ST. MARTINVILLE — Elaine Clément has had a longstanding love affair with the French language and the history of the Acadian and Cajun people.
Clément, 56, was appointed the curator and director of the Acadian Memorial and the tourism director for St. Martinville in December, and before that, she spent 16 years at CODOFIL, primarily as the director of community outreach.
All eight of Clément’s great-grandparents’ first language was French, she said, although she didn’t know that growing up.
Nor did she know that she is of both Acadian and Cajun heritage. It wasn’t until she worked at CODOFIL that she learned of her lineage, she said.
The St. Martinville resident graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and was the first or second person to graduate in Francophone studies, she said.
“It’s almost like I discovered pieces of myself that I didn’t know,” Clément said of her heritage and the French language. “I grew up with all the pieces of being Cajun and Acadian and French heritage, but there was nobody to explain it to me. It’s like there was something missing, and I found it.”
Clément has taught a few French classes in St. Martinville and hopes to do that again once her schedule clears up, she said.
She also is an English and French tutor. She is teaching a French couple in Lafayette how to speak English, and she once tutored a Russian man who wanted to learn French.
The man moved from Russia to Lafayette and was an engineer in the offshore business, Clément said. He was considering moving to Quebec, so he wanted to take advantage of people living in Louisiana who spoke French.
On top of that, Clément is a peer counselor. She is not part of the professional counseling system, but rather an international grassroots movement of people who want to connect and learn to be better listeners.
“I’m basically learning how to become a better listener,” she said. “The idea is peer. Two people are listening to each other. It’s like a formalized friendship. I have people from all over the world and the country that I have relationships with.”
Clément said she is “deeply proud” of being Acadian and Cajun, and she is honored to be the director and curator of the Acadian Memorial and the tourism director for the city.
“I get to think about the Acadian Memorial in a bigger context. This town is primarily African American, so it gets to be a bigger story than the Acadians. The Acadians become part of the story,” she said.
The people of St. Martinville are the city’s biggest selling points, she said.
“Something we naturally do here in St. Martinville and in Louisiana is just welcoming people. When they come, we make it a welcome, learning and interesting experience,” Clément said. “We have a tour booked for March 2015. The St. Martin Parish Tourist Commission gives us a hand, but we don’t have huge amounts of money, but what we do have is human beings. My staff loves what they do. I’m learning that’s one of the best advertising. I have these people fall in love with what we love, and I watch them do it every day.”
Jolene Adam, the first director of the Acadian Memorial and one of Clément’s closest friends, said her friend has a talent of getting people to work together.
“She just has a gift for bringing everyone to the table,” Adam said. “She can really do things efficiently and get people to collaborate. I really like the way she thinks about our heritage and our history.”
Adam said Clément’s love of her heritage and the French language comes from the heart.
“She just has a passion for the French language and for our history in Louisiana and for the people,” Adam said. “It’s not just about her heritage and her history. She’s really interested in everyone’s contribution and everyone’s background and what they can bring to the table.”
Adam said Clément’s work is about people and helping them live a better life.
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