritage. Rightly but tragically, the third was Ms Johnson. All three were fighters for Acadiana, soldiers for the affirmation of our values and our identity. In their own way, they fought for the cause of Acadiana. It may not be a symbol worth dying for, but it is worth living for what the flag expresses. Have a thought for them the next time you see it flapping in the breeze and be proud to live in Acadiana.