'The Cajuns: Americanization of a People'

Author Cites Balance of Celebrating, Preserving La. Culture

Cajun musicians

Lennis Romero, left, plays the triangle and Ophe Romero plays the accordion in St. Martinville, La., in this 1993 file photo. © Philip Gould/CORBIS hide caption

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'The Cajuns, Americanization of a People' by Shane K. Bernard

The Cajuns: Americanization of a People hide caption

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Most Cajuns, whose ancestors settled in southern Louisiana in the 17th century, spoke French up until World War II. But military service, post-war industry and television helped change that. While Cajun culture is celebrated in music, film and food, only a fraction of the local population calls French its first language. NPR's Renee Montagne speaks with historian Shane Bernard about the Americanization of the Cajuns.

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Cajun culture became a hot commodity in the 1980s, with the popularity of the film The Big Easy (Bernard says the film contains many cultural inaccuracies) and chef Paul Prudhomme's blackened redfish (which Bernard says wasn't a traditional Cajun dish). The Cajun craze spawned a tourism boom in Cajun country around Lafayette, La.

"This is a problem for the Cajun culture... how do we balance preserving the traditional culture and yet making it accessible to outsiders at the same time?" says Bernard, author of The Cajuns: Americanization of a People.

"I think that over the past 60 years, since World War II, the Americanization of the Cajuns has caused us, whether we know it our not, to rewrite the definition of Cajun. And it's not something you can really put your finger on — what does it mean to be a Cajun? I think it's something that every individual has to answer for themselves."

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