Sunday, March 22, 2009

La Ligue and Subversion

Last night Hubs, DD#1, DS#2, and I attended the annual banquet of La Ligue Henri IV. It was the 114th Anniversary banquet and we filled a table with my mother (who is the widow of a member), my three brothers (who are members) and their wives, and Sis#2. DS#2 is a new member and wore his tux. Bro#1 is now a Directeur, and eventually will move up the ladder.

Our great-grandfather belonged to La Ligue, founded as a benevolent society back in the 19th Century before the government designed programs to rescue us. The aims of the Ligue are simple: to provide insurance for the members, to promote French culture and language--particularly that of the Bearn, Basque, and Pau Valley (where Henri was born)--and for charitable works.

My great-grandfather must have found some comfort in going to meetings, dinners, and picnics and hearing the patois of his village, which is much different from the French of Paris. We are peasant stock, built low to ground, the men barrel-chested and the women wide-hipped, designed to climb the mountainsides.

I can't say that I appreciated this when I was a child, except for the food: hearty and heavily laced with garlic and onions.

La Ligue has widened its membership requirements in recent years, accepting those who do not necessarily have a French last name and whose French heritage is from a wider area. One thing has not changed: it's still men-only.

As the MC detailed the history of La Ligue, I thought back to other benevolent and fraternal organizations started around the same time: Lions, Moose, Elk, Rotary, Native Sons & Native Daughters of the Golden West, E Clampus Vitus, Italian Catholic Federation, the Caledonian Club, the Hibernians, and others. They were all designed to take care of their members or the widows and children of members as well as the wider community. Men and women met and mingled, took care of one another, sponsored youth groups and charitable causes such as providing eyeglasses for children who couldn't afford them.

I wonder if this is a model we, as a society, need to return to as "The Government" becomes overwhelmed trying to be all to everyone. There were over 1000 people at the banquet last night, most of them middle-aged, most who also have children they want to take care of and pass their culture to.

Odd to think that La Ligue may be as subversive in its own way as ACORN and MEChA.