De Nord a Sud
(From North to South)
I gave birth to a Cajun.
Like many of life's greatest blessings, it wasn't planned. It just happened. Before meeting my husband, I hadn't given much thought to the word Cajun. My heritage is primarily German and Polish. We danced Polkas and Hokey-Pokeys at family parties and ate sauerkraut, bratwurst, and jello where I was raised in Chicago. But love changed that for me.
In 1986 my husband, Tony, and I relocated from our home in Nashville, Tennessee, to the rural Cajun town of Pierre Part, where my husband was raised. I was welcomed with open arms and what seemed to be rhetorical questions, which I came to understand as English with a Cajun French twist.
"You're Tony's wife?"
Yes, I would answer.
"That's Miss Roberta's son?"
Yes, he is.
"Well, Miss Roberta's my brother's wife's nanny!"
Really? I marveled that my business-minded mother-in-law had ever been a professional baby-sitter.
"Roberta's my mama's third cousin."
Trying to keep up with the geneology lesson, I would ask, "And who's your mama?"
"LulaMae Blanchard. But she was a Breaux. Her daddy, Mr. Boo-Boo, and Miss Roberta's daddy, Mr. R.P., were first cousins."
"And who's your sister-in-law," I asked?
"Vianna Bolotte. Her mama and Miss Roberta are second cousins.
Vianna's mama is Miss Barbara Boudreaux."
I could feel my eyes starting to spin.
"Oooohhh!," I would answer, marveling at the fact that all of the last names started with B.
Well, at least I was gaining an identity: (1) Tony's wife and (2) Miss Roberta's daughter-in-law. It was a start.
My Cajun baby arrived in January. I could tell as soon as I heard her that she inherited the French blood.
"Wa waaá, wa waaaá, wa waaaá." This was hard to understand this language at 3 AM. Granted, I could barely understand English at that time of the morning, and it didn't sound anything like my 10th grade Spanish. I deduced that she must be crying in French and that I, too, must learn the language.
"Chére, bébé! Look at them cheeks," the ladies would say to us in the grocery store.
"Ça c'est une Daigle," they would say.
Yes, she's a Daigle, I would reply, hoping I understood the statement.
"Them Daigle's all look alike," they continued.
Really? I hadn't noticed.
"Mais, yeah. She looks just like her pawpaw's sister, Lucie. That's my husband's first cousin.
My husband's mama, Tante Sue, and Lucie's daddy, Mr. Alphonse, were brother and sister. Lucie has that Daigle nose and mouth, just like her daddy did. Et chére! This bébé looks just like them Daigles."
And so it was that the geneology lesson turned to genetics. "Et regardez ses yeaux. So blue. Just like her mawmaw." Having learned a few French words by this time, I agreed the baby had inherited her father's Cajun French looks. I kept claim to her brains, which I knew were very smart. I was proud of my newest identity as Erin's mom.
By Erin's first birthday, she was equally responsive to questions our Cajun friends would pose to her in French or English. "Ou est ta nez?" would prompt Erin to touch her nose. "Ou est ta bouche?" would bring on her big smile. "Where's mama's ear?" I would ask and she would stick her finger in it.
Marveling at my baby's comprehension of French and English, I vowed to become a more dedicated student of the French language. When we moved to Lafayette a few years later, I became an advocate for French Immersion education and enrolled my child in the pioneer class of Kindergarten immersion students. Her identity would be clear: Cajun.
Marrying into the Daigle family led me to numerous family reunions over the years, including the grandest of Acadian heritage reunions, the Congrés Mondial. As the 1999 Congrés Mondial de Louisiane drew near, the opportunity presented itself to link the geneology and the genetics of health and family. Through personal interest I became involved in the planning committee for the Daigle Reunion that occurred during the Congrés. To fill time at the reunion, we conducted arts activities including Cajun music "audience participation" and creation of a huge Daigle Family Tree with colorful hand prints, signatures, and birthdates of many reunion attendees. You could tell the Daigle descendents. They all had that nose.
This personal interest also extended into my workplace. As Executive Director of the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center (AHEC), I served on the planning committee for the Genetics Symposium held at McNeese State University during the 1999 Congrés event. Judging from the excellent attendance and feedback, the Symposium was successful in bringing together people of Acadian ancestry with geneticists to discuss linkages in family health conditions. From the "Genetics 101" general session, to the heartwarming personal story of a young boy challenged by a genetic disorder, the event was brimming with opportunities for learning and sharing. Since that first Symposium, our AHEC colleagues have continued to introduce others throughout the state to the Center for Acadiana Genetics.
As my Cajun baby now approaches adulthood, I am increasingly aware of how genetics may impact her future. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, lupus, hearing loss and nearsightedness are among the major health problems among Erin's grandparents and great-grandparents. Our quest for understanding heredity reminds us to balance the "joie de vivre" with healthy habits. Although we are surrounded daily by the tasty temptations of Louisiana's rich cuisine, we eat varied, natural, low-fat foods often and exercise regularly (including rigorous two-stepping!) to deter the onset of poor health conditions which may be genetic.
Somewhere along the way I was born-again Cajun, me. And I learned that a nanny is a Godmother in Cajun country, not a live-in baby-sitter. Another accomplishment in my own forever-evolving hyphen-Daigle identity.
Genetics, like identity, gives me cause to laugh and cause to pray. Science, like life, offers me constant discoveries in which I find reasons to be truly thankful.
Je suis tres content pour avoir ma famille Daigle, et notre bonne santé.
Dieu te beni, et lache pas la patate.