The term “Cajun” refers to a group of people who settled in Southern Louisiana after being exiled from Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) in the mid 1700s. For a very long time, being Cajun meant living, humbly, off the land and bayou (small-scale agriculture, hunting, fishing, and trapping). Unique cuisine and music developed among these communities.
In Blue Collar Bayou, Jaques Henry and Carl Bankston III explain that today more than 70% live in urban areas and most work in blue collar jobs in service industries, factories, or the oil industry. “Like other working-class and middle-class Americans,’ they write, “the Southwestern Louisianan of today is much more likely to buy dinner at the Super Kmart than to trap it in the bayou” (p. 188).
But they don’t argue that young Cajuns who live urban lifestyles and work in factories are no longer authentically Cajun. Instead, they suggest that the whole notion of ethnic authenticity is dependent on economic change.
When our economy was a production economy (that is, who you are is what you make), it made sense that Cajun-ness was linked to how one made a living. But, today, in a consumption economy (when our identities are tied up with what we buy), it makes sense that Cajun-ness involves consumption of products like food and music.
Of course, commodifying Cajun-ness (making it something that you can buy) means that, now, anyone can purchase and consume it. Henry and Bankston see this more as a paradox than a problem, arguing that the objectification and marketing of “Cajun” certainly makes it sellable to non-Cajuns, but does not take away from its meaningfulness to Cajuns themselves. Tourism, they argue, “encourages Cajuns to act out their culture both for commercial gain and cultural preservation” (p. 187).
Originally posted in 2009.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Bill R — August 15, 2014
Some of these small communities develop wonderfully unique and rich cultures, with their own dialects, cuisine, behaviors and dress. And the staying power! 200 years+ for the Cajuns and Amish et al.
I think these folks implode from exposure to the wider culture around them and through intermarriage as much as any growing variability in wealth disparity, but that probably plays a part too.
There is good and bad in all of this however. The good is the diversity they offer us and that's hard to beat. The bad is the fact that by definition they're insular and essentially in-group/out-group oriented; and when that is taken to extremes it ain't pretty.
I like to think the Cajuns became solid contributors to American culture at large. Their food is one contribution for sure. But they also blended their music with jazz, early country, bluegrass and Texas swing. Let's see...what do we call that? Oh yeah, Rock and Roll.
Max Vincent — August 16, 2014
Lisa Wade, Jacques Henry and Carl Bankston III all need to go back to wherever they came from. I do not recognize any of their names. I do not recognize any of them as being Cajun or from southwest Louisiana. Especially Lisa Wade. To all of you who come to poke fun at us like you would poke at an animal with a stick, go for it. You will find that we are fiercely protective of our culture and our heritage. We don't take to strangers. In fact, unless you were born and raised in southwest Louisiana, you are still a stranger until you have lived there at least 20-25 years.
We are indeed unique. We love our crawfish and our catfish. We love to catch them ourselves, well we used to all go crawfishing until it became a commodity, something to sell to you Yankees and restaurants outside of Louisiana that farmers found a way to keep crops in their fields year-round. After growing rice, they flood the pond and seed it with baby crawfish. After the crawfish grow and mature, they have fed the pond and left it ready for the next rice crop, and so it goes. This allows a farmer to have a year-round crop and not have to worry about a down season.
As for our music and festivals, I defy anyone to come up with a better time than Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Lafayette, Carencro or Eunice. Or Jazz Fest in New Orleans. I remember the earlier Jazz Fests, when we could walk around and see our friends and sit around close to the bands. Now, because word got out that it was the best festival down South, we can't even get decent tickets, or pay to see the best bands, because of all of the tourists. Yeah, it's nice to see that it has gotten the recognition it has deserved, but bigger is not always better.
