History of the Cajuns
Several things occurred in the 20th century that changed the Cajun way
of life. At the turn of the century, many Cajuns still lived in the same
area as their parents, married other Cajuns, still spoke only French, and
had very little to do with the outside world. But the Louisiana constitution
was changed so that the Cajun children were required to go to schools ...
schools that demanded only English be spoken. Also, the oil business brought
in many new people to Acadiana. It no longer became as common for Cajuns
to married other Cajuns. The wars of the 20th century required that Cajuns
travel. As jobs became more mobile, they brought Cajuns to all parts
of the globe. Cajuns became more worldly, more mobile, more integrated
with the 'American' culture.
According to the 1990 census, 597,729 people in the United States claimed their first ancestry was Acadian-Cajun, while 70,542 claimed it as their second. In Louisiana alone, there were over 400,000 who claimed Acadian-Cajun ancestry.
The 20th century saw the Cajun culture experience its greatest losses. People who had lived the same way for generation after generation were now becoming more like the rest of the country. They began to lose their language, take on different careers, and move away from their New Acadia. What caused this change? General changes such as ease of travel, more variety in job opportunities, and more communications had an impact. Besides the general changes that occurred with the coming of modern times, there were probably 3 major factors causing the change in Cajun culture: education, war, and industry.
It wasn't until half a century later that movement was made to renew interest in their Cajun French language. The establishment of CODOFIL in 1968 has helped to bring interest in the French language back to the educational system.
Acadians hadn't really had to travel to participate in the U.S. conflicts of the 1800s. But the 20th century wars changed that. The World Wars, and the Asian wars saw Acadians moved to other parts of the country and the world. It exposed them to different cultures. They became more "worldly." Due to the military, some settled in other areas. In some cases, it brought outsiders into the area. Houma, for example, had a blimp base with military stationed there.
Perhaps the most direct impact on Cajuns was
the influence of industry. By far, the biggest industry has been
the oil and gas business. The presence of gas had been known for years.
It would occasionally escape through the ground in the swamps. In
1812, an entire island caught fire and escaping natural gas burned for
3 months. In 1823, engineers drilling for water in Pointe Coupee
Parish kept hitting natural gas instead. At that time, it was just
an annoyance. (Cajuns, Rushton,
General Changes in Society
As mentioned above, there were other factors
that Americanized the Cajun culture. Ease of travel made it easier
for them to visit other areas. It also made it easier to move elsewhere.
Job opportunities elsewhere dispersed Cajuns around the world. It
also led to Cajuns working with people outside the Cajun culture on a regular
basis. Communications such as radio and TV brought the world into
Acadiana. Many Cajun families today look and act just like you average
Cajun Is Cool
The last quarter of the 20th century has seen a turn-around in the idea of being Cajun. Cajun music is bigger than ever. Swamp tours in Acadiana have become a major tourist destination. But the biggest piece of Cajun culture to impact the "outside world" has been in the area of food and food preparation. Cajun food and restaurants can be found around the nation. You can even find frozen Cajun meals in supermarkets.
Copyright © 1997-09 Tim Hebert