Downtown Lafayette, Louisiana
Map of Louisiana with Acadiana highlighted, and the heart of Acadiana in dark red
Location of Louisiana within the United States
Acadiana (French and Louisiana French: L'Acadiane) is the official name given to the French Louisiana region that has historically contained much of the state's Francophone population. Many are of Acadian descent and now identify as Cajuns or Louisiana Creoles. Of the 64 parishes that make up the U.S. state of Louisiana, 22 named parishes and other parishes of similar cultural environment make up this intrastate region.
The word "Acadiana" reputedly has two origins. Its first recorded appearance dates to the mid-1950s, when a Crowley, Louisiana, newspaper, the Crowley Daily Signal, coined the term in reference to Acadia Parish, Louisiana. However, KATC television in Lafayette independently coined "Acadiana" in the early 1960s, giving it a new, broader meaning, and popularized it throughout southern Louisiana. Founded in 1962, KATC was owned by the Acadian Television Corporation. In early 1963, the ABC affiliate received an invoice erroneously addressed to the "Acadiana" Television Corp. Someone had typed an extra "a" at the end of the word "Acadian." The station started using it to describe the region covered by its broadcast signal.
In 1971, the Louisiana State Legislature officially recognized 22 Louisiana parishes and "other parishes of similar cultural environment" for their "strong French Acadian cultural aspects" (House Concurrent Resolution No. 496, June 6, 1971, authored by Carl W. Bauer of St. Mary Parish), and made the "Heart of Acadiana" the official name of the region. The public, however, prefers the one-word place name Acadiana to refer to the region. The official term appears on regional maps and highway markers.
Today, numerous business, governmental, and nonprofit organizations incorporate Acadiana in their names, e.g., Mall of Acadiana and Acadiana High School. Notably, KLFY-TV, the regional CBS affiliate, used the term in its very successful "Hello News" branding campaign as "Hello Acadiana". KATC hosts a morning television show, "Good Morning Acadiana".
Acadiana consists mainly of low gentle hills in the north section and dry land prairies, with marshes and bayous in the south closer to the Gulf Coast area. The wetlands increase in frequency in and around the Calcasieu River, Atchafalaya Basin, and the Mississippi River Delta. The area is cultivated with fields of rice and sugarcane.
Acadiana, as defined by the Louisiana legislature, refers to the area that stretches from just west of New Orleans to the Texas border along the Gulf of Mexico coast, and about 100 miles (160 km) inland to Marksville. This includes the 22 parishes of Acadia, Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. James, St. John The Baptist, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, and West Baton Rouge. The total land area of Acadiana is 14,574.105 square miles (37,746.76 square kilometers).
Three of the parishes (St. Charles, St. James, and St. John the Baptist) are considered the River Parishes and made up the area formerly known as the German Coast or les côtes des Allemands, because of settlement by German immigrants in the 18th century. Ascension Parish is sometimes included within the River Parishes; the River Parishes border the first and third largest regions in Louisiana by population (the Greater New Orleans area and Florida Parishes). St. James and Ascension parishes were originally known as the Comté d'Acadie (Acadia County) because of the initial settlement of 18th-century exiled Acadians. St. James Parish was known as the First Acadian Coast and Ascension Parish was known as the Second Acadian Coast. Collectively they were known as les côtes des Acadiens, the Acadian Coasts.
The largest metropolitan areas in Acadiana are Lafayette, Lake Charles, and Houma-Thibodaux. Other large cities and towns within Acadiana are Abbeville, Berwick, Breaux Bridge, Broussard, Carencro, Crowley, Donaldsonville, Erath, Eunice, Franklin, Gonzales, Jeanerette, Jennings, Kaplan, Marksville, Maurice, New Roads, Morgan City, New Iberia, Opelousas, Patterson, Plaquemine, Port Allen, Rayne, Scott, Simmesport, St. Gabriel, St. Martinville, Sulphur, Ville Platte, and Youngsville.
Common throughout Louisiana, the Acadiana region has a humid subtropical climate, and the area is often prone to hurricanes.
On October 3, 2002, the central Acadiana region suffered a direct hit from category one Hurricane Lili. The hurricane caused most of Acadiana to lose power, and some areas lost phone service. In addition, some high-rise buildings in downtown Lafayette had windows broken and many homes throughout the region had roof damage. The high winds of Lili toppled the tower of KLFY TV-10 onto the station's studio facilities. Only one injury inside the station was reported from the tower's collapse.
The eastern Acadiana region was somewhat affected by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, although the damage was nowhere near what it was farther east in Greater New Orleans. The region was used by many returning evacuees as a "last stop" of temporary domicile before returning to Greater New Orleans. This was due in large part to the Greater Baton Rouge area already being inundated with evacuees. Governor Blanco made a public request that those returning not try to seek lodging in the capital due to this crisis of overpopulation. Lafayette and several other municipalities had both public and church-run shelters set up to handle the influx. The largest of these shelters, run by the Red Cross, was the Lafayette sports arena (the Cajundome) holding a reported 9,800 persons.
