Friday, September 23, 2011

To make money, You have to sing in English. To save our heritage, You have to sing in French,

When I was learning french in grade school in the 70's, others were being punished for it.  The possibility of speaking another language fluently within our country's borders intrigued me while it earned detentions for those down in Southeastern Louisiana.  

By 1950, the Cajun French language and culture still suffered immensely and many parents did not go to the trouble of teaching their children French.  Why should they teach their children anyway?  Cajun French was considered a "low life language".  Students who tried to speak it in Acadiana were sent to detention in schools if they were caught speaking it. Even sadder still, the Cajun French language was considered unfit for written or spoken expression.  The Cajun French donned their Mardi Gras masks to hide the pain of their own cultural extinction and entertained those who had no clue.  New Orleans bound to let the good times roll.

"They stood up on the stage as if it was their altar, They faced down all the rage and no, they did not falter. They were good enough to play but not good enough to stay, And when they finished their songs boy they had to better be on their way...."  (- Edwin McCain, Good Enough)

Meet  poet Jean Arecenaux: Ils ont entendu son cri du bayouSa poésie "Cris sur Le BayouNaissance d'une poésie acadienne en Louisiane" porteur d'espoir pour les Acadiens que leur langue était bel et bien vivant.

(Enter Jean Arceneaux: They heard his cries from the Bayou.  His poems "Cries from the Bayou: The Birth of Acadian Poems in Louisiana" brought hope to the Acadian people that their language was alive and well) Cris sur le bayou expressed a common desire to inscribe an indelible impression onto others about the problematic experience of the Louisiana French Speaker who was faced with the ghosts of their own extinction.

Cultural Extinction.  Imagine yourself in the 1950's. Schools are segregated.  You are a small child who was taught by your favorite Grandmother to speak French.  Your father speaks Cajun French. Your books are in American and you are having trouble reading.    When you arrive at school you pass your teacher and say "Bonswa".  She wheels around on her heels and swats you on the hinny and says, "Don't you ever talk like that in this classroom. I am sending you to the principal."  The parent teacher conference begins. Your parents are fluently speaking French in whispers.  The teacher sits down and says, " Je comprends et je suis désolé. (I understand and I am sorry). Your teacher, Ms. LeBlanc continues in English and says that Cajun French is not allowed in the classroom and that you will be punished more severely the next time you are caught speaking it in your classroom.  Your teacher's face and eyes express deep hidden sadness. Your parents and she suffer in silence and knowingly console each other that once more, a piece of your and their culture has been ripped away shaming you of your own heritage.  You listen and are writing on the blackboard 100 times, "I will not speak French in the Classroom ever again" and you are crying but are not sure why.

By Jean Areceneaux

Schizophrénie linguistique

I will not speak French on the school grounds.
I will not speak French on the school grounds.
I will not speak French…
I will not speak French…
I will not speak French…
Hé ! Ils sont pas bêtes, salauds.
Après mille fois, ça commence à pénétrer
Dans n'importe quel esprit.
Ça fait mal ; ça fait honte ;
Puis là, ça fait plus mal.
Ça devient automatique.
Et on ne speak pas French on the school grounds
Et ni anywhere else non plus.
Jamais avec des étrangers.
On sait jamais qui a l'autorité
De faire écrire ses sacrées lignes
À n'importe quel âge.
Surtout pas avec les enfants.
Faut jamais que eux, ils passent leur temps de recess
À écrire ces sacrées lignes.
Faut pas qu'ils aient besoin d'écrire ça
Parce qu'il faut pas qu'ils parlent français du tout.
Ça laisse voir qu'on est rien que des Cadiens.
Don't mind us, we're just poor coonasses.
Basse classe, faut cacher ça.
Faut dépasser ça.
Faut parler anglais.
Faut regarder la télévision en anglais.
Faut écouter la radio en anglais.
Comme de bons Américains.
Why not just go ahead and learn English.
Don't fight it. It's much easier anyway.
No bilingual bills, no bilingual publicity.
No danger of internal frontiers.
Enseignez l'anglais aux enfants.
Rendez-les tout le long,
Tout le long jusqu'aux discos,
Jusqu'au Million Dollar Man.
On a pas réellement besoin de parler français quand même.
C'est les Etats-Unis ici,
Land of the free.
On restera toujours rien que des poor coonasses.
Coonass. Non, non. Ça gêne pas.
C'est juste un petit nom.
Ça veut rien dire.
C'est pour s'amuser. Ça gêne pas.
On aime ça. C'est cute.
Ça nous fait pas fâchés. Ça nous fait rire.
Mais quand on doit rire, c'est en quelle langue qu'on rit ?
Et pour pleurer, c'est en quelle langue qu'on pleure ?
Et pour crier ?
Et chanter ?
Et aimer ?
Et vivre ?

