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The Cajunization of French Louisiana: Forging a Regional Identity Author(s): Cécyle Trépanier Reviewed work(s): Source:
The Cajunization of French Louisiana: Forging a Regional Identity Author(s): Cécyle Trépanier Reviewed work(s): Source:

The Cajunization of French Louisiana: Forging a Regional Identity Author(s): Cécyle Trépanier Reviewed work(s):

Source: The Geographical Journal, Vol. 157, No. 2 (Jul., 1991), pp. 161-171 Published by: Wiley on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

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The GeographicalJournal, Vol. 157, No. 2, July 1991, pp. 161-171

The Cajunization of French Louisiana: forging a regional identity

CECYLE

TREPANIER

Departement de Geographie, Universite Laval,Quebec,QC, CanadaG1K 7P4

This

paper was accepted for publication in January 1991

French Louisiana is the only

one of

the most distinctive culture

French

is very diversified in terms of its origins. Despite this diversity, French Louisiana is

now

derogatory. in the late 1960s. It was

Louisiana identities and of the

of

its

remnant

of France's vast Mississippi Valley empire

eighteenth century. It

remains today

However,

population

and

only

effectively

States.

regions Louisiana does not reflect its reality. The French

settled

region in the

of the United

with

perception

of

of Louisiana

of Louisiana

usually associated exclusively

Cajuns, a word of the

which until recently was to take

began

of the

place

white French

this process

Indians

considered

The beautification

Cajun identity

followed by a gradual Cajunization

regional

ethnic

territory.

However,

Cajunization remains incomplete

remain

French Louisiana,

viewed from the outside, contrasts sharply with the cultural variety of its communities.

because black Creoles and

French-speaking

of

unintegrated. Hence,

the apparent ethnic homogeneity

KEYWORDS:French Louisiana, Cajun, Creole, culture region, identity.

tive remnant of the French presence in the

Mississippi River Valley during the eighteenth

in the

early nineteenth century, rural French Louisiana

continued to grow as a distinctively French region.

The

Louisiana having some French ancestry as almost

one million (954237). What this number hides,

however, is the diversity of origins of the French

population.

Louisiana has at least four major French

century. Despite political Americanization

1980 US Census evaluates the population

of

subcultures. The first group is the white Creoles. It includes descendants of the first French and French Can-

adian colonists, early gallicized Germans, and later political French refugees. Second are the black Creoles, some of whose ancestors came from Africa directly, others via the Caribbean. Some black Creoles had been free before the Civil War, and

society

indeed occupied a special place

(see Mills [1977]; Woods

is comprised of French-speaking Indians,

south-eastern

parishes. Fourth are the descendants of the Acadians.

1755 from their

homeland, present-day Nova Scotia, by the English. After their arrival in Louisiana, they integrated into their culture people of such diverse ethnic origins as

in Louisiana

[1972]). The third group

in

the

in

especially

the

The

Houmas

concentrated

Acadians were deported

0016-7398/91/0002-0161

/$00.20/0

Spanish, German and Scots-Irish. This fourth

group

different

that

belongs more to the past

by the belief that there are

any other French

subgroup in French Louisiana, that

much

that

influence

the culture area. Inasmuch as the

coming international attention under the

role and influence of the other French subcultures in

label, the

Louisiana

inside as

'Cajun culture' has the most

intermarriage between the subcultures, and

more Acadian

assumption

French subcultures in Louisiana is

Italian,

For

has been

many,

popularly referred to as

however,

is

supported

the existence

of

'Cajun'.

This

an old story

present.

than the

descendants than

the

surely

the

are

there has been

currently

and

greatest visibility

well as outside

French

to national and

'Cajun'

defining

overlooked.

the

character

of the

region

are simply

in

In fact, the French subcultures are

of today's

questions

three

French

Louisiana

label,

rogatory?

How

which

have

important

the geography

being so,

is

'Cajun'

the

image of the culture region affected the way people react to the word Cajun in French Louisiana, and what are the consequences? What is the role and influence of the French subcultures in the geography

French Louisiana.

This

Why

the

de-

need to be answered:

revealing

not

so

the

itself

long

under

was

in

recent

ago

changes

of the region?

