I never heard of Acadians until I
met one called Jacques. He taught me to catch and eat periwinkles. While
munching the tasty little snails, Jacques told me how Acadians had arrived as
French colonists to the area around what is today New Brunswick. They farmed,
fished, and lived happily for almost a hundred years, at peace with the Mikmaq
Indians around them.
Then the struggle between empires
burst in on their bucolic world. The French lost one of their tussles with the
British and ceded over the land of the Acadians. The Acadians didn't much care,
having spent generations in Acadia developing their own identity.
Perhaps because the Acadians spoke
French, the British were suspicious and presented them with a loyalty oath.
Sign it and they can stay.
The Acadians were a proud people,
with traditions, towns, and prosperity. They refused, assuming the British
would just leave them alone and go back to scrapping with the
The Great Expulsion began during
the late summer harvest of 1755. Almost 12,000 Acadians were rounded up, their
property seized. They were put on boats to destinations unknown. Put in current
perspective, that would be like deporting everyone in New York
The ships sailed south, and some
Acadians settled in other British colonies, but many were refused entry as a
disloyal bunch. Some eventually made their way to France, a country they had
never seen. A great many were accepted by the Spaniards in charge of New
Orleans, where Acadian was mispronounced into Cajun.
Jacques told a sad tale of many
Acadians dying of disease or drowning, wandering homeless with even the French
calling them outsiders.
Some eventually drifted back to
Canada's maritime provinces, nowadays having few problems becoming citizens
with an allegiance to Canada.
"What was that all about," I asked
Jacques. "I would have signed that silly loyalty oath in a heartbeat and gone
back to my farming.
"You don't understand," he said.
"You were never a stranger suddenly in a strange country with your own roots,
your own history, your own identity -- all to be thrown in the
I was about to agree when I
realized that I had been there. As Hungarian refugees, we were every bit
Acadians at one point, but with a big difference in outlook. We couldn't wait
to sign American loyalty oaths, indeed we were super patriots.
Many of us Americanized our names
and worked hard to lose our accents, I included, to make sure we belonged. We
wanted to be "us", not "them", and we were willing to leave our Hungarian
heritage as moldy baggage on the docks.
Only in my latter years have I
awakened my roots, relearning my mother tongue and eager for news, music,
history, and food from the Old Country. Perhaps we humans have a propensity to
act like pendulums, swinging to the tribalism of Acadians or to the submission
of Hungarian refugees. All the while, there is a place of equilibrium in
between, a quiet place where we don't loose one of our legacies but become a
mutt of both.