Louisiana’s application to join the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF) was accepted on October 11. But in Paris and in Baton Rouge the “battle” of La Francophonie in Louisiana is only just beginning.
Louisiana is now a part of the institution of La Francophonie. The American State’s population comprises more than 5% of Francophones with 5,000 students enrolled in immersion French-English dual-language programs, and was accepted into the IOF as an observer member at the 17th Summit of La Francophonie in Erevan, Armenia. In a symbol of this moment, the State flag was placed in front of the Louisiana’s chair at the table of observer members.
“For both linguistic and historical reasons, it was natural to accept Louisiana into the vast Francophone family,” says Bertin Leblanc, the spokesperson for the IOF. Mexico and the Canadian federal State along with several provinces including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario were already members, but Louisiana is the first American State to join the organization.
The city of Lafayette celebrated this recognition. “We’re over the moon,” says Peggy Feehan, director of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) which submitted the State’s application last April. [The application was launched two years ago by a Louisianan in Paris, Scott Tilton.] “We now have to use the IOF’s decision as a springboard for increasing dialogue with the 87 other member States and governments.”
Informing the People of Louisiana
The director of the CODOFIL is preparing for the future in collaboration with the governor John Bel Edwards in Baton Rouge, the Louisiana’s capital city, and the senator Eric Lafleur, the spokesperson for the State’s Francophile congressmen. “We now have to work hard on raising awareness, as not everyone in Louisiana knows about the IOF.”
The CODOFIL is hoping for a mandate from the governor to represent the State at future IOF meetings. Louisiana has been invited to attend the Permanent Commission of La Francophonie in early 2019, the Inter-Ministerial Conference in Monaco on October 31 and 31, 2019, and the Summit of La Francophonie in Tunisia in 2020. The State will also be taking part in the upcoming conferences of the Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie and the Francophonie University Agency.
Eric Lafleur was born into a Francophone family in Ville Platte, Louisiana, and sees the decision as a historically important event. “French currently enjoys a far better reputation than it did ten years ago,” he says. “The IOF’s decision confirms the rebirth of French in Louisiana, and we have to keep developing it.” Other projects are also underway, including the creation of new dual-language schools and the allocation of more resources to such initiatives, the development of training for bilingual teachers, the growth of the Francophone tourism sector, and the improvement of structures for welcoming visitors such as signs in both French and English. In the future, “we could also host an IOF meeting in New Orleans, Lafayette, or Baton Rouge,” says the senator. “It would be a chance to promote La Francophonie in the United States and vice versa.”
A Learning Curve
As for the role the IOF will play in the rebirth of French in Louisiana, “it is still too early to say,” says Bertin Leblanc. “We have to give Louisiana the time to familiarize itself with the practices of our organization.” Hosting IOF conferences is traditionally reserved for associate and full members. For example, Armenia hosted the Summit of La Francophonie this year and has been a member since 2004.
The position of Louisiana on the stage of La Francophonie will also depend on the new secretary general of the IOF. The Rwandan Louise Mushikiwabo will replace Michaëlle Jean on January 7, 2019, and “knows the United States very well,” according to the IOF spokesperson. She studied in Delaware, worked for a long time as a translator in Washington D.C., and is married to an American.
Louisiana still has to pay its annual membership fee — around 10,000 dollars for an observer member — before officially becoming part of the IOF. “But we can already start building bridges with the rest of the Francophone world,” says Peggy Feehan. “We really have the wind in our sails!”