Deidra Fruge (right) is pictured here reading to the group of French Immersion students at Mamou Elementary. The students (in no particular order) are Adelyn Lebouef, Molly Ramsey, Braxton Aymond, Emma Miller, Nora Gotreaux, Adam Fontenot, Alannah Bernard, Brooklyn Antoine, Amelia Thibodeaux, Nolan Guillory, Brook Thomas,Allen Williams, Jr., Blaine Duplechin, Tyson Bryan, Daxton Dillard, Ethan Harris, Abram Martel, and Demi Rougeau. Also pictured behind the students are teachers Emilie Dicharry and Christiane Mirabel along with staff members Laura Chapman, Wanda Verrertte, Nina David, and principal Troy Fontenot. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
La française meets le cadien
The culture of Southern France met the culture of South Louisiana as the two came together for a French Day Tuesday evening at Mamou Elementary.
Cajun musicians Jamie Berzas, Christian McGee, and Mark Young provided musical entertainment during the program that was held in the school’s gymnasium.
Retired teacher Deidra Fruge also entertained the French Immersion students and the many in the audience by dressing up as an old Cajun mama and reading a story called The Cajun Cornbread Boy.
The main event of the night came as the French Immersion teachers at Mamou Elementary Christiane Mirabel and Emilie Dicharry presented a Powerpoint presentation in French and in English showing what the culture is like in their home region of southern France.
Mirabel described that she lives in the south of France near the Mediterranean Sea. “It’s a Roman country,” she said. “The Romans were there, and there are a lot of very famous Roman monuments including a 2000 year old Roman bridge.”
She explained about the caves, castles, and markets that dot the countryside and about the people eating chestnuts, mushrooms, goat cheese, olives, and drinking wine.
A bull fighting festival called La Feria, according to Mirabel, is also popular in the region from where she comes and attracts 900,000 visitors. “They fight against the bulls and try to kill the bulls, or the bulls try to kill the matadors,” she said.
She described the people there as those who enjoy more leisure time of rock climbing and walking and enjoy folk dancing to music played by brass bands. She also described their version of Mardi Gras with “big puppets that are bigger than the buildings” that parade down the streets.
Dicharry comes from a village near Bayonne in the Basque country of southern France, and the lifetsyles of the people there are strikingly similar to that of Mamou and the local area.
One of the main similarities is the influence of Spanish culture. Dicharry said, “Basque is placed in between France and Spain, so we have a part in France and a part in Spain.”
Another main similarity is the suppression of the native Basque language. “Basque language is oldest language in Europe,” she said. “A long time ago, people disn’t speak French in my town. They used to speak Basque.”
“My grandmother spoke Basque before French,” she continued, “and we lost the language in my family because it wasn’t allowed for her to speak Basque at school. All your stories about the Cajun French are just so like my story with the Basque language.”
She described the Basque country as having the largest forest in Europe and being bordered by the Pyrenees Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.
Residents of Basque, according to Dicharry, enjoy eating duck meat, little ham and cheese sandwiches, jam, and almonds. She called Bayonne the ham capital and said people also enjoy eating Axoa, which is a version of a couvillion.
Dicharry went on to explain than Bayonne is a twin city to Pamplona, Spain, and has its own version of the Running of the Bulls that is quite similar to the chicken chasing during Mardi Gras here in southern Louisiana.
“We close a big square in the city, and people try to catch a ribbon on the cow,” she said. “People try to go and touch the cow. You don’t get hurt easily because they have some rubber on the top of the horns. You have to be very willing to get hurt.”
“A long time ago, the cow used to go in the pubs,” she added. “It was strange to go in the pub with the cow just in front of you.”
The people of Basque also celebrate a version of Mardi Gras called La Carnaval where people parade down the streets dressed up in costumes and wearing hats resembling the capuchons.
After the presentation, curriculum coach Nina David encouraged those in the audience and in the community to sign up to read and share Cajun stories as part of a grant to preserve the French language through literacy.
Superintendent of Schools in Evangeline Parish Darwan Lazard concluded the French Day program by praising the success of French Immersion at Mamou Elementary.
“We truly have a great program,” he said. “It’s a model program, even though it’s in its first year. We’ve had people as far as Ruston in Lincoln Parish that have come here because they want to duplicate, replicate, and imitate what’s going on here at Mamou Elementary. You have something to be very proud of, and imitation is certainly the highest form of flattery.”
Lazard went on to speak about the French Immersion teachers at Mamou Elementary. He said, “I was a little worried because I didn’t know if they would be ready for Mardi Gras here in Mamou, but after I saw some of the things on the screen, I think they’re going to be ready for Mardi Gras 2018 here in Mamou.”