? 1991 The Royal Geographical Society

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162

THE CAJUNIZATION OF FRENCH LOUISIANA

Fig.1. Communitiesvisitedin fieldwork, 1981and1982

through

extensive

surrounding areas where more than 200 interviews

with residents were

munities (big dots on

map overlaid with a each one the

minister when

and

Answers to these

fieldwork

questions

in

were found

Southern

Louisiana

grid.

conducted. Main

Fig.

48-by-48

the

study com- 1) were selected kilometre

from a

In

priest, a Protestant

postmaster,

possible,

senior respondents

by postmaster or priest) were

interviews were

and three

Twenty-one

(usually identified

with

formally interviewed.

conducted

Many within or near the limits of their culture

selected communities.

high-school

respondents

other

in

four

communities

were

region either to verify their ethnic character

visited briefly,

or to determine the culture

region's boundary.

The need for a regionalidentity

In

communities everywhere.

stateswere touched. In oppressed of minorities

recognition,and assurance

the Black

the

1960s

a

surge

and

was

Civil

Power

ethnic

swept Even advanced industrial

of

revival

the United States, the most

a voice,

of legal rights through

obtaining

Rights

steps

Movements.

Other groups also benefited from the new mood of

the country. Starting as

Government began legislative

cationin languages other than English.

early as 1958, the US

to allow edu-

political and abroad, Louisiana although anglophone,

and the political

image. He not

French

the state

legislature to adopt measures aimed at preserving it

language for Louisiana, but encouraged

only

particularity benefits to be reaped from a French

sensed the

developments in the country Governor John MacKeithen,

Sensitive

to

the

new

cultural

and

of his state

emphasized

the importance

1977: 71-2).

of

the

in 1968,

the state legislature created CODOFIL,

an

the

opinion

president, Mr James Domengeaux,

ana could become the French window of the United

States on the world. However, CODOFIL from

major

US

and many state agencies, it enjoyed

essentially no popular base. To create such a base

Government

faced a

for the Development

organization

(Smith-Thibodaux,

Hence,

the Council

of French in Louisiana,

to

do

just

that.

In

empowered

of CODOFIL's

problem.

Despite

energetic and pragmatic

French Louisi-

support

the

wasnot an easy task. Not only was French

fied,but compartmentalized

different groups

some subregions were 'Acadian',

Louisiana ethnically diversi-

The

geographically.

specific

areas.

occupied

Hence

while others were

'Creole'. People of the same

very different natural environments

group

also occupied

(Comeaux,

the east-

1978). Acadian penetration characterized

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THE CAJUNIZATION OF FRENCH LOUISIANA

i;

--

-

w----

-

-

 

/

 

Pine

Hills

/

 

_

Terraces

F

,I--

-latwoods

 

Pontcake

<

\

Pontchartralin

,4/Ij'/

163

0

30mi.

f

0

30km

Sources : Comeaux,1978, 143;Kniffen, 1977,8; Lockett, 1873,in Newton, 1972,46.

Fig. 2. The naturalenvironments

of SouthernLouisiana

ern bayous, the coastal marshes, and the south-

western prairies(Fig. 2).

one group

instance, an

portantalong

prairies

on the eastern

parishes,

the south-eastern ones. This

plexity

on class. Given these

Louisiana-wideFrench ethnic

always

CODOFIL is

regional

Occasionally,

more than

could be foundwithinthe samearea.For

Anglo-American presence

the

was im-

Mississippi Riverand

the western

and Gulf

Coast; blackswere concentrated

prairies and in the Mississippi River

French-speaking Indians occupied

while

geographical

com-

wasreinforced by socialdifferentiationbased

circumstances,

a

viable,

consciousnesshas

been difficultto achieve. To reach its goal,

trying

to create such a

among other things, defining a

academicsuse the

expression

'the Louisiana

about the

French Louisiana

generality of the expression,

sureof its effectiveinclusiveness.

the

Cajun, on the other hand,

the region. Eachhas

consciousnessin,

regionalidentity.

