LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — It's a story Lian Cheramie has told and heard so many times in her life, it's become folklore.
Once upon a time, when her grandmother was a young girl, she would sneak under her schoolhouse to speak with her friends in her native tongue, French.
It was an act of pure rebellion.
It must have been about the mid to late 1930's Cheramie estimates, at a time when Louisiana's constitution mandated that all public schools teach in English. This was part of a government-backed effort to "Americanize" the population and students were reprimanded for speaking French in schools.
"That's where the dying of the language began. There was so much shame in speaking the language," said Cheramie, a theater teacher who lives in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Cheramie's dad and great aunt are now the last two French speakers in her family but she's intent on changing this.
Like millions of Americans over the last few weeks, Cheramie has suddenly found herself with ample time on her hands.
Louisiana closed all schools on March 13 for a month due to the coronavirus outbreak, a pandemic that has quickly seeped into every facet of life in the U.S.
Cheramie said the additional time she has now will be devoted to learning the language of her grandmother — in a digital space.
"It's important for my mental health to focus on something bigger than myself. Ultimately, if I work towards this goal, I am doing my part to keep it alive," she said. "I am doing it for my ancestors."
The time away from jobs and daily schedules has already proven to be intensely creative for many people. Social media has become a platform that is not only keeping people connected through this unprecedented time but has also become an educational tool for a quarantined public seeking to learn new skills.
Ashlee Michot, a fellow teacher and friend of Cheramie, began using Instagram Live to offer Louisiana French lessons over the last few weeks. Michot would normally spend her days in the classroom teaching at Beau Chene High School in Arnaudville.
It is estimated that the number of people who speak Louisiana French dialects at home once numbered at about 1 million in 1970, according to Joseph Dunn, the former director of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. Today there are less than 100,000.
In recent years, there has been a growing effort in the state from school and individuals to preserve the language. Since the 1990s, more than 30 schools have opened where French is the primary language, Dunn said.
The Cajun French Virtual Table, a Facebook group that launched in 2015, is a platform for its 34,000 members to share Louisiana French vocabulary and stories. Louisiana State University, the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, as well as Tulane University are now all offering courses in Acadian history specializing in Louisiana French.