State representatives (from left) Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, and Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, prepare to speak to the overflow crowd at the Vermilionville schoolhouse Thursday morning in Lafayette.
State representatives, drawing comparisons to an ignoble past and ill-treatment of the French-speaking people of Louisiana, denounced Gov. Bobby Jindal's veto Friday that cut $100,000 from the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana.
"Our governor decided with the stroke of a pen that we're not going to care about our culture and who we are for simple politics," Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, told a standing-room only crowd in the tiny one-room schoolhouse Thursday morning at Vermilionville. "So we're going to have to raise private funds for Codofil to help save the programs that are so important to so many people."
Ortego was joined by Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley and Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, who all took issue with the cuts that go in effect next year.
Jindal's handiwork came just two weeks before French Ambassador François Delattre is scheduled to visit Lafayette.
"We're here to save Codofil," Ortego says. "It's very important to the Cajun and Creole people and even the Indian people in Louisiana."
In jeopardy are the French Immersion program and the training of its teachers, "as well as the economic impact that it has on tourism, which is the No. 1 employing industry in Louisiana," says Ortego. "That's $60 million of money spent every year by tourists from Francophone countries. And we couldn't find $100,000.
"And my question to that is if the governor is going to cut $100,000, where is he going to find $700,000 that comes back to the state on tourism?" says Ortego. "Every dollar we invest, we get $7 back."
Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, says his ancestors go back 150 years in Louisiana and recalled that not too long ago, students were chastised for speaking French in schools.
"Today we are being humiliated and being punished for who we are and for what we stand for by a governor who has no interest in our culture," says Montoucet, adding that maintaining and protecting Codofil is their priority. "We moved forward over the years and it seems to me that we're starting to move backwards again."
Montoucet says the veto ignores what the Cajun and Creole cultures have done for the state's economy over the years.
Pierre praised the French Immersion program that "tries to teach our children diversity," he says. "We speak about economic development. Economic development starts at our culture and sharing our culture with others."
Pierre urges the public to write the governor that "cutting these kind of programs is touching home."
"This governor wants to say that he is about education reform," Ortego says. "The best way to improve education is to do more of what you're doing right. And if you go look at the test scores of the over 5,000 kids in Louisiana who are in French Immersion today, you're going to find a different story than what was said in that veto pen."
The ability to speak multiple languages is very important, says Ortego. "It's very important to our people and who we are," he says. "It's touches our identity, but it also touches our education and our economy."
Ortego says more than a million people in Louisiana consider themselves Cajuns and Creoles.Jindal's action Friday, he says, "is a slap in the face of all those people."
Montoucet adds the cuts were made "for political ambitions to impress those big bosses in Washington, D.C., so that he can get a position up there," also suggesting that residents buy the governor a plane ticket there.
The lawmakers questioned why sports teams in Louisiana get unquestioned financial support from the state.
"We can give away $4.5 million to the Hornets and we can give away a $10 million facility but we can't find a very small fraction of that for our culture," says Montoucet. "The past five years, we've given the New Orleans Saints $19 million a year.
"You're going to cancel out a $100,000 investment and the future of growing the economy when it comes to tourism in our state," he says. "And you're going to give a handout to the wealthiest of the wealthiest in the state of Louisiana that only benefits their back pocket. It's a shame and it's downright insulting to me as an Acadian and as a Cajun."
The representatives urge supporters of Codofil's programs to write the governor about his decision; they also urge check-writing to La Fondation Louisiane and plan to solicit local businesses for support.
A fundraising gala for study scholarships in France (which was in the works before Jindal dipped his pen in veto ink), is Thursday, June 28, 7:15 p.m., at the UL Alumni House, 600 E. St. Mary Blvd. Tickets are $500 a couple; RSVP by calling 989-0071. The French ambassador is scheduled to attend.