Historical background onCreoleand Cajun identities

Only

French' to speak

population.Despite

one is never

The words Creole and

referto traditionalidentitiesin

its rootsin the past.

quite

Creole identity had emerged

in

eighteenth century

Theretheword

usedthan

in

and had not

French period

the children born of

colony

The French of

the WestIndies

reality. In Louisiana, then, strictly speaking, the Creoles were descendantsfrom the colonists who

came

Louisiana Purchase,and of the West Indies (St Martin, 1937:

from France and

before the

borrowedit to fit theirown

were Criollas (Saucier, 1943:

Spaniards,

word'Creole' comesfromthe

been knownin Louisiana during the

TheCreole identity The

Louisianaat the end of the

with the arrivalof

'

Louisiana

refugees from Saint-Domingue.

widely

Creole'wasmore

(Dominguez, 1977: 592). In fact, the

Spanish,

For the

in a

(until 1763) (Asbury, 1938: 92).

directly

simply

Spanish parents

106).

Spain

Creoles from the

859). According to

any

Asbury(1938: 92)

nativeof Louisianawasa Creole.AftertheLouisiana

Purchaseof 1803,theCreolesaddedto thedefinition

a

cultural dimension to exclude the American newcomers.To be Creoleone needed to be native

and Frenchin culture

new problemarose swept the South.

as a wave

Lynching and theinstitutionalizationof segregation

it alsomeant 'native'. Thus

(Dominguez, 1977: 592-3).

Beginning in the late 1880sa

of Jim

Crow laws

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164

THE CAJUNIZATION OF FRENCHLOUISIANA

advanced. Until then, neither the traditional defi- nition of Creole (native) nor the modified one

(cultural) had ever required purity of racial ancestry

(Dominguez,

indifference

sug-

this

1977: 593).

became

To the Americans, and comments

to purity

suspicious the Creoles' inattention

1977:

594).

Indeed,

gested

ancestry indicated that most of them, if not all, were

of the tarbrush'

in fact 'tainted'

by the 'touch

the American

that

of

(Dominguez,

system of ethnic classification had no place for a

the

racially

categorization, they would be classified within the 'colored' section

of society. As a last resort, the white Creoles began

to systematically exclude 'coloured

Creoles' from

their group (Dominguez, 1977: 594). For them 'Creole' became strictly a white ethnic category. However, blacks with a French culture never recognized this new definition and members of both groups continue to refer to themselves as Creoles.

Creoles insisted on their inclusive

undifferentiated

social

category.

If

The Cajunidentity The word Cajun is probably a

corruption of the word Acadien. Two

illuminate

suggests that the aristocratic, well-educated, finan- cially well-off Creoles, city folk and plantation

princes, looked down upon the newcomers from

Acadia who, on the whole, were a rural people. St

Martin, for instance, reported that

would

Cadien;fa c'estCadien"and that made her point. It seems reasonable,' he continued, 'to suppose that the corruption of Cadien to Cajun came about in that way, as a slur of reproach to the unworthy ones in their midst by the Creoles themselves' (1937:

861). According to the second hypothesis, English- speaking settlers named the people Cajuns because they could not pronounce the French word Acadien or Cadien (St Martin, 1937: 861). Whatever its origin, Cajun became a 'fighting word' (St Martin) and corresponded to the term

hypotheses

origin.

One

the

circumstances

of its

'

A Creole mother

say to her child,

"

Tu es habille commeun

States

(Saucier, 1943: 102). For instance, the 'old Negro

white trash". She said:

"Cajun "' (St Martin, 1937: 861 ). Also, an ignorant

or poor person, even though Creole in origin, might be called a Cajun, while a prosperous or educated Acadian would be called a Creole (Saucier, 1943:

mammy did not say "poor

'hill-billy'

in other sections of the United

102).

Given these circumstances, one may wonder how the Acadians came to accept the Cajun identity. A geographer, E. Waddell, has suggested an answer with roots in the racial dilemma of French Louisi- ana. With the end of slavery many black Creoles became sharecroppers and small farmers, activities

characteristic of the

economic interests occurred between the two groups,

and in Waddell's words, 'a blurring of racial

Cajun world. A merging

of

boundaries'

Anglo-Americans to stress that Creole indicated mixed racial

began origins, a new racial order based on black-white

duality was imposed in

has shown. In Waddell's opinion,

as well.

When

the

Louisiana, as Dominguez

The ruralwhites were left with no alternative at this point but

as Cajuns, because at

to assume their

least it implied a certain 'purity of race'. According to this

new term

Cajuns but they could never be Cajuns.

stigmatized identity,

non-white francophones could be, or were often, like

(Waddell, 1979: 6).

