Louisiana Avoids French Backlash
Mar 13, 2:08 AM EST
By BRETT MARTEL
Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Don't expect to find "freedom fries" here. And forget about
horse-and-buggy rides through the narrow, balcony-lined streets of the "Freedom
Quarter." Louisiana has long played up its French heritage, especially in this
200th year since the Louisiana Purchase. State leaders and tourist-dependent
businesses can only hope that tension between France and the United States over
Iraq won't spoil the party.
"So many people in Louisiana actually speak French every day and feel French,
and I think they're a little disappointed about the situation," says Lt. Gov.
Kathleen Blanco, a French Acadian whose maiden name was Babineaux. "We're
looking at a 200-year historical time when France was our greatest ally."
Even if Louisiana wanted to de-emphasize its French heritage and conform to what
many here believe is a misguided show of patriotism, it would be impractical.
All along the state's border, signs welcome motorists with "Bienvenue en
Bilingual signs can be found throughout the southern part of the state,
especially in Cajun areas surrounding Lafayette. In New Orleans, besides the
French Quarter, there's an Avenue Charles de Gaulle, a French Market, even a
Place de France where the French flag still flies. The symbol of New Orleans is
the old French royal fleur-de-lis, which is also on the helmets of the Saints
Statues throughout the state honor French historical figures from Joan of Arc to
Jean Baptist Le Moyne de Bienville, the French explorer who founded New Orleans.
Next week, in fact, is the "Semaine de la Francophonie," which celebrates use of
the French language in the state.
Elaine Clement, president of the Cajun heritage group Action Cadienne, was
somewhat put off by Congress' decision this week to change House cafeteria menus
to read "freedom fries" and "freedom toast."
"Are they going to change French kiss to freedom kiss?" she said.
There are no immediate plans to begin serving "freedom onion soup" at the
Napoleon House bar and restaurant in the French Quarter.
"There are so many ties to French heritage here that that would be kind of like
slapping your ancestors in the face, even though we're all patriotic," Napoleon
House manager Sal Impastato says. "Although, I think it's true the French do owe
us a little from World War II and they don't seem to want to recognize that."
That's not to say Louisiana is immune to the wave of French bashing sweeping
"We got a call in the office (Tuesday) from someone who basically told us we
needed to go back to France," Clement says. "I've seen a kind of sentiment that
if you're Cajun or French speaking you can't be American, and I think it's a lot
Businesses like the Napoleon House are nervous about anti-French sentiment
affecting events planned for the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase.
French President Jacques Chirac has been invited to New Orleans Dec. 20 to mark
the date that the Louisiana Territories were signed over to the United States.
President Bush also is invited.
A spokesman for the French Consulate says Chirac has expressed an interest in
returning to the city, which he visited as a student, but had yet to make a
decision. He said the consulate has received no reports of malevolent acts
against any French interests or symbols in the state.
Blanco says she was told by the French embassy - before recent diplomatic
flare-ups - that Chirac would almost certainly come if Bush does. The White
House has yet to answer the invitation, she said.
"De Gaulle was here for the 150th anniversary, so we've been very optimistic,"
Blanco said. "Who knows, Louisiana may be well positioned to effect a
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