monthly report 2016

Zach chillin' - thinking about his monthly reports

November 2, 2016

The scene at the early voting poll at the Court House building in Lafayette Louisiana on October 31 was surreal.  There were perhaps two hundred of us crammed into a room 20 x 30 feet square standing shoulder to shoulder and snaking along a path laid out on the floor with yellow crime scene tape.  We inched along the small two foot wide alleys.  When we reached the wall, we turned and followed the herd back in the other direction.  This happened a dozen times before we found our way to the door which opened into a corridor.   Once in the corridor, another line of about 20 people separated us from the room in which women sat behind seven desks verifying the identity of each one of us.  Once our identity had been confirmed, we were given a voting pass card and made to sign the roster alongside a small printed label with name and address.

The scene was made that much more surreal because it was Halloween and many who had come to vote were dressed up for Halloween parties.  There was a black women dressed up like Robin, Batman’s side-kick, with the price tag still hanging from the neck of her jersey.  There was a pirate, long hair and a top hat.  From the looks of it, he might not have been disguised, but might have been in his usual attire.  There was no question about his girlfriend, however, who was dressed up in a cat like body suit and had whiskers drawn on her upper lip.  The cat theme was popular.  Another woman, black with long dread locks, had similar whiskers and the bottom of her nose was painted a deeper shade of black.  The rest of us seemed to be wearing everyday clothes.  A young man was wearing hospital scrubs, having just come from work.  Either that or he was going to a Halloween party dressed up as a male nurse.  And there was the young white man with a full beard wearing a Batman t-shirt.  His friend Robin, the black women dressed as Robin, was about 30 people ahead in the line.

The process took about 45 minutes from door to door.  There were signs everywhere proclaiming that we were allowed no more than 3 minutes at the voting machine.  Once I got my voter card and stuck it in the machine I dutifully attempted to register my electoral choices.  My machine was hard to use and I had to keep pounding the arrow on the screen to get to the next page.  I complained to one of the attendants.  “I can’t get this to work” I said.  “Just touch the arrow” she replied, gently touching the arrow which made the page jump.  I tried again.  Didn’t work.  So I went back to pounding which worked haphazardly. 

I had my mind made up on just about every election except the six constitutional amendments.  I had studied them in the waiting room.  Sample ballots were posted at every turn.  I was not sure that I understood what each amendment actually meant, but I did the best I could.  I had come, however, not to vote on the constitutional amendments, but as everyone else in the place, to vote in the presidential election.  My mind had been made up, as probably everyone else in the room, months ago.

It was probably not too hard to figure out who was voting for whom.  I assumed that the black people in the room, of which there was a considerable number, had come to vote for Hillary Clinton:  a young black man wearing dirty work clothes, an older black man wearing a tradesman uniform shirt with the name of his employer embroidered on a patch over the right shirt pocket, a black woman with dread locks dressed up like a cat, and another dressed up like Robin.  Most of the people in the room were white.  I figured that the men dressed in hunting shirts or jerseys with LSU logos had come to vote for Trump.  In this bright red state, his candidacy is well supported.  The intentions of the white women were less easy to identify.   Would they go along with their husbands or had they been sufficiently shocked by Trumps misogynistic rants to have abandoned him?  Hard to tell.  The event took place in an atmosphere of courtesy and restraint, black people and white people standing shoulder to shoulder exercising their shared political right to vote.  There were no crazies outside.  The sheriff’s deputy who had been stationed at the front door when I had passed earlier had disappeared.   There was a young deputy inside the front door but he seemed bored. Or maybe he was just tired.  This whole election has been very tiring.

I could not help but compare this atmosphere with that which I had experienced in the election of 2008.  That had taken place in my precinct, a largely blue collar, mixed race country precinct.  The atmosphere at that election had been one of dignity, a silence imposed on the proceedings by the huge weight of electing the first Black American president.  I had felt proud and patriotic at that election, casting my vote among my neighbors, simple country people.  I did not feel the same sense of awe this time.  It didn’t help that there were people dressed up like pirates and cats standing in line with me, but this election has taken a lot of wind out of the sails of my America.

