James Gill: ‘I’m a Cajun and I’m proud’

The makeup of the state Senate committee did not augur well for a Cajun bill, Scott Angelle noted.

The committee included an Adley, a Buffington, a Nevers, a Smith and a Heitmeier, but there was nary a Boudreaux or a Lapeyrouse in sight. Angelle, a Public Service Commissioner, was there in support of a bill allowing “I’m a Cajun” to be stamped on driver’s licenses.

Sitting next to Angelle was the bill’s sponsor, a senator from down the bayou who has been his friend since childhood. The senator is Fred Mills, R-Parks, and it must be admitted that the name also lacks a notably Acadian ring. But the same might be said of Edwin Edwards, and nobody would mistake either of them for British.

None of those committee members claimed their names disguised Cajun ancestry, but the bill sailed through the Legislature and maybe some of them will get their licenses stamped anyway. There is nothing to stop them, for no proof of lineage is required. You want a license saying you’re Cajun, go ahead. It’ll cost a mere $5 a year.

And that’s not all. Under a bill needing only approval on the Senate floor, for $15 a year you’ll be able to put “I’m a Cajun … and proud” on your license plate. You can tell right away that the author of that bill has a French genealogy; he is Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge.

We Cajuns may not all be happy that just anyone can style himself one of us. Maybe you didn’t know I was a Cajun, but we’ve seen how misleading names can be. It is true too that you will search my family tree in vain for a single Francophone, but I have more than blood on my side. Edwards himself, in a letter from the federal penitentiary a few years ago, made me an honorary Cajun. Mills! Huval! Mes confreres!

Let us not be clannish and complain if the licenses and plates are sold to anyone who wants them, for the proceeds will help the Cajun cause through the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, which had its budget slashed by Gov. Bobby Jindal last year.

CODOFIL needs the money so that it can continue its Escadrille Louisiane program, whereby college graduates are sent to study in France. Although there is an obvious risk that they will come back speaking a funny kind of French, Cajuns are an understanding bunch.

If they are also proud, they hardly need to say so on a license plate. It may safely be assumed that anyone who chooses to pay a fee so he can announce “I’m a Cajun” to the world is not ashamed of it.

Perhaps, on the other hand, you are always being mistaken for a Cajun, and wish to proclaim that your forebears did not come here via Nova Scotia. If so, Huval has a plate for you too. It says, “I’m a Creole … and proud,” so we’ve got the Frenchies about covered.

And not just the Frenchies. Creole has so many meanings that the plates should have wide appeal across racial lines. You pays your money and takes your choice and it don’t make CODOFIL no nevermind. Pretty soon Louisiana will be sending so many youngsters to France, it’ll look like D-Day.

I’ll be first in line to get my driver’s license stamped. As Angelle told the Senate committee, he’s always flashing his as an ID on his travels, and the “I’m a Cajun” stamp should excite many a conversation about Louisiana. I look forward to doing my bit for the tourist trade by relating my experiences as an alligator wrestler at airport security.

“I’m a Cajun” will go just below the mug shot on your license, which is also where veterans may choose to be so identified. It’s also where sex offenders are shamed in orange letters, so some licenses could get pretty cluttered.

But there can’t be many sex offenders who are also Cajun veterans. If one came along, DMV might run out of space on his license.

Let him by all means get a special plate, though. Cajuns say we should all do our best for CODOFIL.

James Gill can be reached at jgill@theadvocate.com.