Hence, an inferior group identity was imposed

large part

French Louisiana

on a

of the

until

for non-Cajuns to call

of the rural white population.

component

Nevertheless,

the 1970s, it was not wise

somebody a Cajun to his or her face.

The Cajunizationof the

a

positive

FrenchLouisiana identity

image

for

Despite the fact that the Creole

carried

francophones of Southern Louisiana, it is under the

proceeded to unify

the region. This choice can only be interpreted as the desire for the French Louisiana elite to assure

for the region a '\

the Cajunization of French Louisiana had to begin

by the beautification of the word Cajun.

In its efforts to make the Cajun identity re-

spectable, CODOFIL stressed the original genea- logical definition of Cajun, that is, its Acadian character. The word Acadian became a synonym for Cajun, and was used as such. 'Acadian' and 'Acadia' sprang up all over the landscape in the names of businesses and festivals. The phenomenon

In fact,

was especially

te' identity. This choice made,

black

identity had always

white

and

Cajun label that CODOFIL

strong around

Lafayette,

finds a place on Zelinsky's 1980 map of

vernacular regions of the United States. Further-

more, in 1971, the state legislature chose the name

'Acadiana

Louisiana

over it was the 'Louisiana Acadian Flag'. This

definition made awkward the place of Italian,

Spanish, German, Scots-Irish '

to an old Acadian identity, and definitely prevented blacks and Indians of French culture from being

Cajuns

itself became legit-

to designate the culture area of Southern

3). The flag that was going to fly

'Acadia'

'

(Fig.

Cajuns' by referring

(Waddell, 1979: 11-12).

the term 'Cajun'

However,

imate when the flashy and charismatic Edwin Edwards was elected governor. Edwards ran under

the Cajun label. He enlarged its definition by

addressing it not only to those of Acadian descent, but rather to everyone having a French culture or a French heritage in Louisiana. Soon after, the new

as Cajun,

sometimes

mood

was engraved

in the landscape

ways

spelled in original

(Kajun,

Ka-

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THE CAJUNIZATION OF FRENCHLOUISIANA

165

Source:

State of Louisiana,

Concurrent Resolution

Number 496,

1971

Fig. 3. Acadiana: Official French Lousiana, 1971

Jon), appeared on every possible sign.

the

As stickers of

it was

Power' and, of course,

Cajun

is immediately associated with the people of French

Louisiana and interpreted to mean simply Acadian

in

demonstrates

promoting

ternational scene.

and Edwards' propaganda conjointly redefined the For

my respondents, a Cajun was

Cajun identity.

in-

all sizes announced,

time for 'Cajun

Cajun festivals.

Outside Louisiana, the fact that the word

the

effectiveness

its message

on

the

of

CODOFIL

and

national

Within Louisiana, CODOFIL's

no longer rural, backward, uneducated. He or she

characterized by a single way of

life or behaviour. Instead, Cajuns were, most of all,

people who had some French roots (Table I).

feature to observe was how fast

the perception of the Cajun

The

appreciated

through

research with those of the 'Projet Louisiane' (Table

II), obtained three towns of Southern

in two

of the results from this

could no longer be

A most striking

speed

of the

identity has changed.

could

be

(1977-1979)

Lafayette, home of

change

the comparison

years

earlier

Louisiana:

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166

Definition

Genealogical

Uniquely genealogical

Not

uniquely genealogical Some Acadian

Some

Other origin

origin

French origin

Behavioural

Uniquely language

Not

Uniquely

Not uniquely other behaviour

Territorial

Uniquely

territorial

Not uniquely territorial

uniquely language

other behaviour

Louisiana

Southern Louisiana

Specific places

In the

On the

country

bayous

Here

Derogatory (c)

Hesitation

Total of respondents Notes:

THE CAJUNIZATION OF FRENCH LOUISIANA

TABLE I

'Whatis a

Cajun?' Respondentsof 35 FrenchLouisiana communities, 1981-1982

Groupof respondents(a)

