Wednesday, January 12, 2011

St. Martinville, Louisiana

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described this area of Acadiana as having a "perpetual summer". That may have been true back in the 1800s, but presently we are very much having winter here.  Back to Longfellow- in this part of Louisiana there are streets, businesses, and even a parish named after the heroine of his poem Evangeline. Supposedly in the town of St. Martinville the real life Evangeline came in search of her lover Gabriel. There is a statue of this woman, Emmeline Labiche, in the church yard of the St.Martin de Tours Catholic Church. In actuality the statue was Dolores del Rio, an actress who played Evangeline in the silent movie of the same name in 1929. If nothing else, the poem and the movie drew national recognition to the Acadian heritage. I am glad too that the legend caught my curiosity enough for me to read Evangeline again. It is a beautiful hauntingly sad romance story.
I mentioned in a previous posting of the diaspora of the Acadians out of Canada. In the museums we toured today we learned more about the kind of hardships which those people endured in 1755. Families were separated, some sent back to France ( those people did return to America), and the others traveled in boats down the east coast. The latter refugees were placed in prisons or turned out to beg in the streets of the cities of colonial America. Many died during their travels. Over roughly 10-20 years later, 3,000 Acadia refugees ended up reuniting and settling in Louisiana. There is an Acadian memorial in St. Martinville documenting their arrival in  Louisiana. Acadian family names are displayed there on bronze plaques, and a large mural depicts ancestors of area Cajuns. Outside of the building, by the Bayou Teche, there is a Deportation Cross, similar to the one erected in Canada, which notes the year of their expulsion from Canada. In the meditation garden there is also an eternal flame in memory of the Acadians who lost their lives in the diaspora, as well as mosaics of Acadian Coats of Arms.. That was an important piece of our United States history, not well known, but which at least Longfellow drew attention to it by writing Evangeline.

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