On Labor Day 2008, Hurricane Gustav caused severe damage to the region. Although Lafayette, Saint Martinville and Crowley had little damage (comparatively) and some residents still had power, the rest of the region stood in contrast. From Alexandria to the coast and Baton Rouge to Lake Charles, there were reports of massive power failures and flooding. Most notable was the flooding south of Louisiana Highway 14 and the communities there. U.S. 90 was shut down for several days due to the flooding caused by Gustav.
The total death toll from Gustav in Acadiana was limited. This was attributed to the evacuation and mitigation plans that had been drilled by state and local official, and to a strong presence of both the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In total, almost two million people along the Louisiana coast were evacuated in over two days. This made Gustav preparations the largest evacuation in Louisiana history, and one of the most successful evacuations in the nation's history.
Within the Acadiana Regional Development District 1 comprising St. Landry and Evangeline parishes, 58% of the population were White, 37% Black or African American, 1% multiracial, and 3% Hispanic or Latin American of any race in 2019. The racial and ethnic makeup of Acadiana Regional Development District 2 (Acadia and Vermilion parishes) in 2019 was 78% White, 16% Black or African American, 1% Asian, 2% multiracial, and 3% Hispanic or Latin American of any race; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the third district (northern Lafayette) was 53% White, 38% Black or African American, 1% Asian, 2% from two or more races, and 6% Hispanic or Latin American. The fourth district's racial and ethnic makeup was 78% White, 14% Black or African American, 2% Asian, 1% multiracial, and 3% Hispanic or Latin American; its fifth named district was 60% White, 30% Black, 1% Native American or Alaska Native, 2% Asian, 3% multiracial, and 5% Hispanic or Latin American.
Straddling between Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, the second South Central Planning and Development Commission (encompassing Lafourche and Assumption) was 75% White, 17% Black or African American, 2% Native American or Alaska Native, 2% multiracial, and 4% Hispanic or Latin American. Terrebonne Parish was 67% White, 19% Black or African American, 6% Native American, 1% Asian, 3% multiracial, and 5% Hispanic or Latin American. The districts making up the Lake Charles area were 60% White, 32% Black or African American, 2% Asian, 2% multiracial, and 4% Hispanic or Latin American of any race; and 82% White, 9% Black, 1% Asian, 3% multiracial, and 4% Hispanic or Latino.
Cajuns are the descendants of 18th-century Acadian exiles from what are now Canada's Maritime Provinces, expelled by the British and New Englanders during and after the French and Indian War (see Expulsion of the Acadians). They prevail among the region's visible cultures, but not everyone who lives in Acadiana is ethnically Acadian or speaks Louisiana French. Similarly, not everyone who is culturally "Cajun" is descended from the Acadian refugees.
German and Polish settlers found their way to this area as early as 1721, settling an area that became known as the German Coast. They preceded the Acadians. Acadiana is home to several Native American tribes, including the Chitimacha, Houma, Tunica-Biloxi, Attakapas, and Coushatta. Acadiana also is home to other ethnic groups, including Anglo-Americans, who came into the region in increasing numbers beginning notably with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Since the late 20th century, political refugees from Southeast Asia (Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, among others) have brought their families, cultures, and languages to the area, and have contributed significantly to its fishing industry.
The region also boasts a large population of Creoles, descendants of the region's original "Old World" settlers who arrived in Louisiana before and after the arrival of the Acadians. In the broadest sense, the term "Creole" has been used to denote anyone who is "native to Louisiana", regardless of race or ethnic origin. In this sense, Creoles can identify as black, white, and persons of mixed-race origin. The term has also come to denote cultural origins in addition to racial classification. While many in Acadiana associate Creoles specifically with those people descended from the gens de couleur libres (free people of color), others cling to the word's original definition, so Creoles of every ethnic background are still present in the region. Many Creoles also identify as Cajuns (and vice versa), whereas others reject association with one identity while still claiming the other. The two identities have never been mutually exclusive of one another, and documents written in Acadiana throughout the 19th century often make references to Acadiana's "Creole populations" that are understood to include people of full or partial Acadian descent.
Prior to the U.S. Civil War, some Creoles of color, because of their mixed-race status, were able to escape or altogether avoid the condition of enslavement. Being a French, and later Spanish colony, Louisiana had a racial classification system that was much more identical to that of many Latin American and Caribbean countries.
During the antebellum period, these people were known as free people of color. They played an important role in the history of New Orleans and South Louisiana, both when the area was controlled by the French and Spanish, and after acquisition by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. When French settlers and traders first arrived in these colonies, the men frequently took Native American women as their concubines or common-law wives (see Marriage 'à la façon du pays').
