Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What is a Cajun?

 (Per definition from wikipedia)

Cajuns (pron.: /ˈkən/; French: les Cadiens or les Acadiens, [le kadjɛ̃, lezakadjɛ̃]) are an ethnic group mainly living in U.S. state of Louisiana, consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French-speakers from Acadia in what are now the Canadian Maritimes). Today, the Cajuns make up a significant portion of south Louisiana's population, and have exerted an enormous impact on the state's culture.

Cajuns were officially made an ethnic group in 1980.

The Cajuns retain a unique dialect of the French language and numerous other cultural traits that distinguish them as an ethnic group. Cajuns were officially recognized by the U.S. government as a national ethnic group in 1980 per a discrimination lawsuit filed in federal district court. 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. Significantly, Judge Hunter held in his ruling that:

Mary Trahan, AnnaLee and Yoland Montet,
Near New Iberia, Louisiana
“We conclude that plaintiff is protected by Title VII 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.”
 —- Judge Edwin Hunter 1980.

Their Language
Probably because of the Acadians clinging to their native tongue, In 1921, the State of Louisiana’s new constitution included outlawing the speaking of French in the public schools.  By the 1960’s the language had almost died out. 
However, In 1961, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) was founded, putting the French-language curricula in the public schools. In the rural southwestern Louisiana parishes, nearly one third still speak French on a daily basis.

I am sad to say I was part of the generation that was not taught to speak the melodic and mysterious native language of my father. 

In my debut  novel, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, set in the 1950s, Papa speaks the Cajun dialect, while teaching his daughter, Nikki, that French is "a dying language." 
Join ten-year-old Nikki Landry as she vows to learn her father's languge, while she unravels the mystery of an age-old legend in the gator infested bayous of Cajun country.



Sharon Ledwith said...

Love this post, Rita! My father's family is French Canadian and from the Canadian Maritimes (New Brunswick. They spoke french in the household, and their roots (and mine) run deep when it comes to 'French' connections. Makes me wonder if any of my family went down your way to settle. Hmmm - maybe we're related after all, big Sis?

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Very informative!! And I just got past that point in your novel too--looking forward to a couple more chapters tonight. :)

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Thanks Sharon. Hey, you just never know... I've always wanted to visit the area. Many of my ancestors' death certificates say they were born in Port Royal.

Clarissa, just finished Between last night. That's some spooky stuff. Makes me wonder how much of it is from experience. :-)

Patricia said...

Thank you SO much for the Cajun lesson. I never knew any of this. It's extraordinarily interesting, especially since it's part of the U.S. and a culture with whom I've never had contact.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Thanks for your comment, Patti. I'm going to try and dedicate Wednesdays to Cajun history and trivia. You should visit Cajun country at least once (Lafayette especially). It's like being in another country.

Eleni Konstantine said...

Loved learning more about Cajuns, Rita. It totally fascinated me.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting...and sharing, Eleni.

Mike Hebert said...

Rita! thanks for following and commenting. I like what you do and hope you write more. I worked at the Rapides Parish library and Evangeline Parish library, at BooksaMillion, and got a BA in Literature from NSU. Needless to say, I love to read and love books.:-)

When you have time, visit Kittie Howard's blog. Like you, she's a writer and from Louisiana. Also, Chere Coen writes about Louisiana books. I'm sure she'll like to hear from you, if ya'll haven't talked already.

Take care and I'm glad I came across you. I also can't speak French but my parents do. I'm learning a little as I go.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Thanks Mike. I'll check out the two ladies you mention. Bonsoir.

Holley Trent said...

Wow. I didn't realize they were a recognized ethnic group. I do a lot of research on some pretty obscure mixes, but somehow I missed that one.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Just learned that little tidbit myself, Holly. I always knew we were a special sort of mix. *wink wink*.