Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The Coonass - Part 1
Coonass, or Coon-ass, is an epithet used in reference to a person of Cajun ethnicity.
Although some Cajuns use the word in regard to themselves, other Cajuns view the term as an ethnic slur against the Cajun people, especially when used by non-Cajuns. Socioeconomic factors appear to influence how Cajuns are likely to view the term: working-class Cajuns tend to regard the word "coonass" as a badge of ethnic pride; whereas middle- and upper-class Cajuns are more likely to regard the term as insulting or degrading, even when used by fellow Cajuns in reference to themselves. (In Sociolinguistics, this type of behavior is termed covert prestige.)
Despite an effort by Cajun activists to stamp out the term, it can be found on T-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers throughout Acadiana, the 22-parish Cajun homeland in south Louisiana.
Way back in 1984, I was attending NC State while BHE was at JMU, a mere 5 hours away in my Cutlass with no heat other than the bottle of Jack Daniels laying in the seat next to me. My cousin also attended JMU that year and it was nice to be able to see her when I got to visit. My brother had attended the University several years earlier and I had another cousin there before, so I was familiar with the campus.
During spring break that year my cousin opted for Va Beach where she met some dude in the navy who was stationed in Norfolk at the time. We couldn't believe that she would ever fall for some guy in the Navy, who had a motorcycle and whom no one had ever seen before. But she did anyway. BHE said he was a good guy and that we would get along great. I was skeptical about this guy. Apparently, he had spend quite a bit of time in the brig while in the service. What kind of loser was he going to be?
I met him some weeks later on one of my treks to Harrisonburg. He looked normal. Then I heard him say something. "WTF?" Then he said something to me. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights because I had no idea what he said. I think I came out with something clever like "Huh?"
That's when I found out this illiterate sounding freak was from Louisiana. He said he was a Coonass. "What the hell does that mean?", I said.
We've been friends ever since.
He and my cousin ended up getting married a few years later and I had to film the wedding. It was a time in my life when I was always asked to film weddings for some reason. I'm not sure why and I think I did like 8 one year, but I digress.
We've done a lot together through the years from concerts to vacations to hunting and to racing. In Part 2, I'll hit on some highlights about different times and some different people and the trip I finally took to Cajun country this past spring.
Til then ...