When African slaves were imported to the colony, the colonists took African women as concubines or wives. In the colonial period of French and Spanish rule, men tended to marry later after becoming financially established. Later, when more white families had settled or developed here, some young French men or ethnic French Creoles still took mixed-race women as mistresses, known as placées, before they officially married. The free people of color developed formal arrangements for placées, which the young women's mothers negotiated. Under the system of plaçage, often the mothers arranged a kind of dowry or property transfer to their daughters, including freedom for them and their children if the young woman was still enslaved, and education for the children. The French Creole men often paid for education of their "natural" (illegitimate) mixed-race children from these relationships, especially if they were sons, generally sending them to France to be educated. Some of these sons entered the military, such as the father of writer Alexandre Dumas.
Many descendants of the gens de couleur, or free people of color, of the Louisiana area celebrate their culture and heritage through a New Orleans-based Louisiana Creole Research Association (LA Créole). The term "Créole" is not synonymous with "free people of color" or gens de couleur libre, but many members of LA Créole have traced their genealogies through those lines. Today, the multiracial descendants of the French and Spanish colonists, Africans, and other ethnicities are widely known as Louisiana Creoles. Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal signed Act 276 on 14 June 2013, creating the license plate, "I'm Creole," honoring Louisiana Creoles' contributions and heritage.
Similarly, the Acadiana region is home to many African Americans, who have contributed greatly to the region over the centuries. Many primarily descend from those persons brought to the State of Louisiana in various waves during the colonial period to work the area's sugarcane and rice plantations in the southern part of the state and the cotton plantations in the northern part of the state. Between 1723 and 1769, most enslaved Africans imported to Louisiana were from modern day Senegal and Congo, many thousands being imported to Louisiana from there. A large number of the imported enslaved Africans from the Senegambia region were members of the Wolof and Bambara ethnic groups. Saint-Louis and Goree Island were sites where a great number of enslaved persons destined for Louisiana departed from Africa.
During the Spanish control of Louisiana, between 1770 and 1803, most of the enslaved still came from the Congo and the Senegambia region but they imported also more slaves from modern day Benin. Many slaves imported during this period were members of the Nago people, a Yoruba subgroup. The enslaved Africans brought with them their cultural practices, languages, and religious beliefs rooted in spirit and ancestor worship, as well as Roman Catholic Christianity--all of which were key elements of Louisiana Voodoo. In addition, in the early nineteenth century, many Afro-Haitians also migrated to Louisiana, some free and some enslaved following the anti-slave rebellions on the island of Hispaniola, contributing to the Voodoo tradition of the state. During the American period (1804-1820), almost half of the African slaves came from the Congo. Before the American Civil War (1861 to 1865), African Americans comprised a significant portion of the state's population, with most being enslaved on sugar cane and cotton plantations (see history of slavery in Louisiana and Louisiana African American Heritage Trail).
Religiously, Acadiana differs from much of the American South because a majority of its people are Christians of the Roman Catholic tradition in contrast to the surrounding regions (e.g., Central and Northern Louisiana), which are part of the largely Protestant Bible Belt. This is largely attributed to the region's French, Spanish, and Caribbean influences. Among the Catholic population of Acadiana, the majority are served by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette in Louisiana, though some areas in western and eastern Acadiana belong to the Diocese of Lake Charles, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge in the Florida Parishes.
The traditional industries of the area, agriculture, petroleum, and tourism, initially drove the need for transportation development. In recent years, hurricane evacuation plans for the area's growing towns and cities have hastened the planning and construction of better roadways. The abundance of swamps and marshes previously made Acadiana difficult to access, a major reason for the near isolation of the early Cajun people.
After oil was found in the area in the early 20th century, oil industry development was geared to improving access by roads and waterways. Damage has been done to the region by dredging and straightening of waterways, which has damaged the wetlands that used to absorb water and storms, leaving the area more vulnerable. Coastline continues to erode.
High-capacity, modern highways are the lifelines of the region. U.S. highways 90, 190, and 167 were the main connectors through south Louisiana until the 1950s. Interstates 10, 210, 55, and 49 now play the major role in transportation. US and state highways also cross the region.
Rail transport through the area is limited by the difficult terrain and the sheer number of bridges required to build over numerous streams and bayous. A robust railroad system was being built at the time of the American Civil War, but much of it was destroyed during the conflict. By the end of the war, river transport via paddlewheeler had taken over as the preferred mode of travel. The major railways in operation through the region are the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad.
Waterways are vital to the commercial and recreational activities of the region. Seaports, rivers, lakes, bayous, canals, and spillways dot the landscape, and served as the primary source of shipping and travel through the early 1930s. The Mississippi River is important to the eastern section, the Atchafalaya River to the middle. Calcasieu River flowing through Lake Charles enables shipping traffic in the western portion, while the Sabine River forms the western border of both Acadiana and Louisiana. Fresh and saltwater lakes, along with almost the entire Louisiana portion of the Intracoastal Waterway, enable the flow of people and materials.
Airports in Lafayette and Lake Charles provide scheduled airline service. Helicopter pilots serve the oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico. Small planes are used for short trips and agricultural needs. Small general aviation airports serve communities throughout the area.