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11/01/2012 04:09PM ● Published by Aimee Cormier

Bienvenidos El Festival Español de Nueva Iberia

By Barbara Gautreaux

The founding families of New Iberia will be honored during the brand-new Spanish Festival, to be held in New Iberia Nov. 16-18. El Festival Español de Nueva Iberia will include a gala Friday night, a 5K race, live music and a cook-off Saturday, and dedications Sunday honoring New Iberia’s connection to Spain and its sister city Alhaurin de la Torre.

The mission of the festival, says La Asociacion Española de Nueva Iberia President Becky Schexnayder Owens, is to celebrate the 1779 founding of New Iberia by the Spanish and to recognize the contributions of the original Spanish settlers to New Iberia’s culture. “New Iberia is the only remaining town founded by the Spanish,” she says. “It is unique that it sits in the heart of Acadiana, and yet it was founded by the Spanish. It still maintains the original Spanish name of the town and the original families’ descendents are still living here.”

The Asociacion and the New Iberia Main Street Program, with support from the Bayou Teche Museum, Shadows on the Teche, Iberia Performing Arts League and the Iberia Parish Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, have organized an inaugural event complete with traditional Louisiana entertainment, and a salute to the Spanish.

Organizers are forming a connection to the Andalusia region of Spain through student exchanges, and ultimately with businesses and universities. “We want people to see what the Spanish contributed to our culture,” says Owens, a founding member of the Bayou Teche Museum. “They have influenced our food with jambalaya, our music with the guitar, our architecture with the iron balconies and our industry with the sugar cane. There are so many similarities.”

If you think you are French through-and-through, visit the El Festival Español de Nueva Iberia to learn about this area’s rich history, eat paella and drink a Spanish sparkling wine, or cava, from “Segura Viudas.” No habla español requerido—Ole!

Spanish Exchange Students

New Iberia has not hid its Spanish heritage—Bouligny Plaza, Spanish Lake—but contributions from Spanish forbearers is often overshadowed by the French history this area is known for, specifically the Acadians. Owens says even the descendents of the original 16 families may not know very much about their Spanish heritage. Of the families that founded New Iberia in 1779, seven remain here. Their names are Segura, Romero, Viator, Gary, Lopez, Migues and Prados. Over 200 years they have been absorbed into the local culture. Owens says the name Viator was originally Villatoro, and Gary was originally Garrido.

The Asociacion was founded this summer as a non-profit to “create an educational and cultural exchange of food, music, art and history between New Iberia and the Andalusia region of Spain, and to recognize the contributions of the original settlers to our culture.” The Asociacion officers are Owens, president; Ebrar Reaux, vice president; Jane Braud, secretary; Dr. Catherine Segura, treasurer; and Paul Schexnayder, parliamentarian (rules and procedures).

Members of the group traveled to New Iberia’s Twin City in Spain, Alhaurin de la Torre, and with the blessing of Iberia Parish School Board Superintendent Dale Henderson, invited Spanish students to come here, to experience New Iberia.

Fifteen high school students will arrive the week before Thanksgiving and stay through the week of Thanksgiving, to be immersed in learning English while staying with families in New Iberia. Their English teacher will accompany them.

At Easter time, 15 students from the New Iberia high schools of Catholic High, New Iberia Senior High and Westgate will travel to Spain with their Spanish teacher, for two weeks of immersing themselves in the Spanish language, going to school in Alhaurin, and living with host families. Part of the festival revenues will be used for scholarships to help the local students with travel expenses.

Dr. Catherine Segura, a former IPSB supervisor of education, represented New Iberia to the schools in Alhaurin de la Torre, along with Ebrar Reaux. “They want to come here and learn English, and our students want the opportunity to learn Spanish,” says Segura. Reaux, who wrote about the Alhaurin dignitaries visiting New Iberia last year for Acadiana LifeStyle, says families interested in the exchange program may contact him at or Segura at The City of New Iberia completed the twinning process with Alhaurin in 2011.

“The students that come here will be totally immersed in the English language and vice-versa with ours,” says Segura. “We want them to go back and spread the word about how good our school system is because the IPSB has welcomed these students with open arms.”

Gala Friday Night

The Spanish descendents in New Iberia will be included in several ways during El Festival Español de Nueva Iberia. A gala reception event “Spanish Cultural Heritage in New Iberia” will be held Friday, Nov. 16 at the Sliman Theater, 129 East Main Street, downtown. Tickets to the catered event are $50, which includes membership in the Asociacion, entry into the Bayou Teche Museum for the unveiling of the new “Spanish Founding of New Iberia” exhibit, and a lecture by historian Jose Manuel de Molina, which begins at 6 p.m., at the Shadows-on-the-Teche Visitors Center, 320 East Main Street.

Manuel de Molina wrote a history of Alhaurin de la Torre, which contains a chapter on New Iberia. Owens says while in Alhaurin, she was surprised to see in their museum an exhibit on New Iberia, and the Spanish City has also dedicated a street to New Iberia.

To showcase the genealogies of the local Spanish families, the Asociacion formed a committee to prepare documents showing the seven families’ succession. “Each family will be given a table to display their genealogies and any family heirlooms they want to. Those will be on view Saturday, at the Sliman,” says Owens.

Mayor Hilda Curry will open the festival and welcome the participants at 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Clara Roy Steamboat Pavilion. At 10:30 a.m., the IPAL performance of the Spanish Arrival on the Teche will be held behind the Pavilion.

Sunday, a Mass dedicated to the Spanish founding families and visitors from Spain will be held at 10 a.m., at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 108 St. Peter Street. At 1 p.m., a dedication of the New Iberia Trilingual Historical Markers, with guest speakers Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne and Manuel de Molina, will be held at the Sugar Cane Festival Building, 600 Parkview Drive. The 12 plaques are being presented by Iberia Cultural Resources Association, to designate significant older buildings in the city.

Running Of The Bulls

The history of the running of the bulls in Spain is not completely clear, and mock bull runs might be even more of a mystery. Regardless, the Bayou Teche Museum is offering New Iberia its first “Running of the Bulls,” which has become a popular running activity across the nation. With the help of Author James Lee Burke, the BTM will use the event to raise money for its exhibits, programming and museum maintenance.

Becky Collins, BTM board secretary, says the Run is a family event. “Dave Robicheaux’s Running of the Bulls 5K race includes a contest for Best Bull, Matador and Spanish Dancer Costumes, and a Dave Robicheaux Look-A-Like Contest.”

Costumes for the race are encouraged, and merchandise for sale will include a red t-shirt, red bandana, cap with horns, a sash—which is also a scarf, and souvenir cups.

Day of race registration begins at 7 a.m. and the race starts at 8 a.m., at the Clara Roy Steamboat Warehouse Pavilion, next to Bouligny Plaza, Main Street. Cost $40. The Dave Robicheaux Trivia Fun Run is $20. More information is available at the BTM website (

Of the families that founded New Iberia in 1779, seven remain here. Their surnames are Segura, Romero, Viator, Gary, Lopez, Migues and Prados. Are you related to one of these seven original Spanish families?

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