Lafayette’s Milton Arceneaux captures Creole Country

Milton Arceneaux (left) stands next to Creole Culture co-founder Fernest Broussard (right) Wilson Photography

Milton Arcenaux’s passion for cultural archiving started with photography. His mother started him on his journey with a $10-polaroid camera from a garage sale and a subscription to National Geographic magazine.

“So from a very early age, I was into capturing moments and different cultures,” he says.

That interest propelled Arceneaux to travel the world, backpacking and sleeping in hostels across continents. Those experiences humbled and shaped him, but there was no culture quite like Louisiana’s.

After a long stint in Austin, Texas, Arceneaux came back home and took note of how his mother’s relationship with her father was anchored in Kouri-Vini, Louisiana Creole French. It reignited a passion for his own culture but with a newfound drive towards preservation.

“That was an excitement [I had] in a dying language. I was gone for 20 years, so I lost it. And I just became obsessed with trying to restore Creole French,” he says.

He went on to co-found Creole Culture LLC, a cultural advocacy organization, with his cousins Fernest Broussard and Alfa “Mac” Sinegal. They hosting French tables and boucheries and later anchored October as Creole Culture month with Creole Culture Day.

In 2023, Arcenaux created Creole Tapestry & Luminary Voices, a collection of biographies, portraits of local Creole notables.

On Creole Culture Day, the Italian-made hardcover books debuted. Inside were 20 honorees in a variety of categories alongside five zydeco artists. For this upcoming year’s Creole Culture Day event, you can nominate someone that you feel has made a significant impact in the community.

For Arceneaux, documentation and preservation are only parts of the mission.

“We want to debunk a lot of myths, especially the [idea] that Creole means Black, because that's so not true,” says Arceneaux.

The word “Creole” has grown to mean different things depending on who you ask. It recently stirred up a hot debate after CBS called Lafayette “the heart of Creole Country”.

At its core, Creole initially only meant people of old world ancestry born in the New World –which “Cajuns” technically would be. “Cajun” in comparison is a much more restrictive term, referring to a very specific sect of the population that came from Acadian settlers.

Still, the word “Creole” has come to connote race, despite its historically inclusive origins. Arceneaux wants to carve out a lane for “Creole” to stand alone, without needing to be married to “Cajun”.

“The definition changed over time, but we just want to really preserve the culture authentically, without appropriation,” he says. “It’s documenting us, by us. So Creoles of color can stand alone and show their impact in what they did and what they're doing.”