CMA Newspaper Articles - August 5 Articles
culture connects Plaquemine, Canada village
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LAFAYETTE Ð Dr. Carl Brasseaux gave a presentation on the database available through the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville Wednesday and only made slight mention of the difficulties researchers have had poring over records with multiple spellings of the same surnames, sometimes of the same person in the same document.
He did not have time to elaborate on a particular Cajun problem resulting from the "X" at the ends of phonetically O-sounding Cajun surnames.
In an exclusive interview, however, he talked about the psychological effects resulting from an arbitrary standardization of some of the oldest of Acadian surnames that occurred in the early 19th century in Louisiana.
These are names like Boudreaux, Thibodeaux, Comeaux and, yes, Brasseaux.
X marks a good spot to start a discussion about the internalization of a mistaken feeling of inferiority in the Cajun mentality.
The conventional wisdom heard practically everywhere and from people of all ethnic groups in south Louisiana is that the X was added to the phonetic ''O-sounding'' ending of surnames of Acadians by refugees ''making their mark'' on legal documents because they could not read or write.
''And the conventional wisdom is wrong,'' he said.
''It's a strong indication of the negative, internalized attitudes about our culture that so many Cajuns would naturally assume their ancestors were illiterate.''
These stereotypes of a web-footed, ignorant, inbred and generally inferior ethnic group Americans call Cajun and exploit in motion pictures, books written for mass consumption and demeaning so-called ''Cajun humorists'' are the main targets of the ongoing Congrès Mondial Acadien Louisiane -- 1999, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana and the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville.
Every year, as the awareness of the Acadian (or Cajun) heritage spreads throughout the culture -- which Brasseaux says was suppressed practically since the first days of the American occupation of the area after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 -- the concept of a sort of Acadian political incorrectness has been developing.
The X-files of Louisiana Acadian nomenclature actually started with another French refugee, one who fled the slave rebellion in St. Domingue, now Haiti, in the late 18th century, Brasseaux said.
''There was no attempt to standardize the spelling (of French surnames in what is now called Acadiana) until the 19th century,'' Brasseaux said.
That was when Judge Paul Briant, the Antilles exile, took responsibility for the 1820 U.S. census in Louisiana.
''He is most responsible for the standard 'eaux,' '' Brasseaux said. ''Phonetically, he had about 12 ways to standardize, the 'O' endings in French,'' Brasseaux said.
Adding the ''X'' was arbitrary.
''But the assumption of ignorance represents a very fundamental problem here,'' the historian and keen observer of modern Cajun culture said.
This' 'internalization of negative stereotypes'' is projected to the rest of the world with far-reaching and tragic results, he said.
''We have to be two times better to be (considered) only half as good,'' he said.
He said Cajuns have a tendency to imitate the stereotypes the rest of America and much of the world have come to expect.
''This happens especially when the movie cameras show up,'' he said.
''We're always shooting ourselves in the foot.''