Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cajun F - Fais-do-do

At the end of major festivals, Cajuns tend to host a "fais-do-do" pronounced "Fay-doh-doh," like the dodo bird. The fais-do-do is basically square dancing for Cajuns. Live bands are invited to play French folk music, which I've heard has a 3/4 pattern, like a waltz. Some bands sing in English, but most that I know sing in French since they're typically older men who play acoustic guitars, accordions, washboards, and drums. Young people and old people come together for fais-do-dos with older people demonstrating how to do traditional dances. Some steps are rather easy, but other steps require the male to spin his partner around and then they step backwards for a while. Amazingly, the old people don't trip, and they sure know how to dance.

I've only been taught to dance one traditional style, which was a very boring "one-two-three" step with your hands on your partner's shoulder. I wish I would've learned the exciting backwards dance, not the slow one.

As a young kid, we sort of invented our own "traditional" dance. You link hands, step to the left, step to the right, and then spin! I always enjoyed dancing that way, but I'm pretty sure it exhausted my cousin.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cajun E - Etouffee

As soon as I moved away from Cajun Country, I noticed a huge difference in the kinds of food that people served. Even as close as Baton Rouge, people don't know what a real gumbo is. Northern food tends to be lighter, less fatty, and kind of bland. It lacks the cayenne kick or the roux luster that Cajun food has.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to cook Cajun food. I never really learned because when my mom made some, it took hours. Not so much labor intensive, but the food required a lot of shimmering and stewing.

Here are some common Cajun foods:

Etouffee: a creamy sauce/white stew with seafood, usually shellfish like shrimp or crawfish, served over rice. My mom always made this with the leftover crawfish we had, so I typically avoided it because I'm allergic to crawfish.

Gumbo: a thick, dark colored hot "soup." Its consistency is between a stew and a soup, but it's not thin at all. Usually, people just throw in whatever they want, such as okra, seafood, chicken, andouille sausage, celery, onion, and such. The base is a roux, which is made from heating and constantly mixing flour and oil until it turns the color you desire. (Creole gumbo around New Orleans is more tomato-based.) This dish is usually served with rice and potato salad.

Rice dressing (dirty rice): When I talked to my New Orleans classsmates, they really didn't know what this was. They called it a Cajun thing. It's essentially seasonings mixed with green onions, ground liver, and rice. The liver is the best part since the texture is soft and chewy. I always thought it was ground beef when I was young. Even though I know it's liver now, I still eat it. It's honestly one of my favorite things to eat when my family gets together.

Boudin: Essentially, Cajun sausage. It's a mix of rice, meat, and other stuff in a synthetic casing. This is probably my sister's favorite thing. Fun fact: the casing is synthetic because it used to be made with intestines. You can eat the casing, but it's very chewy and not pleasant. Fun fact: Whenever I do eat intestines, it reminds me of boudin. It might sound gross, but it's delicious.

Po' boys: This is basically a sandwich that has fried seafood and other sandwich dressings, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and such. New Orleans tends to have very fancy po' boys that don't look like po' boys to me. What makes this different from other sandwiches is the bread. It's kind of like a soft french bread. Po' boy stands for "poor boy," and these sandwiches are usually cheap and not fancy. They were for poor working men who needed something to eat, but now pretty much everyone eats them.

Cracklin: This is basically pork rinds (fried pork skin with a little bit of fat attached).

Pecan pralines: A sticky, sweet candy bar like dessert. A lot of people like this during pecan season, though I don't care much for it. It'll break your teeth if you're not careful.
*Jambalaya (pronounced Jumbolaya): This is more of a Creole thing, not a Cajun thing. It's made with sausage, rice, chicken, and sometimes vegetables. It's more of a tomato-based rice mix. I only ever had this at school and not at home.

I think that covers the major foods. Most Cajun foods are made with seafood and rice. The "holy trinity" of Cajun cooking, which is almost in every dish, is made up of celery, garlic, and bell peppers. Cajun food really isn't spicy at all. There's just enough to taste the flavor, but it's probably considerably more than what northern Americans are used to.

My family never really used Tabasco sauce even though the factory where it's made is close by to my hometown. We owned a few bottles, but never really used them. Other people do use it though, and you can find bottles in pretty much every restaurant if you need an extra kick in your food.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Cajun D - Derouen

There are typically few ways to tell who is Cajun on sight. Though I've only been told I look Cajun by one person (who I thought didn't know what he was talking about), in fact, most of us just look white (many have dark brown eyes and brown hair though). However, if you tell someone your last name, then they can most likely identify you as Cajun. For example, one man asked me what my last name and replied, "Oh, so you're Cajun. What's your momma's maiden name?" After he knew both my last and my mom's maiden name, he said, "Ooh, you got crazy on both sides of the family," which is funny, 'cause the man himself had a Cajun accent. He apparently had crazy in his family, too. For kicks and giggles, here's a list of names that usually gives someone's Cajun heritage away.

