We were never Cajun: créolization and whitened identity at the margins of memory




Fontenot, Tyler

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In restaurants, dance halls, and travel brochures around the world, the word “Cajun” brings to mind a plethora of significations related to flavorful foods, exotic language, and geographical affiliation with South Louisiana— but what exactly is “Cajun” anyway? How has “Cajun” emerged as a community, culture, and identity? Who are the Cajuns today? This thesis rereads “Cajun history” in the larger context of Créole Louisiana, tracing issues of class, language, colonization, racialization, and modernization from Colonial Louisiana through 2020. This is accomplished with the aid of literary analyses, including authors such as Cable, Chopin, de la Houssaye, and Arceneaux, films such as Louisiana Story, and folk stereotype humor in the form of Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes. The thesis introduces postcolonial theoretical frameworks of mimicry, fixity, hybridity and créolization as methods for understanding the oft-forgotten historical relationality of identities, cultures, and languages in Southern Louisiana. In the 1970s Caribbean writers such as Édouard Glissant put forward the unfinished and unpredictable creativity of the historical, geographical, and anthropological space of Creole society and culture from the Antillean point of view. In a similar move, my introduction of the theory of creolization to Louisiana history seeks to wrestle back the power of Acadie or even France as the fundamental matrix of non-Anglophone culture, history, and identity in Louisiana. Instead, the complex perspective of Creolité threatens the stability of these origin myths, revitalizing our concept of history, culture, and identity in the localized touchstone of South Louisiana, while understanding that this localized perspective is always already an ongoing production at the borders of culture(s) in contact. Ultimately, I argue that Southern Louisiana since colonization has consistently been a site of créolization, destabilizing claims of Acadianness as the sole figurehead for francophone or franco-créolophone identity in the region.



Cajun, Creole, Créole, Creolization, Créolization, Louisiana, hybridity, cultural studies, North American Francophonie