How Canada’s loss became Louisiana’s gain
In what has come to be called le grand dérangement, as many as 18,000 French-speaking people were banished by the British from what was then known as Acadia, now Nova Scotia, between 1755 and 1764 amid the French and Indian War. About 3,000 of the expelled Acadians made their way to south Louisiana, where Spanish rulers had sought Catholic settlers for the untamed bayou country. The word “Acadian” would soon become “Cajun” in local parlance — and Louisiana would never be quite the same.
After initial friction with Creole settlers who resented the newcomers, Cajuns and their culture took root in southwest Louisiana. Cajun music and cuisine have become popular cultural exports, and they draw hordes of tourists to southwest Louisiana. That region, the center of the state’s Francophone population, has become known as Acadiana, an area officially recognized by the state. It spans 22 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes and even has its own distinct flag.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow based his epic poem “Evangeline” on the Acadians’ expulsion.
- The 1921 State Constitution required that education in Louisiana be conducted in English. As a result, children who spoke their native Cajun tongue were humiliated by classmates and punished by teachers.
- In an attempt to bolster French culture and the self-esteem of French-speaking Louisianians, the Council for the Development of French Louisiana, better known as CODOFIL, was formed in 1968 to promote French-related programs and the teaching of the French language.
- The first commercially released recording of Cajun music was made in 1928. The 78 rpm record featured Joe Falcon’s “Lafayette” (later known as “Allons à Lafayette”) and “Waltz That Carried Me to My Grave.”
- The Balfa Brothers stunned the crowd at the 1964 Newport (R.I.) Folk Festival when they introduced Cajun music to enthusiastic appreciation.
- In 1997, Beausoleil was the first Cajun band to win a Grammy.
- Edwin W. Edwards, who served four terms, was Louisiana’s only Cajun governor in the 20th century. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who also is from southwest Louisiana, was governor from 2004 to 2008. The state’s first elected governor who could claim French heritage was Alexandre Mouton, who took office in 1843.
It is impossible to imagine Louisiana without the pervasive, enriching influence of Cajun culture. After years of being stigmatized for not speaking English, Cajuns have become celebrated for the diversity they have brought to the state, and emissaries such as the chef Paul Prudhomme and musicians such as Beausoleil, Clifton Chenier, the Balfa Brothers and Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band have conveyed Cajun culture far beyond the state’s borders.