As a side note, I should mention you typically can't tell if someone is Cajun by their accent. Older people and those who live in the country do have some sort of accent, but most younger people (those 50 and younger) don't have accents. For some reason, my northern colleagues can't wrap their heads around this idea. The Cajun language and accent is typically dying off, but that's another post for another day.

Common Cajun last names:

Derouen - pronounced DUR-waunh (I'm not sure how to write the n sound. It's like an uhn sound in the back of your throat and not an n nasal sound)

Hebert - pronounced - A - bear (The A is the name of the letter, where as AH is in the back of your throat, like a Korean agreeing with someone saying auhn. I'm not sure this sound exists in English. Sorry. It's similar to pawn, but a little different, stopping short of pronouncing the n.)

Landry - pronounced LAN-dree, but with a Cajun French accent, it's like LAUN-dry

Bonin - BOH-Nehn

Fotenet -fauh-EHN-noe (I'm not sure about this English spelling to be honest)

Bertrand - BUR-trand

Broussard - BRU-ssahrd

Trahan - TRAU-hauhn

Leblanc - LE-blauhn

Guidry - GIH - dree (it's a short i not a long i, so the i sound that's at the top of your mouth, not the ee sound in the back of your mouth)

Richard - REE- shard

Terriot - tear-RI-oh

Savoie - SAH-vuwah

Pellerin - PEL-ler-rehuhn (I'm not sure how to write the rin sound. It's like you start saying ran, but end up with ehn. raehn, maybe?)

Melancon - Meh-LAUHN-sauhn

Dugas - DOO-gah

Foret - FOUR-ey

Prejean - PREY- jauhn

Guilbeaux - GIHLL-bow

Comeaux - CO-moe

Doucet - DOO-set

Cormier - cor-ME-a

Leger - LAY-jay

Dupuis - DOO-pree

Champagne - SHAH-pine

Barras - BAH-rah

Boudreaux - BOO-droe

Thibodeaux - Tih (short i)-BEH-doe

Gautreaux - GO-troe

Breaux - BRO

Babineaux - Baa-BIN-noe

There are others, but these are the most common ones I can think of. Have fun trying to pronounce them!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cajun C - Cajun Country

I like to think that most people associate Cajuns with Louisiana, but unfortunately, most people also associate Cajuns with New Orleans. Here's a map (though I admit outdated) showing the percentages of Cajuns in each parish (fun fact: Louisiana has parishes instead of counties due to its French influence, and the Louisiana constitution is also based on Napoleonic codes instead of British stuff).

New Orleans is towards the right, underneath the middle of that concave empty space. It's highlighted with 4-12% of that population within the parish claiming to be Cajun in 1990. Here's a map from 2000, with the population percentages based on the whole US population. So, we can see that the number of Cajuns in New Orleans is very small. Repeat, "New Orleans is not Cajun." Very good, my minions. You are learning well.

Here's yet another map color-coating the different regions in Louisiana:

I will make you a believer yet! Source
Cajun Country is in south Louisiana, near the Gulf of Mexico. The "heart" of Cajun Country is Lafayette, Louisiana, which is in that tiny parish right above the r and y in "Country." Being the biggest city in that area and a hog that tries to steal everyone's land, Lafayette has a ginormous ego and likes to think it's everything Cajun. They even hold a festival celebrating both Cajuns and Creoles, which makes sense since the two groups have influenced each other. It's called Festivals Acadiens et Creoles. However, smaller towns around Lafayette also host festivals, but on a much smaller scale. If you really want to experience Cajun culture, I highly encourage you to go to a small town, such as Mamou (pronounced Mah-moo) or Breaux (pronounced Broh) Bridge.

So, as you can see, New Orleans is not Cajun. In fact, New Orleans is a mix of a lot of things, and you can spend years discussing New Orleans' colorful history, everything from their first education system run by Jesuits to rebuilding after fires and floods. New Orleans really is fascinating in its own right. However, New Orleans was essentially populated by Creoles, people whose parents came from the Old World and were born in the New World. First, Creoles were typically from Europe, Spain and France mostly. However, because their mate options were limited, they began to marry Native Americans and free Africans. New Orleans actually had a color hierarchy, in which the more white blood you had, the more power and money you typically had, but their system wasn't white vs. black. It was white, quadroon (1/4 African/Aboriginal blood), octaroon (1/8 African/Aboriginal blood), and so on. More info at Wikipedia. People who considered themselves Creoles thought they were high and mighty over poor Cajuns until more people with African blood considered themselves Creoles, and creole became a dirty, insulting word. It's really unfortunate and a dark part of New Orleans' history, but it's a necessary discussion about racism in my opinion.

