Cajuns and Creoles stand up: State has golden opportunity with census

by Walter Pierce

Louisiana stands to pull in millions of dollars thanks to a new question on census forms that will be distributed later this year.

Louisiana stands to pull in millions of dollars in previously unavailable federal funding for such things as educational programs like French immersion, hospitals, museums and other community-service projects thanks to a new question on census forms that will be distributed later this year.  "Historically, we've not been able to tap into a lot of the funding that exists in the United States under the federal government because the United States doesn't have a firm grasp on how many people in the United States, how many Americans culturally identify with Louisiana Creole and Cajun cultures," says Christophe Landry of the World Studies Institute, a Lafayette non-profit that seeks to connect French speakers in Louisiana with the wider Francophone world.

But it will take a concerted effort by Louisiana's Creole and Cajun communities to snag the money. A new question, No. 8 on the short form, covers cultural origins. The WSI is urging the state's Creole and Cajun communities to check the last box in No. 8 - "Yes. Another Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin" - and then to write beneath it either "Lousiana Creole" or "Cajun." For the first time, this will allow Uncle Sam to get a head count of the state's Cajun and Creole populations, provided those groups don't skip over question No. 8. "We're pushing this particular census because it's a window of opportunity," Landry adds. "Up until 2010, there has never been a question related to culture, it's only been race/ethnicity."

The hitch is that many of Creole and Cajun descent may be inclined to skip over No. 8 on the census form because it appears to apply only to Hispanics. Kat Smith, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau's Dallas field office, says Congress decides what's on the forms, the bureau simply counts heads. But, Smith adds, Creoles and Cajuns who hand-write their cultural identification on No. 8 will be counted. "As long as they as a group or ethnicity or race decide that they want to make sure that their numbers are where they need to be - we do the same thing for tribes, American Indian tribes and things of that nature - they can make sure their numbers are counted as such by identifying themselves consistently by writing it a certain way," says Smith.

For Louisiana Creoles, that means being specific. If a Creole in Louisiana writes "French Creole" or simply "Creole," which can include Haitians and other groups, that person's cultural identification will not be tied to Louisiana. According to WSI, the U.S. Department of Management and Budget has identified some $400 billion in federal funding annually, which is disseminated in part through census figures. If Louisiana Cajuns and Creoles make a loud noise through the census, more of that money should flow our way. "With the these numbers," says Landry, "the federal government's going to be forced to address these issues and to send some funding down here."