Monday, September 3, 2012

Roux and segregation in Acadiana

Recently, this Yahoo! article surprised a lot of people who ended up missing the greater point. They were outraged that a private party, not funded by the school, was open to white alumni only. While that was wrong, they seemed to miss the opening sentence "Graduates from the St. Martinville, La., Senior High School Class of 1973 decided that after nearly 40 years, they would stop holding segregated class reunions..."

Saint Martinville is not far from where I live. Like many of the small towns in the Lafayette, LA area it has seen the ups and downs of the petroleum-based economy as well as the death of the textile industry that began the slow spiral in the 1990's. The abandoned factory sits behind a fence topped with rusty barbed wire along LA 31, near a sugarcane field where the stalks rustle ever so slightly in the humid breeze preceding an afternoon thunderstorm.

Like Breaux Bridge, Cecilia, and other towns along or near the often pot hole riddled path of LA 31, Saint Martinville has one church considered to be the "white church" and another which is the "black church". They're often serviced by the same priest who can sometimes literally walk a couple hundred yards from one church to the next. While this seems shocking to outsiders, such as myself, it isn't considered out of the ordinary by a lot of natives. Like the family recipe for gumbo, no matter how burnt and oily the roux, when you point it out, someone will say "well cher (pronounced "sha"), that's the way it has always been".

I worked for awhile when I first moved here in a restaurant that had been built before the end of the Jim Crow era. Often, one of the managers would routinely assign most of the black servers and black customers to the back room. When it was pointed out, it seemed as if he didn't even realize what he had done. There were also many times that black folks, without being directed to do so, would automatically head for the back room. It was as if they were unconsciously carrying on the traditions of the past even as their children and grandchildren continue to integrate more and more.

Like the outlay of the roads which seem to have been designed by a Boudreaux and constructed by a Thibodeaux (You can familiarize yourself with the Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes here) during a night of drinking many years ago, there's a lot of things here that don't make sense. Yet, if you mention it, someone will say "well cher, that's the way it has always been".


  1. It is like this in many places throughout the our United States. And they are not always these far off remote place like many believe. But right in our face.

  2. A lot of folks won't change or are afraid to change. They prefer to leave things be, so they can depend on their narrow view on a daily basis, to be the same. The dynamic in Acadiana is more complicated than other parts of the south. There are so many degrees of mixed blood. Whole towns, black AND white, may only have 5 or so surnames. I worked at all 3 Home Depots in the area,(2 in Lafayette,& Broussard), and found that besides speaking French, many people were clannish. The city blacks(Lafayette) would refer to the St. Martinville blacks as being "too country." Another thing that seemed to never change was the fact that the young men who worked for me never owned coats or warm clothing, so inevitably, they would get sick and miss work all the time. I wondered if it was a special club, that I didn't know about.