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The Cajuns

The Cajuns: Americanization of a People

Shane K. Bernard
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Cajuns
    Book Description:

    The past sixty years have shaped and reshaped the group of French-speaking Louisiana people known as the Cajuns. During this period they have become much like other Americans and yet have remained strikingly distinct.The Cajuns: Americanization of a Peopleexplores these six decades and analyzes the forces that had an impact on Louisiana's Acadiana.

    In the 1940s, when America entered World War II, so too did the isolated Cajuns. Cajun soldiers fought alongside troops from Brooklyn and Berkeley and absorbed aspects of new cultures. In the 1950s as rock 'n' roll and television crackled across Louisiana airwaves, Cajun music makers responded with their own distinct versions. In the 1960s, empowerment and liberation movements turned the South upside down. During the 1980s, as things Cajun became an absorbing national fad, "Cajun" became a kind of brand identity used for selling everything from swamp tours to boxed rice dinners. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the advent of a new information age launched "Cyber-Cajuns" onto a worldwide web. All these forces have pushed and pulled at the fabric of Cajun life but have not destroyed it.

    A Cajun himself, the author of this book has an intense personal fascination in his people.

    By linking seemingly local events in the Cajuns' once isolated south Louisiana homeland to national and even global events, Bernard demonstrates that by the middle of the twentieth century the Cajuns for the first time in their ethnic story were engulfed in the currents of mainstream American life and yet continued to make outstandingly distinct contributions.

    Shane K. Bernard serves as historian and curator to McIlhenny Company, maker of Tabasco brand products since 1868, and Avery Island, Inc. He is the author ofSwamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues(University Press of Mississippi). His work has been published in such periodicals asLouisiana History,Louisiana Folklife,Louisiana Cultural Vistas, and theNew Orleans Times-Picayune.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-496-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-2)

    The Americanization of the Cajuns took place after decades of intense, scornful Anglo-Saxonism, the belief that Anglo-Saxon culture is superior and therefore should be imposed on other ethnic groups. Both the Cajuns and the Acadian exiles from whom they descended had been slandered as backward, ignorant, and un-American. In 1856, for instance, a journalist described the Acadians as “lazy vagabonds, doing but little work.” A New Yorker referred to them during the Civil War as a “most ignorant and wretched” people, who to his disgust were “unable to speak the English language, or convey an intelligent idea in the national...

    (pp. 3-22)

    Four thousand miles from his hometown of Breaux Bridge, Ralph LeBlanc, or “Frenchie,” as Navy pals called the twenty-year-old sailor, sat reading comics in Kingfish Hangar’s ready room. Usually occupied by pilots receiving orders and briefings, the room this morning, as every Sunday morning, served as a hangout where off-duty sailors drank coffee while glancing through stateside newspapers.

    For the past three days LeBlanc and his crew of mechanics had been awaiting aircraft from the carriersEnterpriseandLexington,so the roar of diving planes came as no surprise. Just a few aviators showing off, LeBlanc figured, before swooping down...

    (pp. 23-57)

    Around 10 p.m. on March 15, 1957, a fiery meteor emitting a shower of red sparks hurtled over south Louisiana, turning darkness to broad daylight before slamming into West Côte Blanche Bay. Windows rattled, some shattered, and police throughout central Acadiana fielded calls from hundreds of frantic citizens. No, they replied, it wasn’t a midair collision, an oil-rig blowout, a “space ship from Mars,” or “la fin du monde,” the end of the world. It was only a chunk of rock from outer space.

    Significantly, some Acadiana residents assumed that what they had witnessed was an incoming missile and the...

    (pp. 58-84)

    In June 1971 as many as one hundred thousand hippies invaded Acadiana to attend the Celebration of Life rock festival at Cypress Point, a two-hundred-year-old sugar plantation in rural Pointe Coupée Parish. The concert was envisioned as a recurrence of the 1969 cultural phenomenon called Woodstock, a three-day concert that featured more than two dozen bands and drew more than four hundred thousand hippies. But the Celebration of Life would be even more grandiose: it promised more than sixty acts over an eight-day period. Among the artists scheduled to perform were Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger...

    (pp. 85-111)

    On May 9, 1972, Edwin Washington Edwards went to morning Mass looking like “the best-dressed pimp to ever strut through a whorehouse,” according to one observer. Afterward, Edwards reigned as grand marshal of his own Mardi Gras-style parade. Mobs cheered, marching bands strutted, beauty queens waved from colorful floats, and doubloons splashed on the pavement as the “Cajun Prince” smiled from a limousine’s sunroof, gesturing V for victory. “I don’t like playing turtle,” he told his entourage. “Let’s get out and walk!” Edwards worked the parade goers on foot, shaking hands, grinning, charming them as he so expertly did every...

    (pp. 112-145)

    Something peculiar happened to Cajun culture in the late twentieth century. Once derided as backward, it suddenly became associated with words such ashot, chic,andtrendy. Mainstream society not only discovered Cajun culture but embraced it, usurped it, and reshaped it almost beyond recognition into a highly marketable commodity. A soft drink company in north Louisiana hawked Cajun Cola. A condiment manufacturer in Arizona introduced Ass Kickin’ Cajun Hot Sauce. A mollusk farm in Oregon marketed “Cajun-Style” Kitchen-Sliced Slugs. Electronics giant Lucent Technologies manufactured a line of computer hardware under the trademarked brand name Cajun. A major theme park...

    (pp. 146-150)

    Along with the expulsion from Nova Scotia and the Civil War, the last sixty years of the twentieth century represented one of the most crucial periods in Cajun history. During this time, the ethnic group, like other American minorities, experienced a fundamental change in character—one that actually redefined the meaning ofCajun. The term ceased to describe a mainly French-speaking, nonmaterialistic, impoverished people on the fringe of American society and instead referred to a largely English-speaking, consumer-oriented, middle-class community whose members closely resembled mainstream Americans. Although Americanization was compulsory during wartime and on school grounds, most Cajuns voluntarily embraced...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 151-182)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 183-196)