Coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, the state of Louisiana is often forgotten about in our thoughts about the United States. If anyone has ever had any connections with Louisiana, it is often misconceptions about Louisiana—such as the newest TV hit “Duck Dynasty” or about a time when they traveled down to New Orleans to celebrate the lively, yet eccentric world of Mardi gras. Due to these limited perceptions, people tend to be misled about the traditional way of life in the majority of Louisianan communities, which tell a much solemn story to how life really is. But that’s about to change.
Upon arriving in the small bayou town of Larose, Louisiana, our group was immediately greeted with a sincere welcoming, as we had been a part of their town all along. Soon after, I instantly noticed the network of community bonding at its best: several dozen residents were working together in the kitchen, to smoothly bake and transport food to the festival. Dozens of multi-generational families had come together under one large pavilion to promote their culture by cooking delicious homemade dishes. A few community members spread their experiences through live music entertainment, which brought numerous people together to support the small country bands and created a nonjudgmental atmosphere for residents to partake in recreational Cajun dancing. The majority of the town knew everyone by their first names and always had something complementing to say to each other. However, it was the perseverance of the community which was the most remarkable.
Beneath the cooking and entertainment, there was a story of hardship and devastation. Besides having to deal with the frequent hurricanes that visit the Louisianan coast, the community of Larose has been battling with the overwhelming effects of the BP oil spill in 2010, as well as the fear of the rapidly declining coastal regions. Many of their residents lost their jobs and threat of limited fresh water and food came upon them. With the help of a few people, the whole community was able to overcome these challenges once more, and continue to live their lives as if nothing had ever occurred at all. For most of the United States, people often ignored the oil spill as a “minor accident” because they couldn’t imagine the suffering these people experienced or how much this affected their daily lives. But listening to Celeste’s story brought a sense of sympathy in my heart, and made me understand the TRUE way of life for Louisianans.
So, what does leadership mean to me? It’s a group of people sacrificing every last resource you have, in order to bring the community together for prosperity and restoration. It’s not giving up, showing support for each other, and continuing the traditions of your lives. From traveling to Larose, I feel now it’s my responsibility to help inform my homeland about true Louisianan lifestyles, because with the impeding problems of coastal erosion, a remarkable lifestyle may be lost and forgotten.
–Live Entertainment by Seabrook
Through Lead LA, LSU offered to its students a chance to travel far and wide to distinct cultural areas of Louisiana. I was able to travel to Larose, LA, where every year the French Food Festival takes place. 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the festival. I was so happy to see elements of my hometown and ethnic culture applied towards an annually successful festival. From meat pies to boudin balls to a spicy fiddler and her band, the French Food Festival does a great job at capturing the Cajun and Creole heritage, traditions, foods, and culture of Louisiana.
What does it take to cultivate and condense the rich LA culture into one small civic center–the only community establishment for social extravaganzas in Larose? Just how is this French Food Festival managed and executed? I did a little research to find out.
From the close of the previous festival, planning for the next one begins. Throughout the year and leading up to mid-October, funds are raised in Larose to hire the band (Amanda Shaw), security, carnival rides, and to rent the Civic Center. All the food is made by private families and sold in booths under a 1.2 million dollar pavilion at the festival. (All the money used to build the new pavilion designed specifically for the French Food Festival was donated! This shows the support for the Cajun culture is quite strong in Larose.) Workers at each food booth are family members and business persons of the food being sold at the booth. Though selling the food is profitable, each booth does pay a fee to have a booth. As for drawing people to come to the event, not much work is needed. Director of the Festival said that “each year, the festival is highly anticipated by the residents of Larose and surrounding cities. People just love to come and celebrate the music, the food, and the culture that really embodies Louisiana. They are proud of who they are and where they come from.”
I will add that after half a semester at LSU (I am a freshman) and half a semester of Baton Rouge food and typical overrated chain restaurants, the food down in Larose really hit home for me. Even though it was only a few hours, I am so thankful that I was given the chance to turn down what is bland and to savor the culture of Louisiana down in Cajun Land!
Geaux Tigers and Geaux Cajuns!
It is an amazing trip. We saw how a Cajun community worked out a perfect combination of French-style food, live band performance, auction, carnival, watching football game, drinking and hanging out on ONE festival! It exemplifies how to preserve one of the most important parts of a culture, food, in this big melting pot. It is also a great time for families in the local community to reunite, brings attention to local communities and preserve the diversity of cultures in the world.
