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I was born and raised in New Orleans, just like my parents were before me. A true Who Dat cheerin’, po’boy eatin’, back porch sittin’, parade watchin’ family. The culture of New Orleans is its own little bubble that people flock to from all over the world.
After I graduated high school I moved to the capitol city, Baton Rouge, to join the ranks of the Tigers. There, I heard a little less “Yat” and the southern drawl was more pronounced, the nightlife shut down with still plenty of hours of darkness to spare, and football was life.
I met my Oklahoma-native husband there, and we soon got married in Hammond where my parents had met all those years before. By that point, I had experienced all of Louisiana, right?
One day, I received this phone call:
Husband: “Where is New Iberia?”
Me: “Um … west? I think?”
Husband: “You’ve lived in Louisiana your entire life and you don’t know where New Iberia is?”
A new job offer sent us across the Mississippi River to a place we fell in love with immediately: Acadiana.
We live in a semi-rural area with a little land but still within ten minutes of a Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, perfect for this city mouse and her country mouse husband. There’s the “big city” Lafayette and the “little city” New Iberia (closer to where we live) and all of its little neighboring city-towns all around. And the flavor here is unlike any other; let me count the ways:
1. The food, oh, the food!
And I’m not just talking about the local restaurants, which are amazing, by the way! (Try them ALL! You won’t be disappointed!) I’m pretty sure people here live in their kitchens. Somebody always has a pot of something on the stove that I can smell from miles away that make my chicken nugget and ketchup-is-a-vegetable meal look like I’m depriving my children of everything that matters in life.
Gumbo, because that is the ultimate measure of authenticity, is a little darker, a little richer, deviating at times from chicken / sausage and seafood to duck, gator or turtle, and often served with potato salad here. Weird, but delicious! Speaking of food …
2. Sharing is caring!
Hospitality is the way of life here! Yes, it is present in other places in Louisiana, but here, it’s just … different. Sick? People give you food and mow your lawn. Flooded? People give you food and help you clean out your home. Family gathering next door? You’re now part of the family and neighbors invite you over and send you home with leftover food. Birthday party? You walk away with goodie bags of trinkets and doggie bags of food. You and your husband are leaving the country without kids (gasp)? Friends sit in carpool for you and fill your freezer with FOOD so your caretakers don’t have to worry about what to feed your kids. Had a baby? You get all the food … and the dessert, because you have to keep up those calories for breastfeeding and energy throughout the night.
And every other week or so, someone at my husband’s work is bringing a large grill or 100 quart crawfish pot and propane tank to cook lunch for the entire plant. And what does my husband get sent home with? Leftover food! Acts of service is this region’s love language … that, and food.
3. Football and Festivals!
You can’t help but fall in love with the community here. Lafayette was recently named The Happiest City in America, and I’d guess it is because everyone here lives life together!
Now, I was born an LSU fan, but there is something about this Ragin’ Cajun family that just makes you immediately add some red to your wardrobe. The entire community rallies around their team and gathers together to cheer them on in a fun and family-friendly atmosphere!
If there isn’t football, there’s a festival around. Besides its family-friendly Mardi Gras, Lafayette is also home to Festival International de Louisiane in April which brings musicians and artist from all over the world together on stages set up throughout downtown, and Festival Acadiens et Creole in October with local musicians, artists and artisans, food and dancing!
And that’s just the “big” city. In Breaux Bridge, there is the Crawfish Festival in May, Delcambre hosts the Shrimp Festival in August, New Iberia is home to the Louisiana Sugarcane Festival in September, and you can guarantee there is always a Gumbo Cook-Off happening around here somewhere. Check out all of the local festivals and events here!
4. Celebrating Artists and Artisans!
As an artist, I fell in love with this area’s love for and celebration of handmade art! Downtown Lafayette and Main Street New Iberia both host regular Art Walks and Art Shows featuring local artists and musicians, celebrating the sights and sounds, and of course the smells and tastes (because there’s always food) of the local culture!
This area is also perfect for the crafty mom who wants to sell handmade items with several marketplaces and farmer’s markets popping up all around Acadiana. Small businesses commonly sell locally-made products as well. We just love displaying and celebrating our local talent!
5. Cajun flare!
Mais cher, you have not experienced Cajun culture until you have lived in Lafayette or the surrounding Acadiana region. My great-uncle traced my maternal family lineage from France to Canada and straight down the Mississippi River. However, growing up in New Orleans with a rich culture of its own, I was a bit lost on my family’s Cajun roots.
Living here for the past seven years has taught me more about my own heritage that I have embraced and grown to love! That Welcome to Louisiana, Bienvenue en Louisiane sign makes so much more sense now that I am living in the heart of Acadiana, where Cajun French dances on the tips of the tongues of people whose families have been here for generations. I can even sometimes hear a slight Cajun accent coming out of the mouths of my three little one-quarter-Cajuns. Sha!