Donald Trump is a bombastic ass-hole (to quote Bruce Springsteen) whose politics, as much as I can tell, are really about his own ego and have little or nothing to do with helping the people that he is hoping to be elected to “serve”.  His racism, xenophobia and misogyny are the antithesis of everything that this country stands for.   On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is not an attractive candidate either.  As one of my woman friends has said, “It will be great to have a women president, it is just as shame that it has to be that woman”.  The choice, however, is clear to me.  Between a career politician as tainted as she might be, and a self-seeking self-interested pompous jack-ass who acts like a six year old…..give me the politician.

I heard a radio program yesterday during which a noted professor of something somewhere went on about the end of the American Empire.  Quoting a host of statistics relative to efficiency and engagement, he pointed out that we are in a period which greatly resembles, in terms of popular culture and social dynamic, the fall of the Roman Empire.  In spite of our eminent demise, things don’t seem that bad.  I remember growing up in grammar school and the regular “atom bomb exercises” during which we crouched under our desks hoping to avoid the worst of the atomic holocaust which could be leached upon us by the Russians at any moment.  And there was Richard Nixon and the Viet Nam war.  I cannot imagine the Second World War and the turmoil that my parents had to endure.  It is pretty bad in America today, but there have been times when it seemed to be a whole lot worse.

Which brings me to the end of this piece and the reason that I voted for Hillary Clinton.  In spite of all of her failings, of which there seems to be ample supply, she is preaching a message of unity and hope.  Trump on the other hand is peddling hate and fear.  His America is a place that I would not want to know.  For all of the weirdness of this election, culminating at a polling station where people dressed up like small animals and swarthy pirates, the United States still offers a promise of hope.  I just hope that we do not turn our backs on it. 





August 25, 2016

At 7AM, Lafayette Louisiana is like an ant pile that has just been kicked.   Home Depo and Lowe’s and every hardware store / lumber yard is abuzz with activity.  Conspicuous in the morning traffic are trucks from demolition companies and steam cleaners and flood services.  In most neighborhoods, the streets are lined with mounds of sodden junk looking like big weary parade goers waiting for the parade to pass.  There are huge piles of carpet and sofas and dressers and chests of drawers waiting to be picked up and hauled away.

I started my own demolition this morning, piling piles of soggy carpet and busted gear into my own dumpster.  The dumpster arrived yesterday, delivered by a smiling black man named Irwin.  I was happy to see him.  His visit represented to me the beginning of my liberation, the beginning of the reclaiming of some sense of normalcy.  I do not think that I have been so excited about seeing something come up the drive since I was 8 years old and got my first bicycle.

Pouring stuff into the dumpster is a spiritual exercise.  Practicing non-attachment, discarding things: souvenirs, photos, equipment, stuff, that two weeks ago meant something to me but now are only vestiges of the past.  A flood is a horrible experience.  Seeing dirty smelly water rise into one’s home is devastating.  But the clean up is liberating, exhausting too, but a chance to start anew.  Out with the old ruined crap, in with brand new crap or better still with nothing.  One need proceed with caution, however, since the piles of junk may contain snakes.  The snakes are everywhere, brought up by the high water which has enlarged their territory one hundred fold.

I was spared the anxiety of the flood.  I was on tour and heard about it with the detachment that only distance can bring.  I saw the photos, but could not feel the humidity or smell the stench.  I can certainly smell it now, but I was psychologically well prepared for my return.  And I knew that the house had been spared.  The extent of my catastrophe was limited to my studio-garage.  Years ago I suffered a fire in the studio and am now armed with the certainty that this mess can be cleaned up and made even better.  It is now just a question of hard work, time……and money. 

While I was in France, I opened an account with FEMA and am in line with another 60,000 people for some sort of relief.  I did not have flood insurance.  In a weird twist of fate, I could not have purchased flood insurance even had I wanted to which I did not.   My father had lived through the high water of 1940.  He was 17 at the time and told me about the episode.  During that catastrophe, in which large swaths of South Louisiana were under water, the local cattlemen brought their herds to my grandfather’s farm because it was the highest ground around.  My house is built on the site of my grandfather’s old farm and I naively imagined that what had happened in 1940 would happen again and that I would be spared from harm.

Since Hurricane Rita in 2005, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has required that any homes built in flood zones be above grade elevation in order to comply with code and qualify for flood insurance.  Grade elevation at my location is 35 feet (above sea level).  My house, built in 1981, is below grade and therefore not qualified for flood insurance.  So I could not have had insurance no matter what.  I thought that the fact that we had been spared in 1940 was insurance enough. 