PM

GM

P

MSR

y.,

2f

12

9

11

10

% o

75

43

32

39

36

12

-

2

2

3

7

1

1

43

7

7

11

25

6 21

1

5

4

14

18

-

4

4

4

14

-

X

4

2

2

1

2

1

3

3

-

1 3

1

2

-

2

-

1

-

%

47

29

29

14

29

14

43

--

43

43

143m 14

29

-

29

14

33

6

27

25

5

3

18

3

1

16

14

%

79

18

79

74

15

9

53

9

-

3

47

41

- -

-

14

6

4

1

1

2

-

41

18

12

3

3

6

X v

16

1

15

5

10

1

17

1

4

3

12

7

-

7

1

4

1

1

4

%

73

5

68

23

45

5

77

5

18

14

55

32

-

32

5

18

5

5

28

7

34

22

X

79

37

42

40

28

11

39

10

20

1

11

34

3

31

9

5

1

%

77

36

41

39

27

11

38

10

19

1

11

33

3

30

9

5

1

~~~~~~~22

5

12

10

2

5

12

10

2

103

Total (b)

153

59

94

82

55

16

89

13

32

8

46

64

5

59

16

16

3

2

8

19

10

2

%'

79

30

49

42

28

8

46

7

16

4

24

33

3

30

8

8

2

1

4

10

5

1

194

(a)

(b) The subtotals do not necessarily add up since a respondent can give many

(c)

N, number; PM, postmaster; GM, grocery manager; P, priest; M, minister; and SR, senior respondent.

elements in his or her answer.

A Cajun was characterized as a

The word 'coonass' is not included.

stupid person, a country person, poor, low class, or a person who speaks 'bad French'.

CODOFIL,

region,

Orleans' Westbank.

located

and Westwego,

at

the

centre

on its eastern

of

the

edge,

culture

on New

is a

Cajun?', the 'I don't know' answers, hesitation and

derogatory definitions of Cajuns had vanished. In

a

derogatory definition of Cajun (3 per cent, Lafay- ette; 22 per cent Westwego) and 19 per cent did not

give an answer or hesitated before risking one ( 13 per

cent,

genealogical

ing

a

defined much more by a way of

either being or a way of life than by where he came

from.

J'te garantis nous-autreson est des

mieux que d'autre mondemais aussi bon que d'autrestusais.La plein

du monde

d'education,t'es qui plusbas

dit,moi j'peux que toi, j'peux

pas f si bete

temps

important in 1978

(37 per cent).

Cajun

In 1981, when

1978,

11

per

Lafayette;

in

1981

respondents

cent

of

the

were asked

respondents

'What

gave

22 per cent Westwego).

of Cajuns

cent),

they

Also, while

definitions

(79

per

were overwhelm-

were

much

less

In other

words,

in 1978 was

Here

are some

examples:

Cadjins.Jocalcule qu'on est pas

que tu parlesfrancais,t'as

Mais moi fjai

toutle

pas

croitdes fois parce

que les autres et toi

parlerfrancais parler deux langues.

tupeux pas, ca fait Tucomprends

ca j'veux dire?

I guarantee you that we are Cajuns. I think that we are not

but as good

who

speak French, you don't have education, you are worth less

than the others

you, I can speak

two languages. You understand what

(Male respondent, Westwego, 1978)

better than other people

There are a lot of people

But

as the others you know.

believe that because you

me, I have always said, I can speak

French and you can't, so I'm not as stupid as

I'm saying?

or,

Un Cadjin il aimetravailler dur, il soigne sa famille bien, il aime s'amuseret bien manger.

A

he

Cajun likes to work hard, to take

good care of his family,

likes to have a good time and eat well.

(Female respondent, Lafayette, 1978)

or

un Cadjin c'est moi. J'suis un

et

Cadjin et fsuis proud defa.

Un

Cadjin moi j'trouve c'est une personnequ'a un bon coeur,qu'a du

sentimentpour les autres

d'autre Le Cadjin c'estclose

Quebec,qu'a toutvenu ici pourfaire une vie.C'estla oi le Cadjin est

renu, mais la maniere moij'le vois

travaille dur

queque chosepourquequ'un

aime faire

du monde qui vient

NovaScotia,

qui

un bon coeur,proud,dumonde

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THE CAJUNIZATION OF FRENCH LOUISIANA

167

TABLE II

' Whatis a

Cajun?'

Westwego and Lafayetterespondents, 1978

Definition

Genealogical

Uniquely genealogical

Not

uniquely genealogical

Some Acadian

Some

Other origin

origin

French origin

Behavioural

Uniquely language

Not uniquely language

Uniquely

Not uniquely other behaviour

Territorial

Uniquely

Not uniquely territorial

territorial

other behaviour

Louisiana

Southern Louisiana

In the

country Onthe bayous Here Derogatory(b) Doesnot know or hesitation Doesnot know Hesitation Totalof respondents

Westwego
X

18

13 27

5 11

8 16

8 16

2 4

28

11 22

7 14

5 10

7 14

9 18

1 2

2 16

8 1

4

2

1

8

4

Lafayette

X

%

9

2

8

3

37

30

7

27

10

53

17

20

13

10

27

3

23 7

3

%

37 1

57 16

5

6

4

3

8

1

2 7

2 1

1

8

6 5

2 5

1

4

10 1

16

11 22

12

