STEPHEN HEMELT — Port Arthur celebration Sept. 21 as Cajun Capital is well deserved
Published 5:55 am Monday, September 18, 2023
Gov. Greg Abbott signed into official state legislation in June that Port Arthur is the Cajun Capital of Texas.
The news wasn’t too surprising. Despite the claims of other groups or organizations across the Lone Star State, there could only be one place to carry the mantle of such an important and prestigious honor.
That place is Port Arthur.
Mayor Thurman Bartie, Texas State Rep. Christian Manuel and a representative from Texas Senator Brandon Creighton’s office will make an official announcement at this community party set for Thursday/Sept. 21, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, 700 Procter Street in downtown Port Arthur.
Dignitaries are scheduled to speak at 5 p.m.
The celebration includes music by David Varnado and Jude Moreau and Cajun flavors with a toast to letting the good times roll.
My heartfelt congratulations go out to the hard-charging Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau for spearheading such an effort.
The news also perfectly falls in 2023 for the city, which is in the middle of celebrating its Quasquicentennial, a birthday party 125 years in the making.
In helping trumpet the news, the Visitors Bureau made sure to highlight the efforts of State Rep. Christian Manuel and State Sen. Brandon Creighton for pushing numerous resolutions and proclamations while introducing legislation throughout the process.
So, what does it mean to be Cajun?
According to the Visitors Bureau, this official Texas designation is good for the next 10 years.
“Our diverse city reflects many cultures, including Mexican-American, Vietnamese, African-American, Italian and more. This effort to recognize our Cajun background brought residents together to celebrate our history and culture. We’re all Texan, and a lot like our Louisiana neighbors,” a release from the Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau noted.
That brilliant but complicated hodgepodge speaks to me in a truly personal level.
I’m 42 years old, and a proud native of New Orleans, Louisiana, where many across the nation and globe look to when they think of Cajun culture and Cajun people.
As I assume you can imagine, when you get past the slogans and appeals to tourists and speak on the nitty-gritty of the topic with actual New Orleans residents, they have their own opinions on what it means to be Cajun and where the true home of the culture lies.
To me, being Cajun and celebrating its charms is less about location and more about a state of mind.
I’ve seen New Orleans at its worst and celebrated arm-in-arm with my long-ago neighbors at its best.
And in that way, Port Arthur feels so much like true Cajun culture that I can think of no other place or people in Texas who can accept and thrive under such a charge.
A great Cajun dish or party includes a taste of everything.
It welcomes all cultures and nationalities. Naturally, that can create tension, but it is not something to run from, because then you would be losing all the spice.
And, well, all great Cajun dishes and parties embrace that spice.
That’s because life’s better with passion.
Port Arthur is the same way. In the four years I’ve lived and breathed this community, it’s been a blessing to soak up its strengths and stare down its obstacles.
On more than one occasion, elected leaders have given me a tongue lashing for something posted online at panews.com or in the printed edition of The Port Arthur News.
I don’t fault them for their positions or minimize their passions. It’s what makes working in media so thrilling.
Conversely, I have shed tears with our neighbors as we worked together to report on the very real stories that unfold daily.
Some of the tears were out of grief because of shared stories of lost loved ones, and other times the tears were of joy as we chronicled the amazing accomplishments of the younger and older residents we’re lucky enough to call our neighbors.
You call that what you want, but I’ve been calling it Cajun my whole life.
So I, and so many others , welcome new and old alike to the wonderful city of Port Arthur — the Cajun Capital of Texas.
It’s full of spice.
Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia, which publishes panews.com, The Port Arthur News and Greater Port Arthur The Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 409-721-2445.