Since 1940, however, the local topography has changed radically. New development and lots of concrete have dramatically altered drainage and the local government is woefully incapable of maintaining efficient drainage.  In addition, Interstate 10 was built years ago and lies less that a mile south of my home.  It is a concrete line that acts effectively like a dam and has permanently altered drainage, preventing the natural flow into the Coulée Mine and toward the Bayou Vermillion.  I don’t know how much effect this had on this particular event since it rained 3 feet in 24 hours, but land development was certainly a contributing factor in the flood.  That, and global warming.  

Alarm bells are ringing in the environmental community.  Is this this tragic event a result of global warming?  It is certain that tropical storms are more frequent and more violent than in years past and this is associated with the warming of the ocean.   This flood, however, is not so clearly a result of climate change, but it is clear that weird and violent weather events will be a frequent part of our lives unless we can impede if not reverse the effects of man’s unrestrained abuse of the atmosphere in general and his addiction to fossil fuels in particular. 

In the meantime, I am waiting for a visit from the government man, ro asses my loss and see what Federal assistance I am qualified to receive.  I am none the less moving forward with the clean-up.  In this situation, the only thing that we can rely upon is the help of family and friends.   And this is the final point with which I will conclude this missive:  In this world of stress and strife, in the throes of adversity, there are those who will sacrifice themselves, their time, their money and even their lives for their fellows.  While I was living the high life in France, my friend, Tommy Delhomme, was sloshing through two feet of water and making 90 trips from the studio to the house to rescue my guitars, accordions and souvenirs.  That kind of generosity was being repeated thousands of times over throughout the flood zone.  And in Italy where an earthquake has just devastated communities, and in Syria where the horror of war is being visited upon a civilian population, and anywhere in the world where people are suffering, there are those who are there to help.  That is the real story of this.  Not whether Obama was late in coming to Louisiana or whether Trump came only for a photo-op.  What matters to me is that Michael Juan Nunez was with me this morning as we sifted through my gear, deciding what to save and what to dumpster.  And that Dudley Frugé will be here tomorrow to help me as I continue my liberation from my mud karma.

I have included two web addresses which are my personal favorites for support.  If you are looking to help, please consider supporting Louisiana schools.  One school in Lafayette Parish and another in Vermillion Parish have been severely impacted.  Along with many others throughout South Louisiana.  The children of these schools should not lack for supplies and their schools should be safe.  And the Acadiana Animal Aid.  The silent victims of the flood are the animals:  dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs whose homes and pastures are under water.  My favorite animal shelter is the no-kill Acadiana Animal Aid.

This afternoon, I was taking an outdoor shower, sweaty and exhausted from a day of hauling stuff to the dumpster.  About 100 yards away, in the undergrowth which edges the back of my property, I saw a furtive movement.  A young coyote was moving through the brush.  He stopped and looked at me staring placidly.  At first I thought it was a fox, he was so small, but the color, a rusty brown, could only be that of a coyote.  As he stared motionless at me, he was joined by another, same size same color.  Two pups.  I watched them with a sense of solidarity, the three of us victims of the flood.  I finished my shower and returned to the house, gazing at the two of them, wishing them well as they disappeared into the bush.    


To help Louisiana schools:

No kill animal shelter:

August 14, 2016

This blog is an interview by Gérard Viel for Tradmagazine, originally published in French in July, 2016.  


What does Cadien (Cajun) culture represent today? The answer would require a book.  I would say that Cadien culture is very strong. Musically we are in a period of renewal.  A new generation of artists is assuming its place in the tradition.  Our cuisine is developing beyond the classic into the experimental.  From the point of view of the language, there is a real renaissance.


Does the French language have a future in Louisiana? Definitively.  Since 1968, French has been taught in immersion programs that have had a considerable impact.  Having a new generation of French speakers who are literate marks a turning point for the language.  French was scorned and its speakers ridiculed for over a century in Louisiana and this was due exclusively to the fact that French speakers could not read or write their language.  With French immersion programs, a new generation of francophones has evolved.  These young people do not suffer from the ridicule which the previous generations endured.  French for them is a source of pride and an important mark of identity.  It is none the less true that in spite of this very positive development, the French language remains in a sort of elite ghetto, but it is important to point out that even this was unimaginable just a few decades ago.  The new Louisiana francophones are confident in their vision of the place of French in Louisiana culture.  What is exciting is that this vision is not only cultural, but more and more political.  And this represents a very real and positive evolution. 


