by Jacques M. Roy
Comment ca va, Avoyelles! I write to send salutations to my next door neighbors and cousins in Avoyelles.
First of all, it should be the subject of more serious outlining and work to come, but I write to remind our region of, and commend it for its work toward acknowledging, the importance of community leadership together resolving problems and supporting each other with regional solutions. I am not talking about elected people—who may not be the best exemplars. In my parish, I see the hard work and vision of well-meaning officialdom, captains of industry, and the partnering citizenry swallowed by the politics of pettiness and temporarily thwarted by those who wish to divide. On the other hand, I wholly acknowledge that is part of the job and occurs all over this great democracy. The freedom we enjoy allows these growing pains—in ways encourages them—and will easily survive them. I know my roots in Avoyelles and concomitant ethic of working hard are reasons I can persevere and continue to accomplish much in the face of adversity.
I am talking about the people of your community who stand proud, for example, with a wonderfully French pastiche in downtown Marksville—really, a testament to the principles undergirding smart planning and growth. Your revitalization in Marksville and culture, tourism, and community spirit from Moncla to Mansura should be constantly award-winning and recognized more on a national level.
While it may sound cliché, being in politics is not about titles and personal advancement, it is about our families and especially the legacy we leave to our children. Our region is a great place to raise our families—rich in natural resources and especially human resources. However, we must work hard to leave the right investments in place. My central roles as mayor of Alexandria are to make careful, thoughtful decisions regarding our public investments and most of all ensure my community is safe and basic services occur without undue interruption. But, as mayor of the largest tax base in the area, I feel an obligation beyond the municipal limits to reach out, promote, and participate regionally.
What kind of region is ours to be and in what kind of America? We better be one returning to investment in our infrastructure, and we must learn to invest in big-ticket infrastructure investment on a regional level—not self-centered investment with one City pitted against a parish or one parish in a region pitted against its neighboring parish. The expertise one develops in four or five years of very heavy engagement in our community lists toward an inescapable conclusion—ours is a story of dichotomies: of great possibility and of great threat or lost opportunity.
America is not feeding her infrastructure, citizens, not the way she should.
My core philosophy is a belief in targeted, evidence-based funding of our ailing American infrastructure to allow the private sector to do what it does best: create sustainable, meaningful employment and better the quality of Louisiana life. I believe infrastructure—both physical and human—is the key to success for nations, states, and smaller units of government. It is the platform upon which successful, capacity-adding private growth and industry occurs. I believe leaders can spend too much time on the “big-game hunts” for outside companies to re-locate here while overlooking retention and expansion of existing business, the backbone of the local economy—and really that of the nation. The big hunt expeditions are great, welcome, and we need them. But, we must focus on what is already here to drive the economy—especially in challenging economic times. Growing our own creates much greater “sustainability”—or la “croissance economique durable.”
I have come to believe in three forms of infrastructure: the hard kind, like roads, utilities, drainage and broadband. Then, there is understood to be a soft kind, our people. This is whether we have prepared workforces, educational opportunity and policemen and firemen and so forth.
I think there is a third: an institutional infrastructure: it is the intermingling of the other two in systems. Larger, unseen systems at times, such as how well foundations and charities are accessed, or Faith and Providence’s influence through the Church, or the synergy (or lack thereof) in preserving a museum or favorite historic site.
Avoyelles is a testament to the third—despite the politics of any isolated moment, newspaper headlines, or gossip around the parish. This self-reliance is seen in our two parishes—like how we came together when England Air Force Base closed or when in Avoyelles Marksville changed its economic future seemingly overnight with growth of business and hospitality-driven industry.
In Lincoln’s first speech as President, he was appealing to his countrymen to stay united, pleading, “We are not enemies, but friends,” and building on the point that despite the blood spilled, one day, the chorus of the Union would swell, “when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
In Paris, one gets the sense of witnessing the progenitor of what we now call “SmartGrowth.” As denizens of a Parish populated with Alsatians and “Normans,” my travels in those two regions were life-altering. Travelling through Normandy (i.e., eating) was like a weekend in Marksville and ending up at the Cochon-de-Lait Festival in Mansura. Avoyelles to Normandy is like opening a tiny wormhole in Avoyelles and twenty or so hours later being in its older alter ego across the great pond. The people of Normandy welcome Americans (especially, Louisianans) as family. It is almost as if they are American and yet culturally French. I used to hear friends of my grandparents talk of “les Americains”—something Avoyelleans over seventy still refer to today. You know what I mean: it is an “Avoyelles thing.” For you in Avoyelles, you could pack up and land in Normandy and probably not skip a beat for some time. Across the way, throughout Alsace, there is a fierce belief they are Alsatian first, not even French (or German) first. To an outsider, the Sovereign Parish of Avoyelles can seem similarly independent and self-reliant.
And yet as with most of life, a dichotomy exists, a paradox: while none of us can be an island, no man and no community, self reliance is the order of this new day—if not of all time—because our world is vigorously competitive and quickly innovative. But, the astute student knows the partnerships forged by the self-able create the alliances that achieve and last. Rapides and Avoyelles need to make that alliance a reality.
The alliances of the self-able are seen throughout history. The Allies landed with help of the English to free a land—Normandy—which was taken from the English and return it to the conqueror’s people. The land of the Conqueror, Guillaume, is full of prideful, hardworking, and simple people—in a land of complexities, history, joy and pain of immeasurable significance. Think about it: in our two parishes in the middle of the Louisiana Maneuvers, the home of the concept leading ultimately to the Allied success and D-Day, Central Louisiana trained (and Avoyelles leaders like Edgar A. Coco entertained and cared for the spirits of) the people who went to our ancestral home and freed it from tyranny in June of 1944.
Our lives, food, culture, habits, attitudes, bents, and self-reliance are so evidently similar. To the extent I have failed to and most assuredly should have, thank you for your encouragement, support, pride and my heritage. To every restaurateur and cultural ambassador, a special note of gratitude—and personal delight.
I proudly share with all of Avoyelles a favorite of mine about investment in infrastructure, self-reliance, and perseverance by the omnicompetent poet-philosopher Johann von Goethe:
We must not hope to be mowers,
And to gather the ripe gold ears,
Unless we have first been sowers
And watered the furrows with tears.
It is not just as we take it,
This mystical world of ours,
Life’s field will yield as we make it
A harvest of thorns or of flowers.
To my ancestral home, I say “merci” to a people who are, and made my family and me, rock solid—just like the “Avoyels.”