Why I Call Lafayette Home
Baniewicz is not a Cajun last name. I wasn't born in South Louisiana and neither were any of my ancestors, yet this is the place I call home.
It's home not only because I live here. It's home because I was welcomed from the minute my family moved to Lafayette nine years ago. After graduating from LHS, I went to Baton Rouge to attend LSU, only to return back to Lafayette. Why? I felt happier in Acadiana than any other place on the map. Every time I drive out of town on I-10 it's like I'm leaving a physical piece of me behind for a while...because I know I will be back.
That's what home means, which is why I claim to be an adopted Cajun.
Lafayette is associated with love in my mind. The love we show for our neighbors and even strangers isn't commonplace. The word "community" even fails to encompass the interwoven network of culture and tradition that draws Cajuns and newcomers like me together.
It's the definition of a town that takes care of each other, which is why there is no tragedy too large for the city of Lafayette to overcome.
No town is ever prepared for a tragedy like the shooting at the Grand-16 Theatre, but no community is better prepared to pick itself back up than Acadiana.
Jillian Johnson was one of the two victims who lost their lives along with the shooter. I never knew the other victim, Mayci Breaux, so I will share the only memory I have of Johnson. I only met her once, and our interaction perfectly encapsulates why I love Lafayette.
Johnson and her husband, Jason Brown, owned the Red Arrow Workshop in River Ranch and made products for Parish Ink, two very creative businesses. They had a booth set up at Festival Internationale this past year, where I bought a wallet, hat and print of the Mississippi river to hang on my wall. While in their booth, we chatted about journalism, a topic they were familiar with, and how much we loved the city of Lafayette. It was Festival time, and we all wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else in the world.
Later on in the day, I set my purchases on a ledge behind me to buy a drink. When I turned around, somebody had plucked my new print from the bag and made their quick escape before I could see who did it. Surely, the act of an out of towner. No Cajun defiles the communal sanctity of Festival Internationale.
I went back to their booth, hoping they would understand my plight and possibly give me a discounted price. After hearing my story, Jillian reached out, tapped my arm and reassured me that my money wasn't necessary. Her husband handed me a brand new print, and they sent me on my way with a smile and some kind words.
To some, that story might seem very insignificant. To me, it explains why Lafayette can overcome the unexpected tragedy of the Grand-16 shooting.
When an out-of-towner came in and tried to violate the fellowship of my city, two fellow Lafayette natives stuck out a hand to help pull me back into the good times. We do it for each other so often that we don't even notice anymore. It's part of our culture like the spice we put in our food and the steps that we cut on the dance floor.
Jillian Johnson was just one of the victims, and I only shared that one brief moment with her. She touched other people's lives in a much grander way than mine. Surely, the same can be said of the other victim, Mayci Breaux, as well. Both of them leave friends and family behind that need our help now, Acadiana. Johnson and her husband helped me out before, so it would only be the Lafayette thing to do to repay the favor.
We live in the happiest city in America. Today, that's not the case. It probably won't feel that way for a while, but remember this: Lafayette is a place of love, compassion, understanding and family. No darkness or tragedy can ever outweigh the warmth generated in Cajun country.
Sadness picked the wrong city to visit. There's too much love for it ever to survive.