Who are the Cajun musicians who influenced you?  I would say that the most important of all of the Cajun musicians was Iry Lejeune.   He was our Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix all in one.  He died tragically at the age of 26, but left in indelible mark on the tradition and his songbook is the basis of the popular repertoire being played today.  Personally, I owe a special debt to Felix Richard who taught me the rudiments of the accordion.  But the most important Louisiana musician for me personally in terms of my own musical path was not a Cajun, but a Black Créole, Clifton Chenier.  Clifton’s influence on Louisiana music was unique and determinant.  The relation between Cadiens and Black Creole is complex and has unfortunately been troubled by the vicissitudes of race relations, but music transcends the barrier and unites us all.  In the dance halls, the magic of the music erases the color of one’s skin. 


How did you start playing music?  I was 9 years old when I began to sing in the boys choir at Saint John’s Cathedral in Lafayette.  I was raised in a very devout Catholic family and every Sunday as a child, I would serve mass in my parish and my parents would then drive me to the Cathedral to sing high mass for the bishop.  I was the first soprano and was given piano lessons so that I could turn the pages for the organist.  A few years later, I began guitar lessons.  At 14 years old, I abandoned Church music for rock and roll.  In 1968, I was at Tulane University, studying to become a lawyer or something, but my real passion was music.  I started playing harmonica and played in a blues band and began to write my first songs. 


How did you learn to play the Cajun accordion?  After finishing college in 1972, I left New Orleans and moved to New York.  I eventually wound up with a recording contract with Elektra Records.  In fact, I was the last artist to sign with Elektra before the company merged with Warner and Asylum to create WEA.  My style was “country-rock” and I was writing in English.  Thanks to the advance from the recording contract, I was able to buy a few guitars and with my last $400, a Cajun accordion.  “Roots” music was in vogue and I was looking for my own musical roots.  The acquisition of that instrument was a pivotal point in my career.  Suddenly I was swept up by traditional Louisiana French-Acadian music.  Cajun music was “passée” in the 1970s in South Louisiana.  There were still French dance bands, but the popular music of my generation was rock.  I was listening to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and knew absolutely nothing about the music of my own French speaking community.  French music still existed in South Louisiana, but it was confined to the margins of society, flying under the radar.  I bought my first accordion with Marc Savoy in 1972 and that propelled me into a whole new world which had been part of my culture all along, but a part that I knew nothing about. 


How do you see the evolution of your personal style?  I hope that I have improved as a songwriter.  I think that my French songwriting (I write as easily in French as in English) has greatly improved.  I am able to express myself with a great deal more subtlety.   My level of French was pretty rudimentary when I began writing in the language of Molière.  I was raised in and Anglo-American milieu and even though French speaking was all around me, my education and all of the primary cultural vehicles, radio, television etc. were in English.  After my first experiences in Québec, I determined to improve my ability as a French language author and made a concerted effort to polish my skills.   I have always spoken French, my grand parents were monolingual French speakers, but I was more at ease with English.  Still today my syntax style is fundamentally Anglo.  I really have to work at being able to express myself in French with the same finesse that I am able to achieve more easily in the language of Shakespeare.  Regarding my musical style itself, I have always remained faithful to my first love: folk-rock. 


What are the sources of your inspiration today?  I wonder if artistic creation is the product of suffering as some pretend.  There is certainly an emotional component which is fundamental to artistic expression.  I am not a very disciplined writer.  I do not plan my songs.  I do not find my songs.  They find me.  I am known as a socially conscious songwriter (engaged).  Very often my songs deal with questions of the natural environment or minority culture or resistance to oppression.  But I have never deliberately chosen a militant theme for a song.  I feel things and I express those feelings through my songs.  That’s it.  I have written songs about hurricanes and oil spills, natural and environmental catastrophes.  I have songs that deal with persecution and the plight of the oppressed.  But I also have songs that deal with Cajun food (I am a Cajun after all) and others which are very light-hearted.  There are also songs about love and the loss of love.  I sing what touches me.  And since I am touched by many things, my songs are a wide-ranging expression of my human experience. 


