Hang in there…
This is the sentiment behind the Cajun phrase “Lache Pas a La Patate” or “Don’t Let Go of the Potato”. This saying was adopted around the time of Acadian/Cajun exile from Nova Scotia in the mid-1700’s. It was around this time that the British forcibly exiled the entire Acadian population from the communities they had established in Acadia, Canada. There were roughly 10,000 people deported. Some fled south by foot and others were shipped on boats. Most ended up in southern Louisiana, beginning their new lives as tenant farmers.
I’ve begun to immerse myself in the Cajun-book-world…some of them titled: The Cajuns; Americanization of a People and Cajuns and Their Acadian Ancestors, by Shane K. Bernard; A Great and Noble Scheme, by John Mack Faragher; and Cajun Country, by Barry Jean Ancelet, Jay Edwards, and Glen Pitre. The history/stories/traditions/rituals captured are mostly interesting to read…and inspiring. There are pieces I can relate to deeply …and pieces that meander in one ear…and out the other. I often wonder about the people whose stories were missed. Where were they and what were they feeling? Engaging in the past makes the constant stimuli of modern life feel frantic and stretched thin. I find myself appreciative of today’s luxuries and curious about what we have left behind. The past is written in books…that I can open and close at my leisure. Life here and now requires consistency and maneuvering. How can we merge the two? In this process, I hope to build the capacity to retain what is relevant and lose what can be lost. I can only hold so much. I suppose creative variations and choices of which pieces to revere are for each one of us to decide in our own time.
The peril of a people has the great capacity to shift perspective. Not always, but sometimes, it conjures up deep emotion. ‘I wonder what it must have been like’…sits like a question in my mind. I imagine feelings of separation and fear, surrender and faith. I know I’m scratching the surface when I read these stories of the past…so in order to understand them more deeply, I try narrating them close to my life at present. I’m curious how many people, at some point in their life, decide to trace steps back to their roots? The most common response I’ve received from the opening of this project to my community is the desire of folks to explore their own roots and foster remembrance/appreciation for their particular ancestries. This is powerful. And awesome. Living in a world that all too often translates value into languages of efficiency, income, and status, it is refreshing to honor my own (and witness others’) desires to learn, re-learn, re-claim and venerate our heritages. I feel certain that a different type of value dwells in these choices to make life (re)appear. And when there happen to be no choices, perhaps this is when we can denote the most value: learning from that which is dead. It is then we may ask…where, when, how and do we make it/us alive again?
When I hear the phrase “Lache Pas a La Patate”, I remember what it feels like to be taken away from a home and forced to live somewhere else. I think about the friendships, communities, music and art that form out of these expulsions…and the immense amounts of beauty that pour out of that strife. Sure, we are all different and violence is played out and negotiated in a billion ways…but even through this separation, our collective memory retains and replays. Within these memories, we might be offered opportunities to express our actions into delicate patterns, or sporadic moments of new artistry.
I absolutely love it when a friend shares a food dish from an old-time recipe, or a song is flooded with lyrics that tap into roots that ride deeper. I often imagine myself, my body, as being woven by colorful threads of experience, history, tales, and people I’ve met. Sure, I’m in there somewhere…but the threads are quite bright. Right now all I can seem to think about is how I want to hear about all of your stories, too… The Jewish, African and Puerto Rican…the German, Polish and English…the Cherokee, Peruvian, Australian, and Potawatomi. I might be staring at another project in face…
…one inch at a time.