The cajuns

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The cajuns

  1. 1. The Cajuns<br />Georges Detiveaux,<br />Lone Star College-CyFair<br />Georges.J.Detiveaux@LoneStar.edu<br />
  2. 2. What’s in a name?<br />L’Acadie > Les Acadiens > Les Cadjins > Les Cajuns<br />
  3. 3. Le Grand dérangement<br />About 7,000 Acadians evicted by British from the Maritime provinces (cultural differences: religious, linguistic, etc.) beginning in 1755<br />Went elsewhere in Canada, all over the Eastern seaboard of North American, back across Atlantic, and elsewhere, especially Louisiana (arriving first in around 1764)<br />
  4. 4. Who’s a Cajun? <br />Point of contention among ethnographers, sociolinguists, historians, and the people themselves<br />Most agree that we’re talking about Catholic French speakers exiled from Canada now in South Louisiana<br />
  5. 5. So, why Louisiana?<br />Already a French presence there<br />Sought to live under a French government, despite France’s secretly having transferred Louisiana to Spain in 1762 (Treaty of Fontainebleau), made public in 1764<br />Agriculture, education, religion, health care<br />We can only imagine multiple instances of invitations such as thisletter: “My dear father (...) you can come here boldly with my dear mother and all the other Acadian families. They will always be better off than in France. There are neither duties nor taxes to pay and the more one works, the more one earns without doing harm to anyone…”<br />
  6. 6. Where are they? <br />Primarily in 22 parishes in Louisiana, region named Acadiana<br />Heart of Cajun culture is the city of Lafayette <br />
  7. 7. How many are there?<br />No more than 3500 came to Louisiana<br />Descendants number from 500,000 to 700,000 today<br />
  8. 8. A Note on Language<br />Hard to pinpoint a true number for speakers of Cajun French, since data come from various places and responders to census & surveys answer differently (2000 Census is the best example of such a poor study) <br />This said, in the 2005 American Community Survey, the results were: French 129,910; Cajun 19,105; French Creole 7,929 (total of all French speakers: 156,944)<br />
  9. 9. “le doux nom de Louisiane”<br />Alternatively vilified/victimized & idealized/romanticized until the modern era<br />Chateaubriand (Atala, 1801) <br />Louisiana Purchase (1803): America acquired the land the Cajuns had fled to <br />Plantation owners created a second exile to take farmland<br />Cajuns called the Civil War “la Guerre des Confédérés”<br />Longfellow (Evangeline, 1847)<br />
  10. 10. Negative Press: 1850s-1900s<br />Several examples of slandering the Cajuns in American popular media<br />1856, journalist: “Lazy vagabonds, doing but little work”<br />Civil War era New Yorker: “most ignorant and wretched… unable to speak the English language, or convey an intelligent idea in the national tongue”<br />Civil War era Protestant Minister: “These people seem to be living in the year 1500, such are their limited ideas, singular habits, and unparalleled ignorance.”<br />1873, journalist: described the Cajuns as “the least intelligent” of south Louisiana natives<br />1887, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine: quoted a local as calling them a “no good” lot who “don’t know more’n a dead alligator”<br />Postbellum journalist: “Good representatives of the white trash”<br />And these are the clean ones! <br />
  11. 11. The Early 1900s<br />Region largely isolated & didn’t mix heavily with Anglo-America until the World Wars<br />Even still, in WW1, Americanization (read made Anglo-Saxon) largely focused its xenophobia on Germans (banning language in public, getting rid of books, fining people for speaking it)<br />Few Cajuns fought in WW1 (most were discharged due to influenza, or the war ended before they were deployed)<br />
  12. 12. Prior to World War II<br />Strongest currents of mass-culture wave impacting Cajuns: we don’t see them until WW2. Until then, they were isolated from the American mainstream.<br />Many did not attend school<br />Less than half of Cajun homes had radios<br />By 1940, only about 17% of rural farms in Acadiana had electricity (half the national average) and only 22% had adequate plumbing (indoor tub, shower, indoor toilet, running water)<br />Many were so immersed in this state for so long that they didn’t notice the Great Depression<br />
  13. 13. World War II Cajuns<br /><ul><li>Participated in the war by the thousands, meaning many left Acadiana for the first time ever, experiencing culture shock & suffering ethnic slurs
  14. 14. Many could not speak or understand English
  15. 15. Back home, they supported the war effort with bond, stamp, and scrap drives, promoting feelings of national unity
  16. 16. Movies, newsreels, newspapers, books, magazines, & radio shows introduced home front Cajuns to the outside world
  17. 17. On a recruiting tour of Louisiana, Capt. Robert Mouton, USMC, observed: “They can shoot straight, they can handle a knife, they’re good physical specimens and they love a scrap… if that doesn’t make good Marine material, then moi, je suisfou!”
  18. 18. Many put their linguistic skills to work as translators, including my own father, and another veteran, Andrew Benoit, who was recently honored in the Houma newspaper, once called Le Courrier de Houma.
  19. 19. A Navy blimp base was built in this same town to patrol for German submarines and protect the Gulf Coast.