Do you feel like you are an ambassador of Cajun culture?  I am simply someone who loves.  I love freedom of action.  I love freedom of expression.  I love Nature.  I love my French-Acadian heritage and the values of inclusion and openness that are at the heart of the Acadian story.  I am proud to be able, in my own small way, to promote tolerance and I hope to spread a little beauty in this difficult world.  I am first and foremost a singer who sings his heart. 


What is your view of Louisiana music today?  Louisiana music has always been and will always be amazing.  Louisiana is at the crossroads of so many cultures and our music has so many different facets.  And there will always be (at least there is now) young blood coming up to revise and renew our various traditions.  Whether it is Jazz or Cajun music or Zydeco or even Blues or Country, popular music in Louisiana is a tapestry rich in colors, rich in emotion that will continue to inspire future generations of Louisiana artists.  It is very important to me to be able to situate myself in a tradition.  There are many who have passed before me and who have shown the way, cleared the path.  And there will be many who will come behind to take up the torch and shine our light throughout the world.  

May 2, 2016

PART 2:  Comparison of the evolution of Acadian identity in Louisiana and New Brunswick in the 1960s-1970s. 

-Were there protests or other student manifestations amongst French Acadian students in Louisiana?  Didn't happen.  There is no equivalent.  The notion of Acadian identity that I shared with several Acadians of my generation:  Ancelet, Richard Guidry, Amanda Lafleur, Brenda Mounier, Charles Larroque, David Cheramie, Earlene Broussard, etc. expressed itself in the domain of culture.  All of my Acadian friends in Louisiana and all of the names listed here, ultimately worked in education. 

-Was there a sentiment of being inferior to the English in the 1960s-70s?  The question of "inferiority" occurred in Louisiana much earlier and was the stigma of my parents generation.  My parents were born in the 1920s.  Their parents, my grandparents, were of the last mono-lingual French speaking generation in Louisiana.  My parents were schooled in English and were subjected to a cultural and linguistic assimilation based on the humiliation and physical abuse of young children.   My parents were also the generation that knew WWII, which was a considerable force of assimilation.  From the beginning of the colonization of Louisiana, a group of Acadians had been able to integrate into the socio-political and cultural elite.  This was due initially to slavery.  Some Acadians became rich slave owning planters.   Within several years of their arrival, most Acadians owned slaves.  Most of them, however, were small slave holders, many having only one or two house slaves.  There were some Acadians, however, of which Alexandre Mouton is the prime example, who had large plantations.  (Alexander Mouton, whose father Jean was born at Grand Pré in 1755 and arrived in Louisiana as a small boy, was a U.S. Senator, 9th governor of Louisiana and the owner of 120 slaves).  From the beginning of the Acadian presence a Louisiana, the leadership of the community was assimilated into the Anglo-American elite.  French education was the purvey of the Franco-Créole planters.  The Acadians, when they had access to education in the 19th century, were educated in English (Alexandre Mouton attended Georgetown University).  There has never been a militant pro-French language vision in Acadian Louisiana until the 1970s and that was due in large part to the influence of Québec (The Québécois present in Louisiana).  Therefore there has never been in Louisiana, until today, an educated French speaking elite which could defend the linguistic culture.  Our closest equivalent to Louis Robichaud was Dudley LeBlanc, millionaire businessman, cultural activist and one of the founders of CODOFIL.  With the forced education law of 1916 came another level of scorn associated with the Franco-Cajun culture.  The derision of the Cajuns had begun after the Civil War but was fueled greatly by the experience of public education beginning in the 1920s.  A stereotype was created: the "Coon-ass": ignorant, poor and French speaking.  This caricature was adopted by the Cajuns themselves in a remarkable gesture of survival disguised as auto-derision.  Witness the immense popularity of the "Boudreaux-Thibodeaux" jokes.  The greatest proponent of this comedic phenomenon was Justin Wilson.  My generation (Baby Boomers) was already assimilated and therefore we were not subjected to any ridicule.  That was reserved for older French speaking Cajuns.  This scorn, however, was a great impetus for my own militancy.  I could not accept that my grand parents were less intelligent because they could not speak English.  (See my song:  No French, No More).  I was reacting not to the scorn that I was subjected to, but that which my grand parents suffered.  My father was a successful businessman.  He was French speaking and proud of his heritage.  He was equally at ease with his Anglo-American collegues as with his Cajun friends. His ability to navigate the waters of Anglo-American culture, and to succeed, made him immune to the scorn which some of his less well educated contemporaries suffered.  

