I was raised in an odd grey area between Cajun and Southern White, without really fitting into either group.
The first thing people ask when I eventually mention my heritage is, “can you speak French?” To which I respond, with great embarrassment and shame, “no.” Most people just give a disappointed or confused look, but there have been those who voice what everyone thinks:
“If you don’t speak French, you’re not a ‘true’ Cajun, are you?”
My identity comes under fire and I am forced to explain myself, saying that the blood in my veins is part of the Diaspora, that I grew up with the same dishes and dances and folktales that Cajuns hold so dear. But I can’t speak French, and my last name doesn’t sound French, and my appearance isn’t French, so I’m just southern white. I’m blended into a group that is so incredibly varied but crammed into the same box of being “cultureless Americans.”
And then I feel as though I have no right to claim my heritage, that by doing so I’m insulting the “true Cajuns,” the folks who speak French and sound French and look French. Can I still call myself Cajun, if I was raised detached from a larger Cajun community, with only fractured traditions and mixed bloodlines to mark me as kin? Can I ever call the Acadiens my people, or will I always just be considered another “white?”
The only folk who have ever called me Cajun without me first telling them of my ancestry have been some black folks who, upon hearing my watered-down, drawl-heavy version of speech, called me a “coonass,” “mutt,” and “savage white,” in that order. Part of me raged, part of me felt oddly accepted.
I’m still unsure as of what to do, of what to call myself. People are so polarized about labels nowadays, so much so that I feel that calling myself anything other than “white” would be met with hostility. Fourth-generation this, blood quantum that…why do we measure our heritage in DNA tests and linguistics? Why can’t we be of mixed ethnicity and still be considered a part of our diaspora?
Why can’t I just be me?