  20. 20. Industry also pulled Cajuns away to work for higher incomes in New Orleans, Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Orange
  21. 21. The educational system also embraced Americanism, requiring English on school grounds, and offering often severe punishments for speaking French
  22. 22. Some Cajuns never came home: census data suggests that more than 600 Cajun Gis died during the war in far-flung places such as Anzio, Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor, Okinawa, Normandy, and Saipan</li></li></ul><li>Atomic Age Cajuns<br /><ul><li>McCarthyism, the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear annihilation further solidified the move towards mainstream America
  23. 23. Compulsory military service & the GI Bill of Rights created veterans who went to school, bought homes, and started businesses
  24. 24. More and more Cajuns embraced rampant materialism and set aside the burdens of rural poverty
  25. 25. Number of French speakers continued to decline, as speaking the language at school was grounds for punishment: Cajuns learn that English is the language of social and economic upward movement
  26. 26. Nuclear anxiety led to the creation of 360 public fallout shelters by 1962
  27. 27. Approximately 13,200 Cajun GIs served in the Korean War, and only 67% used French as their first language (compared to the more than 80% in WW2)
  28. 28. Universities and colleges sprang up all across Cajun Country
  29. 29. Cajuns lamented the arrival of outsiders in search of oil, but as one Texas wildcatter recalled, “When they found out what we were paying, the Cajuns stopped complaining.”
  30. 30. Cajuns got their own definition in Jerry Robertson’s Oil Slang, a book of industry jargon: they were oil field workers “of mixed Spanish-French ancestry most likely to be a native of Louisiana...quaint, brave, and skillful…who laugh as they risk their lives on deep wells in high pressure offshore areas in the Gulf Coast.”
  31. 31. More money meant more modern conveniences, such as television (in English), meaning more hours spent in front of it instead of participating in more traditional activities such as the Fais do-do.
  32. 32. A Cajun from Erath recalled, “It wasn’t cool to speak French…I wanted to get into the American way of life.”
  33. 33. As such, youth culture embraced rock-n-roll, setting aside Cajun instruments and music for guitars and drumsets
  34. 34. This era also saw the publication of many Cajun cookbooks on a large scale & the development of the tourism industry</li></li></ul><li>Cajuns in the 60s & 70s<br />Cajuns were caught up in the period’s turmoil. In general, they adhered to the values they adopted from mainstream America (government, the military, the American dream).<br />Aligning themselves with Nixon’s “great silent majority,” the Cajuns allowed themselves to be further assimilated into Anglo-American culture.<br />Superhighways further eroded the insularity of the region.<br />The NFL and the Superdome come to Louisiana<br />Despite this seeming complacency, CODOFIL (1968) is established, and the Acadian flag is created & made official (1974). <br />
  35. 35. Pre-Katrina/Rita/BP Spill Cajuns<br />Cajun culture became hot, chic, and trendy<br />Cookbook titles included Microwave Cajun Country Cookbook, Cajun Vegetarian Cooking, and Kosher Cajun Cookbook (!?!?!)<br />Marvel comics added a Cajun superhero, Gambit<br />Justin Wilson touted Cajun cooking on television<br />USL’s mascot, the Ragin’ Cajuns, served as the inspiration for the Reagan Cajuns<br />Most restaurants had something “Cajun” on the menu, whatever that means<br />Chain restaurants joined the trend (Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Bennigan’s, Chili’s, TGI Friday’s, all had “Cajun” items for sale)<br />Despite all its wonderful efforts, CODOFIL has made little progress in significantly increasing the number of French speakers in Louisiana<br />New Orleans and other Mardi gras destinations are a curiosity, not unlike Las Vegas<br />The oil industry slows and stalls<br />Officially recognized as a national ethnic group by the US in a discrimination lawsuit. Presided over by Judge Edwin Hunter, the case, known as Roach v. Dresser Industries Valve and Instrument Division (494 F.Supp. 215, D.C. La., 1980), hinged on the issue of the Cajuns' ethnicity. Judge Hunter held in his ruling that: “We conclude that plaintiff is protected by Title VII's ban on national origin discrimination. The Louisiana Acadian (Cajun) is alive and well. He is 'up front' and 'main stream.' He is not asking for any special treatment. By affording coverage under the 'national origin' clause of Title VII he is afforded no special privilege. He is given only the same protection as those with English, Spanish, French, Iranian, Portuguese, Mexican, Italian, Irish, et al., ancestors.” <br />
  36. 36. Looking Forward<br />After the hurricanes, action groups saw a resurgence, with concerts organized to protect the wetlands and the Cajun way of life.<br />Cajun French (and other Louisiana French) poems, songs, & stories now figure prominently in Francophone literature anthologies & readers.<br />Where there was once shame, what have been a closet language and culture for much of the twentieth century are now celebrated. <br />In spite of natural and man-made challenges, the apparent instinctive ability of the Cajuns to swim with the mainstream will serve them well.<br />

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