- Is there a sentiment of feeling inferior to the English folks today? Cajuns today are very confident and there is no notion of inferiority.  That said, the linguistic situation is precarious at best.  There are approximately 4500 French immersion students in Louisana, of whom the majority are NOT of Acadian descent.  The language is recognized generally (including among Anglos) as a valuable aspect of our culture.   It is very difficult to create and install French immersion programs due to the relative lack of imagination prevalent on the school boards of Acadian Louisiana.  The French immersion programs of Lafayette, New Orleans, New Iberia, Cecilia are very successful, but they are all at risk of budgetary decisions at the local level.  It is ironic that Vermillion Parish, known to be the most French speaking Parish (County) in the state, has no French immersion program and is even exempt from the 1968 law obliging ALL of the public schools in Louisiana to teach French (as second language).  The thinking is that since so many people speak French in Vermillion Parish, there is no need to teach it !!

On a separate note, in a 1973 interview at “La veillées des veillées”, you stated that music was the only cultural manifestation that Acadian’s had in order to speak up about their culture. You then stated that without music the Acadian culture in Louisiana would die, do you believe this statement to be true in the Maritime provinces as well?  The French presence in the maritimes has multiple tools of which music is one.  There is also a significant literary presence (Antonine Maillet et al).  And most importantly an Acadian political class.  While the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is an engine for Acadian culture, it cannot compare to the University of Moncton, primarily because UL is not a French language university.  

-Is Acadian identity solely represented through the arts?  Interesting question.  I do not think so.  In Louisiana, it is associated with a life-style as well as a territory.  There is a young generation of Cajuns who are fiercely attached to their cultural identity.  None the less, this identity does not express itself in French, although some attempt at "token French" is made.  Their attachment is to a life style in all its various aspects: music, food, dance. etc.  It is true that both in the Maritimes and in Louisiana there exists an artistic expression that is associated with Acadian culture.  This phenomenon is primarily musical in Louisiana although there exists French language poetry as well as a school of painting that can be defined as Acadian.   The question is complex because there is overlapping of culture: for example the writing of James Lee Burk is completely grounded in a Cajun experience.  However, he is first and foremost considered to be an American author.  The Acadian artistic expression of the Canadian Maritimes is defined by the community:  it is Acadian art because it is created by an Acadian.   This expression is wide in terms of style and can include a variety of genres.  In Louisiana, on the other hand, the traditional musical style is very well defined and I would argue, confining.  There are several poets who write in French and who proclaim their Acadian identity, but the frontier between “Acadian” versus “American” film-making and painting is poorly defined.  There is a feeling that one can maintain a certain regionalism while participating fully in the American experience in the broadest sense.  Much the same as William Faulkner was an “American” author, whose work was defined by his fictional Yoktapanawpha County in rural Mississippi. 

-In your opinion, what constitutes an Acadian Identity and is this identity still relevant in 2016? Acadian identity is elective.  One is Acadian because one feels an attachment to the culture and particularly to the Deportation.  The Deportation of 1755 is the fundamental event of Acadian society.  To identify with the culture, one must have a feeling of solidarity with the victims of the Deportation, or more appropriately count them among one’s ancestors.   In Louisiana, Cajun identity differs from Acadian identity in as much as “Cajun” does not necessarily include Acadian heritage and therefore a kinship relation with a descendant of a deported Acadian is not preclusive.   A new identity was forged in Louisiana after the Civil War and its defining characteristics were 1. Poverty and 2. The French language.  Acadian women began to marry outside of the group.  Which explains why there are Cajuns with family names of German, Irish, English, American, French (from France directly) and Spanish origin.  The French language was passed on by the women and their children became French speaking Cajuns regardless of the ethnic origins of their family names. 

