DIRECTOR | PRODUCER
I grew up in South Louisiana, in Lake Charles to be exact. It's on the western edge of Acadiana, the collection of parishes (or counties for you non-Louisianians) that comprise the Cajun region of Louisiana. LC is close enough to Texas to be considered that by many, but we still get a shoutout on every KRVS station ID. Even though I was a suburban kid, I spent a lot of time in the bayou with my dad’s family. My grandma grew up in a rural French community in Calcasieu Parish south of Lake Charles. She was proud of her French language, Catholic religion, and foodways. She could also make a mean jambalaya. However, she bristled at the term Cajun. She and my Grandpa may have fallen in love two-stepping to Cajun tunes, but she was French, and not Cajun!
My maternal grandpa had a similar outlook to the extent that he cared much about that stuff. In reality he cared more about John Wayne and bass fishing, than his French lineage, but he did have it. His mother came from a prominent Acadian (Cajun) family in colonial Louisiana. She’s documented right in the family tree displayed prominently in their historic home turned museum. Yet, when my Grandpa talked about his heritage, he was quick to point out that his family was French, and not Cajun. Heritage is important in Louisiana. I’ve been drawn to it as an adult. My French grandparents were absolutely Cajuns despite their protests to the contrary. Their gumbos, crawfish boils, fishing and hunting, as well as their love of life, family, and Louisiana are all evidence of that. However, when they were kids, to be called a Cajun was a slur, to speak French in public was punishable by violence, and to be anything other than American after World War II was unthinkable.
My parents' generation lost the chance to grow up immersed in that culture. So did my generation. That’s what I thought until around 2012 when I heard about the young cajun music scene in Lafayette. I was rather late to that party, but it inspired Roots of Fire. When I was in high school, liking cajun music was not cool. When I left Louisiana for the Bay Area in 2002, there wasn’t a thought in my head about preserving my culture. Yet, like a lot of other cajuns in the diaspora, I yearned for the smells, tastes, and rhythms of my homeland. For some of us, it takes leaving Louisiana to know what we left behind.
It took me over a decade to find myself living in Louisiana again, this time in New Orleans. Now I’m not an angsty teen looking to leave the South. I’m a father raising a little Nola girl less than half a mile from where her great-grandpa grew up. I want her stomping through the marshes of Cameron Parish, pulling up crawfish traps with her grandpa like I did with mine. I want her to know about her French Louisiana heritage and why it’s still important. I didn’t grow up loving cajun music, but my grandparents did, and now so do I. I want to reclaim that heritage using the best tool I have at my disposal, storytelling. My goal is to learn and share, while teaching others why they should love Louisiana like I do. Roots of Fire is about a flaming resurgence of music and culture that has been burning all along just beneath the surface.
ABBY BERENDT LAVOI
DIRECTOR | PRODUCER
We may have some of the best Mexican restaurants in my hometown of Greeley, Colorado, but growing up I remember getting excited when a place like Olive Garden would open. Or, you guys… a Panera Bread! Jeremey asked me once what the “food of my people” was. “I don’t know, probably mac & cheese?” It took me a while to come up with a real answer (Noodle Kugel on my Mom’s side was the closest I got). Food brings me to the crux of my love affair with Louisiana. Maybe gumbo was my gateway, but the realization that the “food of my people” was more akin to Applebees, and that we lauded the imminent arrival of replicated blasé foodways, made me crave the cultural authenticity of Louisiana’s cuisine even more.
Ten years ago I married a Southern Louisianian. I’ve consumed this state and immersed myself in the culture ever since. Prior to this time, my knowledge of this culture was shaped, sadly, by typical stereotypes. For the past decade I’ve learned that these people are consistently maligned in the media, constantly portrayed as backwoods “swamp people” on reality shows, or typecast as “typical southern racists.” Suffice to say, on this journey I’ve met some of the most progressive and fascinating people; from a hip hop accordion-playing university teacher to a Zydeco fitness dance instructor, if you think this is an outdated, dying culture… you’re wrong.
What drew me to this project was young people dancing to the music, carefree, and alive. It was pure and authentic. I didn’t know anything like this still existed in America. Maybe after living in big cities for over a decade I was jaded, but these kids were not dancing ironically. They were legitimately enjoying themselves, two-stepping to accordion, rubboard, and fiddle music. These kids were keeping a culture alive whether they realized it or not. To me, that’s the beauty and strength of it. When young people take it up on their own, live it, and love it, it truly is a living culture.
I didn’t fully realize until my Louisiana-time that I grew up without much culture. Yes, my hometown has a beautiful and robust hispanic community, yet that was not part of my every day life. I love my hometown (I know it literally smells like cows), but I didn’t grow up with this wealth of food, music, dancing, and shared history. We had Olive Garden, Target, and Starbucks. And yes, they also have Olive Garden, Target and Starbucks… but they also have Prejeans, Laura’s II, The French Press, T’Coons, Best Stop, and so many more that people will get into arguments over which place has the best cracklin.
Someone once told me that almost every town in America looks the same, a “generic America” or, “Generica”. That’s why I want to share this story. I get how special this culture is. How lucky and persistent they are - despite their history of the brutal campaign to force the region to become more American - to have defied the globalization that is painted across Generica. I want others to experience one of America’s last true living cultures, not in a way that is exploitative, stereotypical or clichéd, but one that shares the vibrant authenticity of their deep history and their present-day welcoming community.