Regardless, Cajuns were typically not welcome in New Orleans because they were poor and not Creole. Cajuns were basically to Creoles as the Irish were to the Puritans. Hence, they weren't wanted in New Orleans and eventually over time moved to the area or were pushed out to the area we now call Cajun Country.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cajun B - Bayou

Our most common body of water down south in Louisiana is the bayou. Quite frankly, perhaps I'm wrong, but I haven't heard of a bayou anywhere else but maybe besides in Texas and Mississippi, our neighboring states. A quick search in the Oxford English Dictionary explains that a bayou is a "marshy off-shoot and overflowing of lakes and rivers" (Source). In fact, that dictionary has it labeled as American French and says it comes from the Choctaw word bayuk. You'll find a lot of words like that in Cajun, including the word gumbo. We adopt words from groups of people that we've interacted in. Hence, if you listen to some Cajun French speakers, it sounds like they're just taking English words and throwing a French accent on them (no joke).

Bayous are like smaller-sized rivers. They're brown, muddy, and mucky, and only crazy people swim in the bayous. Legitimately. If there's one thing Northerners don't understand when they come down to Louisiana is why no one swims in the water. Because brain-eating ameobas, anybody? On top of that, the water is filled with bacteria, mud, fertilizers from the north, and alligators. After you, my friend, you can be the one to test drive the water. While I've heard of people swimming in Lake Pontchartrain around New Orleans and then dying from it, I don't think we Cajuns are that crazy that we'd swim in Louisiana's waters, at least definitely not the bayous.

Instead, we like to have alligator races. In my hometown, they used to host an annual alligator race (I don't know if they have it anymore. I can't find anything after 2012). It was called the Great Gator Race and raised money for the community. They'd take plastic alligators and float them down the Bayou Teche.

Those green things are small plastic alligators. Source

It was a very peculiar thing to see, while driving over the bridge and spotting a ton of toy alligators floating underneath it. I miss seeing bayous and rivers. Up here in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, we're landlocked by mountains. I haven't been over a bridge in almost a year. It's definitely a very odd experience to go from living in a town with multiple bridges to living in a town with no bridge whatsoever. In fact, when I leave this town and go to towns with bridges, I get giddy inside. Bridges are a reminder of home.

Bayous are a part of Cajun life. A good bit of our living down south is made from fishing for seafood and hunting alligators. The swamp shows you see are an exaggeration of accents and life down south that are very cringe worthy in my opinion. I don't know how Pennsylvania people live up here without decent seafood. Here it's about $8 for 0.8 oz of catfish. On top of that, the catfish is farm-raised. Its flavor is very different from the dirty-water flavor you get when you buy catfish freshly caught for about $20 for 2-3lbs. I prefer the catfish from home in the bayous. They're larger, cheaper, and have a characteristic flavor with more tender meat.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cajun A - Acadia

Hello and welcome! Welcome to my blog during the A-to-Z Challenge during the month of April! I've picked a theme close to my heart and one that is essentially my heritage: Cajuns. Growing up in Louisiana, I was so immersed in Cajun culture that I didn't recognize how Cajun I was until I moved up to Natchitoches for high school. When your friends have no idea what you're talking about, you find out, you grew up a bit different from the rest. Since I've moved even further north now to a state full of keystone Jews, Germans, and yankees, I miss Cajun culture and Louisiana more each day.

Of course, the obvious place to start off at would be the originating place of the Cajun. Allow me to introduce l'Acadie or, as you outsiders say in English, Acadia.

l'Acadie is in current day Canada, now called Nova Scotia. The basic story goes that Cajuns, then called Acadians, were forced out of their homes by the British and then migrated down to Louisiana. Through oral history, my dad told me that Acadians migrated down through the US with some people settling up north in Maine and some American colonies, but with most of the Acadians coming down to Louisiana. However, history books have taught me that Cajuns actually migrated by boats. The British kicked them out of l'Acadie and exiled them back to France because they refused to convert to Protestantism and take the king as their church leader. Cajuns were okay swearing an allegiance to the king, but they refused to take his religion. They attempted to negotiate with the British, but unfortunately, they were still forced to leave. If I remember correctly, this is the documentary I watched that describes the Acadians' journey: Against the Tide.