-How is Acadian identity different in the Maritimes then in Louisiana? Complex question. It is not possible for me to give a succinct answer to such a complicated question.  Fundamentally, the exiles who arrived in Louisiana were forced to adapt to a completely different cultural, political, social, economic, geographical and climatological matrix.  I have been filming a documentary which explores the persistence of Acadian identity in both the Maritimes and Louisiana.  I was surprised by the answer of one of my interlocutors in Louisiana to my question “What does it mean to be Acadian in Louisiana for you?”  He replied by saying that we are NOT Acadian but Creole.  I was surprised by the answer (his name was Michot i.e. Michaud) but upon reflection have come to share his point of view.  The term Creole comes from the Spanish Criollo, and simply means: “of the New World”.  The term can apply to a pony or a tomato or a person.  When they arrived in Louisiana, the Acadians adapted to their new surroundings and were plunged into the melting pot of Louisiana.  Their descendants evolved socially in a new context and created a new identity and a new social reality which was defined by their experience in Louisiana.  Much as Jazz, Cajun music and Zydeco are phenomenon which were born out of the melding of different influences, Like its music, Cajun culture is a new social adaptation to a new situation.  Ethnically speaking, there is a multitude of tributaries which meet to form the river of Cajun identity:  Acadian primarily, but also Spanish, German, Irish, English, American, French and even African.  Acadian culture in the Maritimes is relatively linear.  The ethnic group that considers itself “Acadian” is essentially the same group through the generations since the Deportation.  (In spite of the recent and very interesting phenomenon of the integration of immigrants particularly from Africa, the new Afro-Acadians and the early colonial métissage with the Mi’qmacs).  The evolution of Acadian society in Louisiana, does not follow a straight line but is concentration of influences which have arrived from every possible direction.  Although grounded in Acadian experience, Cajun culture in Louisiana is a very different from that of the Maritimes because it has evolved in a different direction for 250 years and has encompassed a multitude of various influences unknown in the Acadian community of Canada. 

- Through your music you have shared the Cajun style music and represented Acadians worldwide, why has this been important to you?  I would not say that it is “important” to me because that would imply a choice.  I could not have refused to hear the call of my heritage.  It has laid in wait and ambushed me at critical junctures in my life.  I believe that it was my heritage that chose me rather than the contrary.  It is important to me like breathing is important to me.  Or more appropriately, making music.  It is simply who I am.  I never decided to become a francophone militant   I just simply care about things that mean something to me.  My Acadian story is one of them. 




April 1, 2016

A comparison of Acadian identity in New Brunswick and Louisiana in the 1960s / 1970s. In two parts.

Part One.

 A little background:  In February 1968, l’Association des étudiants de l’Université de Moncton (AEUM - Student Association) organized a strike to protest a proposed increase in tuition fees.  The strike lasted two weeks, during which a group of students organized a demonstration in favor of bilingual education in the secondary schools of New Brunswick.  They marched in front of the Moncton city hall during a council meeting.  This was the first time that a demonstration of this type and magnitude had taken place in Moncton.  A delegation of four students appeared before the city council and presented a list of demands.  They were inspired by the Royal Commission on bilingualism and biculturalism which had published its findings just a few weeks prior.  The city council was openly hostile to the students and their demands.

A war of words erupted between the students and Mayor Leonard Jones, a notorious francophobe.  A pig’s head was placed at the door of Mayor Jones, an episode which ended with the arrest of two students.  The following week, a demonstration was held in the provincial capital in Fredericton to demand free tuition.  Approximately 3000 students protested.  About1200 of them were Acadians from Moncton or Bathurst.  A delegation of the AEUM was received by the Prime Minister, but nothing was resolved and the students left disappointed.

In January 1969, frustrated by the failure to obtain their demands of the previous year, a small group of students occupied a building at the Université de Moncton, demanding a freeze on tuition fees and additional subsidies for the University from the federal government.  The occupation lasted eight days and finished violently:  municipal police were called to evacuate the building.  The sociology department, considered to be the hotbed of the protest, was closed and seven professors were fired.  About 30 students, the ring-leaders of the protest as well as the editors and writers of the student newspaper were expelled. 

This student protest of 1968 / 1969 at the University of Moncton was a significant event in the history of Acadian society in New Brunswick and has achieved nearly mythological status in Acadie.. 

This blog is the result of an interview by Anik Marchand, doctoral student at Concordia University and deals with a comparison of the situations in the Acadian communities of Louisiana and New Brunswick in the 1960s / 1970s.  This is the first of two parts. 

It would be interesting to contrast the identity crisis which occurred in the 1960s to the Acadian sentiment felt in French Acadians in the 1960s in Louisiana.

