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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Cluse: 'Creole Is A Lot More Than People Think'

Cluse: 'Creole Is A Lot More Than People Think'

Wilfred Paul Cluse, Founder of C.R.E.O.L.E. Inc.
to receive Richard J. Catalon Creole Heritage Award

June 9, 2016

Herman Fuselier
The Advertiser

Paul Cluse at his home in Lafayette, Louisiana, June 8, 2016.
Photo Credit:  Lee Celan

Wilfred Paul Cluse wasn’t quite part of the local generation that was spanked for speaking French in school. By the time Cluse, born in 1943 in Arnaudville, started the first grade, he fully understood French was pas bon in the classroom.

“My mother spoke a French that was, plus or moins standard — pretty much standard,” said Cluse. “She was Catholic and would do her whole rosary in French.

“My father was not a Creole speaker. But in order to court her, he had no choice but to learn how to communicate so she could become his woman.

“I didn’t learn too many words in English. I can recall the days in elementary school. I just wanted to be in there, but I wasn’t understanding what was going on around me. I wasn’t happy until I was playing outside with my friends. Ils peut parler le vrai Creole de la paroisse St. Martin” (They can speak the real Creole of St. Martin Parish.”

Cluse’s first day of school sparked a lifetime of education, international travel and cultural activism, which included the founding of C.R.E.O.L.E. Inc., a Lafayette-based preservation group. He’ll be rewarded for his efforts with the Richard J. Catalon Creole Heritage award at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Vermilionville.

The award is part of the free Creole Culture Day, a celebration of music, cuisine, sharing circles, boat tours and more. A complete schedule is available at vermilionville.org.

With family roots that go back to Africa, Spain and Germany, Cluse remains steadfastly proud of his Creole heritage. His words can drift between English and French when he recalls his youth as a sharecropper’s son in the settlement of Prairie Basse, near Arnaudville.

Cluse excelled in academics, graduating second in his class at Carver High School in Breaux Bridge. He received a full scholarship to major in agriculture at Grambling State. But his foreign language skills pushed him to change his major to French.

The decision led to a 42-year career in the classroom as a teacher, supervisor and principal. He taught in graduate programs at LSU, Fisk University and Vanderbilt.

Cluse’s pursuit of a master’s degree at the University of Arkansas required him to study abroad in Switzerland. He’s since returned to Europe numerous times as an interpreter and educator.

Cluse perhaps made his greatest impact at home in 1986, when he received a phone call from longtime friend John Broussard. Broussard told Cluse that families affiliated with a local French support group refused to house a Haitian exchange student because she was black.

“I told John I’m not sure what we can do,” said Cluse. “But we can have our own organization, not only for this, but a lot of other things that’s happening. Everything that’s Creole was falling under the umbrella of Cajunism.”

The incident sparked the birth of the nonprofit C.R.E.O.L.E. Inc., which stands for Cultural Resourceful Education and Opportunities and Linguistic Enrichment. Cluse served as first president of the group, which sponsored seminars, workshops and awards ceremonies and became active in Festival International de Louisiane. Cluse was the main French announcer at the first festival.

C.R.E.O.L.E. Inc. has been inactive in recent years. But a revival is underway as the group focuses on the revitalization of the historic Holy Rosary Institute building and other projects.

Cluse said all are welcome to be a part of their efforts.

“Creole is a lot more than people think. We encourage Francophone, but anybody can be a member. You don’t have to be a person who speaks Creole. But that’s one of our main goals. It involves improving communication, sharing, doing things in a global perspective.

“We have culture, language, education, all that we can do. It’s not just the idea of race or just the limited cultural aspect of Creolism, even though we’re mostly interested in developing our Creolité — because that’s me.”

Want to go?

What: Creole Culture Day

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Vermilionville

Admission: Free

Information: vermilionville.org
Cluse: 'Creole Is A Lot More Than People Think'
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