~~~~~159

3

16

17

3

3 13

10

49

30

Total (a)

4

2

29

22

7

16

11

2

44

16

13

9

10

17

2

15

3

2

6

9

15

6

1 9

5

3

%

37

28

9

20

14

3

56

20

16

11

13

22

3

19

4

3

8

11

19

8

11

79

Notes:

(a) The subtotals do not

(b)

necessarily add up, since the respondent could

give many

elements in his or her answer.

A Cajun was characterized as a stupid, ignorant person or a country person.

six respondents, is not included.

The word 'coonass', casually mentioned by

of it. A who has

Cajun, I think, is a person who has a good heart,

consideration for others

who came from make a life for

themselves.That's where the Cajuns come from, but the way

I see it

somebody else The Cajun is sort of people Nova Scotia, Quebec, who came here to

likes to do something for

a

Cajun, that's me. I'm a Cajun and I'm proud

and

a good heart, proud, people who work hard (Male respondent, Westwego, 1978)

In 1981, the spontaneity one felt in the answersof

the 1978 respondents had evaporated. Instead it

soundedasif everybody hadlearnedthesamelesson:

'jNous autres on s'appelle des Cadjins. On est suppose' etre

des Acadiens.' (We

supposed

dent,

people

Settlement,

call

ourselves

(Female

name

Cajuns.

senior

for

the

We

are

to

Acadians)

1982);

(Male

1981).

or

'A

senior

be

respon-

French

French

Basile,

here'

respondent,

The

new status

In

a real change

would

of the

FrenchLouisiana.

have

higher

status associated with the word, while a Creole

fact,

wouldhave resented being called Cajun. In

some respondents were not too happy about the

been glad to be called

of'Cajun'

the

a Creole

past,

made

a Cajun

because

'

change:

Cadjin' (We were called Creoles before this

Cajun

business) (Female senior respondent, Breaux

On s'appelait des Creoles avant cetteaff

aire de

in

or

'

Ils

Bridge);

Creoles' (They

Creoles) (Female senior respondent,

remarks

was,

inclusive. Twelve per cent of all respondents directly

expressed

came

s'appellent des Cadjins mais c'est tous des

call themselves

however,

the

process

Cajuns

but they're

all

Edgar). These

that

of

the

word

becoming

Cajun

more

of the word

Cajun

types

of Cajun

in

or

'pure'

Cajun,

Cajun,

of

that

is any

culture.

indicate,

in

indeed,

this metamorphosis

two

'real'

the 'new'

of French

their definitions.

Hence,

to

be

recognized:

the

Acadian

white

descent,

Louisiana

and

native

However, ethnic mobilization

French

successful

subcultures

blacks

defining

is

Larouche

identifywith

assumetheir Indian

origin,but

Louisiana;

in

and

it splits

but

along

gradually

of

the

Indians

area,

of

unifying

it

French

a Cajun

as a white

by

the

work

identity,

identity

person.

of

supported

(1979) and Bernier

a

Creole

can easily

is not

racial

the

fails

culture

complete

lines.

It

in

is

in

white

because

French

both

persist

This conclusion

Maguire

(1987),

readily

Indians

of

it and

(1978). Blacks

outside

whereas

in their communities

pass for Cajun

be recognized

as such.

Despitethe r