After arriving in France, they learned that many of their neighbors were sailing to Louisiana because, well, they weren't wanted in France either. They had older accents and their French had somewhat diverged from France's French. Though I don't remember where I read this, I read that most of the Acadians/Cajuns came from a one or two country regions in France, which meant that they had poor, country, uneducated accents. Acadians sailed to Louisiana, thinking it was still under French control. However, when they arrived, they discovered Louisiana had been transferred over to Spain. But no matter, Spain said, "Hey, amigos, we'll give you some guns and some land. Come settle here and help our economy." Literally...Spain sponsored ships to have Acadians sent over to Louisiana to settle there.

Hence, Acadians made their way to Louisiana and became known as Cajuns. Most Cajuns that I know live in Cajun country, which stretches from about Opelousas to the Gulf of Mexico and from Lake Charles to about Houma. Now, repeat after me, "New Orleans is not Cajun." Very good. One more time. "New Orleans is not Cajun." The reason New Orleans isn't Cajun is because New Orleans is a combination of a lot of things, and the Cajuns that settled there were discriminated against by rich white Creoles (more on Cajuns vs. Creoles in a later post. You can see the discrimination against Cajuns in Kate Chopin's The Great Awakening when the characters go to Grand Isle). Now, when you go to Louisiana, you can sound educated. Call New Orleans "Cajun," and you straight up showed that you're an unedjumacated outsider.

There are Acadians who have settled in Canada and Maine, and I've even heard that there's a group in Utah. However, to keep things simple, when I use the word "Cajun," I'm referring to the Acadians who settled in Louisiana.

If you'd like a more coherent story that has more evidence than just stories that I've heard over time, you can go to the Acadian-Cajun Genealogy website. Stay tuned for more in this month of April!

P.S. Fun fact! Apparently in l'Acadie, the Acadians lived in marshlands, and they built drain systems to farm the land. When they moved to Louisiana, they built similar drain systems to deal with the marshes and swamps. Or so I've heard...who would've thunk it?!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fluid Life

As I'm reading more and more self-help books and seeking out more and more articles on how to become a better person, I now realize that life and identity are very fluid.

After reading Overcoming Low Self-Esteem by Melanie Fennell, I finally recognize how important it is to go along with change and not resist it. People with low self-esteem are typically stuck in ruts, using old information to create rules for living. For example, if when they were little, they were told they were "annoying" by their siblings, people with low self-esteem may think no one wants to be their friends as they grow older because they still have that label attached to themselves. Their bodies and experiences have changed, but their perspectives have not. To improve self-esteem,  people have to realize that they are not "annoying" kids anymore but grown adults that have multiple personality facets.

I'm aware of how "Captain Obvious" this sounds of me. Yes, of course we're all aware that people change, but I think sometimes we forget to accept and acknowledge that change. Hence, people with low self-esteem say "Oh, no, that can't possibly be me. I'm not fun to be around. I'm annoying" even when they've got people laughing and asking to be their friends. We've forgotten to change our self-concept to accommodate our new experiences.

Developing a fluid identity helps us to grow and become better adjusted. Part of fluidity is accepting what is in the present as it comes to us. We no longer focus on the ideal label of "good girl" or "hipster." Instead, we have parts of the "good girl" label and parts of the "hipster" label yet we are not just that label. Someone with a rigid "good girl" identity may say, "I can't believe I just had an argument with my mother. I'm not living up to my ideals. I'm such a horrible person," but if she becomes fluid, she recognizes that arguments are just a thing of life, something to learn from, not something that controls all of her self-worth. All of her self-esteem and identity eggs are not put into one basket. With fluid identities, we adjust standards and expectations as we need to, and we no longer hold ourselves to unrealistic ideals.

Instead of getting stuck with labels we can never fully live up to every second of the day, we develop self-compassion. A "good girl" can say, "I might have argued with my mom, but that's ok. It hasn't ruined my life, just strained our relationship a little." She's not selling herself short, instead she's letting herself simply be, not trying to be something, but just be.

I think this is what frustrates so many children growing up, or at least it frustrated me. We were told we had to be SOMETHING. We had to be good at sports, great at making friends, fantastic at learning, terrific leaders, and even more creative than anyone has been ever before. If we didn't check off our accomplishments and fall into certain categories, then we weren't anything at all, but just worthless nothings. Good luck trying to get into college without that checklist! This is why I think so many people are suffering because we have too many standards and not enough room to just be.

For those of us who are perfectionists, we will never be worth anything until we've done everything right. And as most of us know, not everything can be done "right" every single time. Someone's definition of "right" may not be the same as yours. Yet perfectionists are not worthless, but instead just people who forget that they can just BE instead of have to be ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. Our worth shouldn't be caught up in the number of checks on our lists, instead they should be caught in the fact that we just are.