-Was there an outcry for French Acadian recognition? The situation in NB cannot be compared to that of Louisiana.  The manifestation of Cajun identity was first and foremost musical.  The most important event in the defence of Acadian-Cajun identity was the Festivals Acadiens et Créolés, the first of which was held in the spring of 1974.  The major players were Jimmie Domengeaux, director of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), Dewey Balfa, musician, and Barry Jean Ancelet, French student and activist.  In 1964, The Balfa Brothers had played the Newport Folk Festival.  The experience inspired Dewey (The Balfa Brothers were lauded, in spite of the scorn with which many Cajuns held traditional dance music) and convinced him of the importance of Cajun music, not only in Louisiana, but in the United States.  The first festival was conceived of as "un hommage à la musique cadienne".  It was Dewey's idea that the performance take place in "a place where they cannot dance".  Cajun music was alive and well in the 1960s, but it was none the less relegated to older generations.  The Baby Boomers (myself, Barry Ancelet) of South Louisiana, were very rarely interested in or even aware of traditional Cajun music.  

Dewey wanted to perform in a setting that would oblige the audience to listen, something the Cajun people were not accustomed to do.  The music was a dance form and in the 1970s there were still dozens of dance halls where professional or semi-professional musicians could play, although this cultural phenomenon was ending.  I did not play the first festival (I was in Québec at the time), but was invited to play the second.  My performance there was audacious and resulted in my being banned from the festival for 7 years.  The militants of Acadian Louisiana of the 1970s (Barry Ancelet, myself, Richard Guidry) shared a common experience not with Acadie, but with Québec.  There was in Louisiana a number of Québécois who were teaching in the CODOFIL program.  There existed also a Bureau du Québec in Lafayette, the director of which, Léo LeBlanc, was very active in promoting a Québécois vision of the defence of French language culture.  I was well acquainted with this Québecois community in Louisiana.  I had been to France in 1973 and to Québec in February 1974 and was influenced greatly by the militant political attitude of les Québécois.  

The reason that I was banned from the Festival Acadien et Créole was that I interrupted the performance to make a political gesture.  While I sang Réveil, my comrades arrived on stage bearing two flags, each one containing:  A green oak atop a blue bayou on a white field with the words:  Solidarité et Fierté across the top.  The flags had been sewn by Québécoises friends.  I had written Réveil in the summer of 1973 upon returning from my first trip to France, It is, as far as I know, the first song of the Acadian diaspora which speaks directly of the Deportation.  The inspiration for the song was an overwhelming sense of outrage as I learned of the Deportation.  The musical influence was Alan Stivell whom I had just met in France, but the story was a recounting of the Deportation from the point of view of a deportee.  This history was not, and still is not taught in Louisiana schools and I learned of it from the books of Dudley LeBlanc and Bona Arsenault.  (Subsequent to the 1955 bi-centennial commemorations, there was a revitalization of Acadian identity in Louisiana, but this phenomenon was restricted largely to the Acadian elite:  Thomas Arceneaux and Allen Babineaux being its most fervent promoters, a University professor and a judge).  My performance was so shocking to Jimmie Domengeux, accompanied that night by a French delegate representing French President Pompidou, that he declared me personna non grata, a ban which continued for 7 years until my recording of L'Arbre est dans ses feuilles became such a hit in Québec that Domengeaux could no longer exclude me from the Festival.

This occurred in the spring of 1975.  The following August, I played in Acadie for the first time: Le Frolic Acadien, sur la Butte à Napoléon, Cap Pelé.  On August 14 at midnight on Archibald Street in Moncton, several of my new friends and I went out onto the street and held a Tintamarre.  I was playing the accordion and we were making a racket.  Present were Herménégilde Chiasson, Gérald Leblanc, Laurent Comeau and several others.  Rhéal Drisdelle was arrested by the Moncton police, who had arrived on the scene, probably because he was recognized as a trouble maker and had been involved in the Mayor Jones pig-head incident.  I immediately felt that I was among kindred spirits and many of the people that I met, Herménégilde Chiasson and Gérald LeBlanc particularly, became life long friends.  The feelings that they expressed were the same feelings that had inspired me during the early 1970s.  I had been involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement, and that militancy, which had no avenue of expression for me with the end of the war, now found a new vehicle in a militant Acadian identity.   I had participated in the student protests of 1969 and the shutdown of Tulane University in the spring of 1970.  The emotions expressed by my new Acadian friends were very familiar to me and in many ways my Acadian perspective was influenced by my anti-war protest of only a few years earlier.  

Next month, Part 2.