YOU WERE RIGHT,” said a friend just back from a trip to my old stomping grounds. “It’s not like the South at all. It’s barely even America.”
Before her trip to Louisiana’s Cajun Country, my friend and I had had a running debate on the definition of “Southern.” A ’Bama belle by birth, she would make sweeping generalizations about “the South” and include everything below the Mason-Dixon Line from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Sweetwater, Texas.
But because I had grown up in south Louisiana—a.k.a. French Louisiana, Acadiana, and Cajun Country—I always disagreed with her assumptions about “our common culture.” “Listen,” I’d say, “in my hometown most of us are Catholic, cooking is the national sport, and grandmothers curse in French when they lose at cards.” Literally and figuratively, south Louisiana sits apart from the mostly Protestant Deep South; it’s a cultural anomaly located south of the South. For Acadiana’s schoolchildren, it’s not the Mason-Dixon Line that’s the primary cultural boundary but Interstate 10—an informal frontier that separates their home from the United States. “Go too far north of that,” I’d say, “and you’ve actually got to deal with Americans.”
Acadiana is the largely rural French-flavored region that starts at the Sabine River and extends eastward to the Mississippi. Its de facto capital, the sprawling oil-field town of Lafayette, is roughly a three-hour drive from Houston and two hours from New Orleans on I-10. As a travel destination, south Louisiana usually plays second fiddle to its city cousin,