I was driving back from dropping off a friend at the New Orleans airport the other day around 5:30 am, listening to the Ragin' Cajun, 100.3 FM. It was still dark out as I cut through the city on the 610, and suddenly the station changed from your typical Zydeco-Cajun mix of accordion-laced down-homey tunes, sung in accented French, to a recording of several voices intoning cyclic chants about God, Jesus, and "le Saint Esprit." It took me a few listens to realize (being the non-Catholic that I am) that it was a congregation praying the Rosary.... in Cajun French. Weird.
Folks who have learned "Parisian" French in a sterile academic setting often find Cajun French understandable, but barely. I like to think of it as the difference between a Boston Brahmin's clean, starched-collar elocution and the bouncing, rollicking twang of a native Texan. There is something sort of buoyant about the way Cajun words drop into the mouth and tumble around, in the process smoothing away some of the sharper, more precise corners that indicate that certain "raffinement" particular to textbook French. (Montrealites (Montréalais??) sound like this to me as well--probably just my American ears' inability to hear the nuances between the two.)
The repetitive nature of the Rosary was oddly calming as I powered through narrow lanes and sharp curves, zoomed up off of an energy drink (since I'd been awake from 3am on...). I spent so many miles listening to Cajun Catholics pray that I can now say the Hail Mary in French. I have no idea how to say it in English, but since I only go to Mass when I'm in France, I guess it doesn't really matter.
The strangest part about this was crossing the I-10 Twinspan going east as the sun was rising. As the clock ticked over to 6am, an instrumental version of the national anthem struck up. Then, in a moment of bizarre cognitive dissonance, my ears filled with the sound of the Pledge of Allegiance being transmitted over the airwaves in French. I wondered if this expression of patriotism was an intentional embrace of what the United States did for the foremothers and forefathers of today's Cajuns--it was, after all, this country which welcomed the Acadian refugees when the British kicked them out of Canada. Given the long-term, deliberate persecution of French-speaking Louisianans, however, and the systematic repression of pretty much any other minority group wanting to preserve their language and cultural heritage in this country (Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, some dialect speakers, indigenous Spanish communities...), it's quite ironic that the local Cajun radio station broadcasts a Pledge of Allegiance to the government in a language which they were forbidden to speak by that very same government.
Oh, the complexities of United States history.
PS: A belated happy Indigenous People's Day (known to most of us as Columbus Day), by the way. I refer to it as the former because I'd rather celebrate the immense diversity of this land's native cultures than the man who massacred thousands of Arawak Indians in the interest of expanding Spain's imperial grasp.