Yesterday, 12 LSU students ventured to the “end of the world” to attend the 40th Annual French Food Festival in LaRose, Louisiana (about 2 hours southeast of Baton Rouge in rural Lafourche Parish). This small community of about 5,000 citizens is situated directly on the water: Bayou Lafourche and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway intersect here.
Upon pulling up to the LaRose Civic Center, we were welcomed with open arms by the festival coordinator, Ms. Jasmine Ayo. She gave us a tour of the new festival pavilion where over 20 booths offered any type of Cajun food one could imagine.
Our community leader for the 2nd LEAD Louisiana trip was Ms. Celeste Uzee, who is employed by Tulane University in New Orleans and whose family has been the festival’s designated gumbo chefs for three generations. She spoke to the students about how the festival began in 1973 as an effort to pull in visitors and make a profit to build a community park in LaRose. The park and civic center are entirely citizen-owned and operated, as the funds to build them were raised independently and no government money was used. Because of this, a unique sense of ownership has developed that has aided the festival in growing to what it is today: an event that brings in 35,000 people over a 3-day weekend from different states and even countries.
Ms. Uzee talked about the importance of motivation as it relates to leadership in LaRose. Citizens of this community feel invested in the festival and the facilities it takes place in, so they work hard to help it succeed. There is no board of directors barking orders at the festival staff; everyone lends a hand, and no job is too menial to be completed by even the most seasoned workers.
We spent the rest of the day eating local delicacies such as shrimp bouchettes, fried oysters, gumbo, crawfish fettuccine, pistolettes, pralines, and many other things we had never heard of-but they all tasted amazing! Being in such close proximity to the water gives one access to some awesome seafood. There were also fair rides, an auction, and music by Amanda Shaw and Seabrook. We had a fantastic time spending a day in deep south Louisiana and getting an inside view on what it means to be Cajun in the 21st century.
Visiting Angola Rodeo was definitely a memorable experience. Before this event I never had the opportunity to attend. I loved the atmosphere, especially viewing the inmates artwork (very talented) and talking to them because it made me realize that going to jail is definitely a chance for rehabilitation and everyone should have a second chance. I also enjoyed the rodeo, because it was also something I never witnessed, it was not as gruesome as I expected, but I still questioned why would someone ever want to participate! lol But, this was definitely an enjoyable & memorable trip (except the three hour ride home).
I can’t believe what I saw until I really got there. Before going, I can’t help being worried about inmates’ mood and our safety. However, I was shocked by what appeared in front of my eyes as soon as we entered the Angola prison region. Everything is so organized under the specific leadership. The performance, festival and even art business! It is not only a special prison. It is completely a new society!
People, although gifted or somewhat innocent due to being at a young age or some specific reasons, made mistakes and that happens nowadays in such a complex society. Neither taking away their rights without any forgiveness nor letting them go back to our society as if nothing had happened, they created a specific society for them to still communicate with our society, express the other side of their characteristics and realize their dreams and gifts. We can see an innovative leadership and operationalization behind everything. What an impressive trip we did!
This past sunday I attended the LEAD Louisiana trip to Angola. This was not my first time to go but it had been quite a while since my last visit to the state penitentiary rodeo. This time my experience was enhanced and my outlook on why I was there. This trip was completely different than any of my other visits. We were there to find leadership! It was everywhere! From the public relations director, to the warden, and the inmates, leadership was clear.
These men have more to their life than lockdown. They are able to express their thoughts feelings and emotion in their artwork. I am an artist myself and it was amazing to see what these men can do! One art that caught my eye was painted turkey feathers! I asked how he painted on the turkey feathers with out them separating. He said ” thats a special secret, if I say how everyone will end up trying to copy me”. Their art is something they prize and finding something unique is a very hard task to tackle, much less keeping it unique to themself.
It was also touching to see the prisoners be able to interact with their family. I saw everything from a prisoner with his mother walking hand and hand smiling and laughing and another walking around with a small child that looked to be his grandchild. These men have hope and that means everything for them.
My favorite part of the day was the rodeo itself. Pictured above is their prayer circle. Before they began the rodeo they pray together. This has been a tradition that was started at the very first rodeo. The rodeo expresses the raw sport that gives them a reason to live. When they fell off their horse or failed to complete their challenge you could see their disappointment in not succeeding. They volunteer to do this and love what they do!
This rodeo and crafts fair is the prisoners chance to support themselves, support their families, give back to society, and leave their mark on the world. It was a fantastic event that taught me that there is leadership in he darkest parts of life.