As for music, zydeco and Cajun music have not changed all that much. The younger musicians have added a rock beat to zydeco and others have kept it pure. Cajun music will always be referred to as "chanky-chank" by all of us. Unless you know any of this you know none of this and know none of us. We haven't imploded, like the poster below suggests. We are still Cajuns who love our mammas. We do not care if we offer YOU diversity. We are insular and insulated because we don't want you stealing and appropriating what isn't yours to appropriate--such as our language, music, recipes, dishes, foods and love of each other and all that is Cajun. Our contributions to music cannot be listed as they are too numerous TO list. We are legally recognized as a minority and we fully intend to stay that way. Since the first Cajun music album was recorded in 1934, our music has remained ours and no one can take that away from us. Enjoy it but attribute it accordingly. Don't call it rock and roll, because it isn't: it's swamp pop and chank-a-chank and zydeco and Beausoleil and Rockin' Sidney and Clifton Chenier and their descendants. It's Cajun music and it is all ours.
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Ron — November 24, 2018
I live in Alabama but worked a lot in South Lousiana over the years ! Love the food and the people! An awesome place
Mimi — December 5, 2018
Have been to the Bayou many times and I still don’t really have a feeling of belonging. Acceptance maybe a little... the feeling of a closed society for sure. But I love these people and that’s for sure, too.
I have a Cajun roommate and have enjoyed his company four + years yeah. He has great manners and is a gentle soul. We like the same basic things in life; food, tv shows, music, good times and etc.. I’ve never met a more versatile person and in my wildest thoughts I couldn’t find a finer person to share my home with. I love ya Sam. Stay true to you. Don’t ever change.
Who Dat. ?
Léonce Boudreaux — March 30, 2019
For the most part, I agree with the statements of Max Vincent on his definitions of "Cajunism"
I am 67 years old and have seen many changes and in later years the redefining of who a Cajun is. I was always told that we were the descendants of those Acadians who survived the genocide & forced Removal from Acadie, or, what is known today as Nova Scotia, and ended up in Louisiana. And yes, language, family, culture, customs, the way one lived and even made a living, such as shrimping, fishing, gator hunting, trapping, ranching, and even many other businesses all played a part of that whole picture, but it was also community. My immediate family went on their own "exile" and left Louisiana when I was 5 yrs old. While the majority of my time spent was in a large Northern city, for economic reasons, for reasons I won't get into, I was shuffled back and forth between there and bayou country, at times living with some of my family there and going to there schools, then back up North again. My Dad's Moth er speaking broken English, as well as my step-Grandfather, but not much around me. Years later as a young man I moved back, where my roots were, lived and worked there. As much as I loved Louisiana, I was considered an " outsider" and never quite fit in. Guess I wasn't Cajun to them, but the Yankees up North never let me forget who I was or where I came, not that I ever wanted to. It cost me a number of black eyes, split lips, and swollen knuckles. I finally came to realize that no one, not no one, could define who the hell I was or wasn't. The blood of my Acadian Ancestors ran through my veins and that could never be taken away. I am Cajun (as well Norseman) and am proud of that. End of story.
Derry Jones — November 28, 2019
I feel a little humble at all these comments. I am a pianist who sometimes plays guitar ukulele and accordion, at a little acoustic club we have here in Harrogate, England. Tonight i am going to sing and play a song as a tribute to Cajun music. it is a pretty poor imitation as I have mad up some French words that sound a bit authentic, but I realise now that they are nowhere near the real thing.I hope you would forgive what I am doing, as I love this music and would love to come over and hear some in its own homeland.
The song is called "Fait le tour de mon amour" and has the typical three chord sequence. I persuaded my wife, who is from Africa, to join in on some sort of shaker she brought over, and it really rocks now. Wish me luck!
John Dupuis — March 22, 2020
My father was born in the back of a wagon in 1902 between Lafayette and Breaux Bridge. The Cajun people are people who want to be with each other. Look at the migration from The territories of Canada, it was done in mass, together.
If you want to view this look at the names and the marriages, very few English names...
Meriam — July 1, 2021
So I n threshing, born Houma La.,1953