Public addresses CODOFIL cuts
A grass-roots effort was successful in raising $90,000 in donations from the public to restore much of the $100,000 that Gov. Bobby Jindal stripped from the budget of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana.
It’s now the state’s turn to match public support, CODOFIL supporters say.
“There’s a very large amount of state revenue produced from our culture — through food, cuisine, music, tourism. Without the language, all of that falls to the wayside,” said Toby Rodriguez, organizer of Lâche Pas, the festival held Aug. 26 to benefit CODOFIL. “That $90,000 shows that there’s a demand for CODOFIL. The people spoke. Now, it’s the state’s turn.”
Rodriguez said he wants to see the state match the $90,000 the public raised so the agency can expand its mission.
He said Lâche Pas, held along the Vermilion River at Cochon restaurant, generated about $55,000. Zydeco and Cajun bands donated their time and local restaurants and beer vendors donated food and drinks to the event. A $100 per ticket brunch held before the evening concerts featured former Gov. Edwin Edwards.
The rest of the $90,000 was generated by individual donations and those made online to “100,000 Cajuns and Creoles,” a campaign started by FrancoJeunes, an organization of young, French-speaking Acadiana adults. The FrancoJeunes campaign was an online call for 100,000 people to donate a minimum of $1 apiece.
“We showed the people of Louisiana, our legislators and our governor that CODOFIL, French immersion and our French culture is important to us,” said Lucius Fontenot, a FrancoJeunes member.
The turnout on Aug. 26 along the Vermilion River left CODOFIL’s executive director, Joseph Dunn, awestruck.
“It was amazing in the fact that it was grass-roots driven and that it was driven by the people of Louisiana,” Dunn said. “That they were actually taking ownership of their language, of their culture and seeing value in it.”
The combined community efforts will help CODOFIL continue its mission to promote the French language and culture, Dunn said.
Jindal’s line-item veto left the agency with about $157,000 for the budget year ending June 30, 2013, Dunn said. Without the additional monies from the donations, CODOFIL would have struggled to maintain its operations this year, he said, and the funding gap also would have translated into the loss of a part-time staffer who oversees the international teachers who teach in immersion and French-language courses in Louisiana’s schools.
“We quite literally would not have had the money to pay the electric bill,” Dunn said.
CODOFIL was created in 1968 amid a resurgence in pride of the language after generations of French-speaking Louisianians had been forbidden to speak their native tongue in school. The public agency, which is part of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, continues to serve as a liaison between the state and Francophone countries to recruit native French-speakers to teach in Louisiana classrooms.
The funding boost will help the agency revamp its website, create promotional materials and continue its part-time staffing, Dunn said.
Rodriguez said the Lâche Pas fundraiser will become an annual event to support CODOFIL.
Lâche Pas means “don’t let go,” and CODOFIL’s mission embodies the expression for its work in preserving and developing the language, Rodriguez said.
“I personally think that the French language is the sun in our culture,” he said. “Without language, without a preservation or evolution of that language, then those different disciplines — music, art, cuisine — become very diluted.”
Marsha Sills covers education for The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau. She can be reached at email@example.com.