Inducted on December 06, 2022
Marlene Breaux Toups, a native of Lafourche Parish, was born in Mathews, the youngest child of Tony and Nora Molaison Breaux. A graduate of Lockport High School, she has a B.A. in English Education and master’s degree +30 in Curriculum Studies from Nicholls State University. When Marlene began school at Lockport Elementary in the 1950’s, she was never told not to speak French. That language had long been officially eradicated from Louisiana schools. Fitting in at school meant speaking English, though Marlene often tried anglicizing French words, once asking for “bullets,” which she thought was the correct word for meatballs—from the French boulettes.
She was fortunate that her parents never stopped speaking French to her. Marlene grew up entirely bilingual. The French came from her parents and maternal grandmother who lived with them, and the English came from her sister who is 13 years older. By the time Marlene was born, English had been introduced into the household. Few of her classmates were aware that she was able to speak fluent French. It is only now that they are retired and celebrating high school reunions that they have discovered that several of them spoke French—and several who wish that they could! Knowing how to speak French was a necessity for speaking to her grandparents, but listening to her paternal grandfather, Leo Joseph Breaux, tell his wonderful stories—usually involving ghosts and other strange beings—made Marlene especially thankful that she knew French. Listening to the folk treatments made by her godmother, Albertine Breaux Dominque, in French led to her collecting the remedies and attempting to preserve that knowledge, though she is not a treater herself.
She spoke French but counting in French was another matter. It was her father’s eldest sister and godmother, Rosa Breaux Hebert who was like another grandmother, who taught her to count in French. “Nanan Beb” spoke no English. She was a taskmaster, making Marlene repeat the numbers till she got them all right—at least up to a hundred. In addition, her mother insisted that she speak French correctly, not “baroque.” Not sure what she meant, nevertheless, Marlene was careful not to speak what her mother called improper French.
Despite that, Marlene was reluctant to speak French to someone who spoke “real French.” An epiphany of sorts occurred on her first trip to Paris in 1981 when she and her husband Daniel became lost. She was forced to ask directions of a Parisian gentleman on the street. “He understood me!” she exclaimed to her husband as he pointed them in the direction of their hotel. The idea that our Louisiana French is inferior to other French had become so ingrained in Cajuns and other French speakers that, though she spoke French well, she didn’t speak it in public too often, except with older relatives. The fear of being ridiculed for the French she spoke was always there, and she never studied French.
The love of French never left her, but the opportunity to speak French diminished as older relatives died, and she moved to Thibodaux. Since 1978, Thibodaux is twinned with Loudun, France, located in the area often called the “cradle of Acadian culture.” Hosting visitors from Loudun gave Marlene and Dan the opportunity to speak French, and the Loudunais understood them. It was like speaking to grandparents. Then when someone realized that she spoke French fairly well, she was invited to participate in a program with Audrey George of Houma to host visiting francophone tourists for a night to give them a taste of Cajun culture. In addition, Marlene has helped Claude Boudreau (a Living Legend named in 2016) organize local events for Acadian “cousins” from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick who visit South Louisiana.
When she began teaching as an adjunct English instructor at Nicholls, Dr. Robin White, a professor of French, invited her to serve on her French Advisory Board. Through Dr. White she was introduced to the idea of a Table Francaise. After Dr. White left Nicholls for a while, Thibodaux’s French Table became Cercle Francophone when it was reorganized by one of the French CODOFIL teachers, Mo Belaiche. Cercle continued to meet at Jean Lafitte Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center each Tuesday until the pandemic. Locals spoke French among themselves and with visitors to Jean Lafitte who were amazed at the quality of the French spoken. Through Marlene’s efforts during the lockdown, the group met occasionally via Zoom or on the banks of Bayou Lafourche on the park grounds. They look forward to resuming their regular meetings as soon as the park is more fully opened.
She is a facilitator for Cercle Francophone and the president of the Thibodaux-Loudun Twinning Association, which is believed to be the oldest active francophone twinning in the state. She is also on the board of directors of the Lafourche Heritage Society and of La Famille Breaux du Monde Association. She is a member of the Louisiana Folklore Society. Along with Martha Hodnett, Michelle Braud, and Robin White, she facilitated a bilingual Livres Francaise en Eté story time for children at the Thibodaux Library until the pandemic shut it down. She has participated in French tables in Arnaudville, Lafayette, and New Iberia. Discovering different ways of saying things in French in different areas is interesting, and ultimately, all understand each other. It’s all French and all good!
Marlene is passionate about making others aware that there is French spoken on the east side of the Atchafalaya River, but she feels like a fraud being among such illustrious “Living Legends,” like Mavis Frugé, Greg Woods, and Barry Ancelet, whose accomplishments are many.