As historian Carl Brasseaux understates in his book, “The Founding of New Acadia,” “Local government agencies, tourist bureaus, and business groups produced vast quantities of promotional material designed to lure outsiders to their particular corner of ‘Cajun Country.’ In the haste to get these brochures to market, public-relations firms entrusted with the task of ‘selling Acadiana’ sacrificed historical detail and accuracy on the altar of marketability.
“The resulting legacy of confusion has given rise to a seeming parody of the ‘Washington slept here’ phenomenon, as every community of consequence in Acadiana began to proclaim itself the world capital … of things Cajun.”
That was what led the Powers that Be in Baton Rouge to try to define the area of “Acadiana” by legislation (so that, of course, it could be properly packaged and marketed). The original legislation included just a handful of parishes where the original Acadians who came to Louisiana had actually settled, but by the time the bill got through the state legislature some 22 parishes – almost half the state – wanting to capitalize on the Cajun craze had tacked themselves onto the legislation.
Legislators, to their credit, did reject a semi-serious attempt to include Port Arthur, Texas, in “Acadiana.” New Orleans was not included, either. The uppity city folks, if asked if they were Cajun, replied “Oh, no! We’re Creole!” Now, of course, that tune has changed and you hear more zydeco than jazz when you walk through the French Quarter.
The phenomenon reached well beyond our borders. When Paul Hardy was lieutenant governor in the 1970s, he went to a baseball game in California, and heard a vendor hawking “Cajun hotdogs.” He bought one just to see what in the world it might be. It was a Polish sausage on a bun. Half the restaurants in the world began to splash hot sauce on whatever was on their menu and label it “Cajun.”
It got so bad that we had to create an official sticker to put on products from south Louisiana that labeled them “authentic Cajun.” Even then half the stuff with the label might have been grown or made in Acadiana but had little to do with Cajuns.
The result has been that a lot of that stuff has stayed with us and the made-up legends have become as “authentic” as the real ones that were their inspiration.
That gives a bit of a problem as we try to revitalize and keep our Acadian culture in the face of the modern onslaught of “information” – not necessarily factual – from all sorts of media and technologies.
If we’re going to save “authentic” Acadian culture, we have to know what it is, and there’s a good chance that, first, the authentic has become so entangled with the made-up that we’ll never untangle one from the other, and second, that a generation or two that has grown up with the new “authentic” Cajun culture likes that version better than the old one.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.