Juillet 1978
Linguistic Schizophrenia

I will not speak French on the school grounds.
I will not speak French on the school grounds.
I will not speak French…
I will not speak French…
I will not speak French…

Hey, those bastards aren't stupid.
After a thousand times, it starts to get beaten
Into anybody's head.
It hurts; it makes you feel ashamed;
And then, it doesn't hurt.
It becomes automatic.
And you don't parler français on the school grounds
Or anywhere else non plus.
Never with strangers.
You never know who has the power
To make you write those goddam lines
At any age.
Especially not with children.
They should never have to spend their recess
Writing those goddam lines
Because they shouldn't speak French at all.
It shows that we're nothing but Cajuns.
Don't mind us, we're just poor coonasses.
Low-class, better hide that.
Better get past that.
Better speak English.
Better watch TV in English.
Better listen to the radio in English.
Like good Americans.
Why not just go ahead and learn English.
Don't fight it. It's much easier anyway.
No bilingual bills, no bilingual publicity.
No danger of internal frontiers.

Teach the children English.
Take them all the way,
All the way to the discos,
All the way to the Million Dollar Man.
You don't really need to speak French anyway.
This is the USA,
Land of the free.
And we'll always be nothing but poor coonasses.
Coonass. No, no. That doesn't bother us.
It's just a nickname.
It doesn't mean anything.
It's just for fun. It doesn't bother us.
We like it. It's cute.
It's doesn't make us mad. It makes us laugh.
But when you laugh, in what language do you laugh?
And to cry, in what language do you cry?
And to scream?
And sing?
And love?
And live?

Juillet 1978.

Acadians experienced the painful betrayal of the Cajun language and culture, a betrayal that came as much from within the community as it did from Américains.   Cajuns lived isolated and relatively unnoticed.  Who would be able to revive their culture and bring belonging to these people promised "refuge from their teeming shore"? The Statue of Liberty's inscription by the late 1970's was a farce and mocked Cajun existence. 

"We real cool, we left school, we lurk late, we strike straight. We sing sin, we thin gin. We Jazz June, we die soon".  (Gwendolyn Brooks)

Colonihilism - Jean Arceneaux

Les schools boards étaient composés
De Babineaux, d'Arceneaux et de Leblanc.
C'est-tu des noms américains, ça ?
Pour les quelques Américains impliqués, ok,
Ils sont coupables d'avoir comploté
Pour assassiner un peuple,
Pour étouffer sa langue et sa culture.
Mais les Cadiens, c'était quoi leur complot ?
Le génosuicide par les mêmes moyens ?
C'est difficile de regarder l'ennemi dans les yeux.
Il faut souvent trouver un miroir.

The school boards were made up of people with names like
Babineaux, Arceneaux, and Leblanc.
Are those American names ?
For those Américains involved, fine,
They're guilty of having plotted
To assassinate a people,
To smother its language and culture.
But the Cadiens, what was their plot ?
Genosuicide by the same means ?
It's hard to look the enemy in the eyes.
Sometimes you need a mirror.

Arceneaux acidic poems sometimes will burn out the eyes of his readers. His brutal honesty depicts the necessary wake up call to the rest of America about what exactly happened to this beautiful culture forced to turn Anglican.  "Low life no more"  Arceneaux turns the tables and places a mirror in the Cajun oppressors faces like a contemptious child. He believes that Americans Let the Good Times Roll (but only for the money and tourism).

Pour faire de l'argent,  Il faut chanter en anglais.  Pour sauver l'héritage,  Il faut chanter en français,  À n'importe quel âge,  Juste parce que. (To make money,  You have to sing in English.  To save our heritage,  You have to sing in French,  At any age,  Just because.  You can't buy a crumb of bread With fifty cents of heritage, But you can't buy a crumb of heritage.)  (Arceneaux)

Acadiana needs an Evangeline more than ever to preserve a dying heritage that is mocked by TV Shows like Swamp People, to be delivered from those people who scream from balconies in New Orleans egging on women to "Show me your ****!".  Beads slinging over head, drunken Mardi Gras American debauchery ignoring three centuries of important culture that slams into contemporary insanity.

We jazz june... we die soon.

1 comment:

AppGal330 said...

So many emotions run through me as I read this!! The sadness seen in the eyes of my Daddy & his siblings that they tried to hide from us. Telling us stories of the "Sisters" slapping them with rulers (or worse) for "parler Cadien" in school. How they were forced to speak "American". How they had to endure comments "You dumb coon ass brat!" from so called educated adults.(ones they were supposed to respect, or else!)
And yet, the joi de vive!! Joy for life...that they each carried. A joy that goes to the very depth of who and what the Acadian (Cajun) people were and are. A joy that carried them through Le Grande Derangement(the great deportation) of 1755 and has allowed them to endure ALL things for all time. Its in our DNA, and we cannot deny it, anymore than anyone can deny their hair or eye coloring. It courses through our veins, it IS our life's blood. The blood of our courageous Ancestors, the blood of our loving grandparents and parents. The love of community, neighbors, of "awww cha" and "Laissez les bon temps rouler",gumbo and crawfish and all things from the bayous, work hard & play hard. It is US, the people of Acadiana, the exiles, the survivors, the Cajuns!

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