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Andrew Guidroz II

On Being Cajun


I'm 42 years old now. I was born in a small town of 200 called Palmetto in northern St. Landry Parish in southern Louisiana. I enrolled in a small, public grade school in 1970. This was just a handful of years after integration. I was raised on a rice and soybean farm there.


My father grew up just 12 miles from where I was born. His first language is Cajun French and he had to learn the majority of his English in grade school. When he was a child, just as in the time of my childhood, being Cajun was looked down upon. Cajuns were thought of as illiterate and unintelligent. Children were strongly reprimanded for speaking French in school. The state legislature passed a law forbidding the speaking of Cajun French in schools and proclaiming English as the required language for all legal correspondence. Children writing lines "I must not speak French" and spankings were common. Because of this, my generation does not speak Cajun French. Our parents rarely ever spoke it in front of us. They remembered how difficult speaking French was in school and wanted their children to have a better chance. Sadly, this part of our culture was nearly lost.

The only times I heard Cajun French were at the homes of my grandparents or when working on the farm with the older workers. Cajuns living in rural St. Landry Parish were very poor and depended upon their families in order to live. My father's parents lived with my grandfather's parents all of their married life. My father literally lived in a household of four generations. As a child, I sat on my great grandfather's lap and heard him tell stories about being a child. He described times when radios were a novelty. He talked of walking miles to town. He described "Buffalo Bill" and his wild west show. He lit up so much talking of his childhood. I was named after my great grandfather and remember him clearly. He spoke a little English and was always kind. My great grandmother was more of the disciplinarian and spoke very little English. She always tried to remain prim and proper as my great grandfather would tease her. They always kept a formal air in front of others. I do remember an instance when I was alone with them when they were in their eighties. I can remember my great grandfather saying "Ga ga ga" or "Look look look" very quietly to me. Then, he said something teasingly to my great grandmother. She was sweeping and pulled up very sharply. Evidently, it wasn't the type of thing to say in front of a small child. She went after him with the broom, looking at him severely. The strong love and mischievousness seem to be a common Cajun trait.


Growing up in Palmetto, I experienced many different cultures. Many of the residents were descended of a Cuban, Spanish, and African mix. There were many Creoles and Mulattos. Spanish words and customs and superstitions filled my childhood. Putting a "gris gris" (an evil spell) on another one of the kids at school was always scary! There were only a handful of us who were considered white and even fewer considered Cajun. We lived near the northern border of "Acadiana" --- what the Cajun parishes are called. No one was rich although many were very poor. We all were children who learned from each other. Near my home was an old "cafe" that really was a night club for the black community. I remember sitting outside and hearing Zydeco music late into the night. Some nights, while lying in my bed, I could hear the "boom boom boom" of the bass drum. Grammy award winners Clifton Chenier, Rockin' Doopsie, and Count Sidney --- later Rockin' Sidney of "Don't mess with my Toot Toot" fame --- were familiar sights.

Both of my grandfathers played the accordion --- one well and the other not so well. They played traditional Cajun music. My father "picked" on a guitar and gave me an interest in country music. He and a friend of his would play together at home on the weekends. Music is central to our way of life in south Louisiana.


My mother cooked for more than a dozen workers in the field when I was a child. It was customary for the wife of the farm owner to cook meals for the workers. But, interestingly, women in Cajun culture cook food for sustenance. When it was a special occasion with many people coming, my father cooked. Men tend to cook here for special events or for large gatherings. As a child, I never really paid any attention to learning how to cook or to helping. But, the palate and nose are sensitive things. Memories of our childhood come from the smallest drop of flavor. Cooking all of those wonderful dishes of my childhood comes easily to me.


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