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Big Squeeze - Reflections on the Cajun Community in Southeast Texas

In February 2018, Texas Folklife hosted a discussion at Larry’s French Market & Cajun Restaurant about how the organization can support efforts of the community to encourage youth participation in Cajun traditional music.  The community discussion touched on three main topics: the reasons behind decline in youth participation in Cajun music in Southeast Texas; comparisons between Louisiana and Texas in how they support the music and what they prioritize; and strategies to encourage youth participation in Cajun music.

            While the decline in youth participation in Cajun music has been gradual, many point to the closing of the Rodair Club in 2004 that signaled the decline. For many growing up in the area, the Rodair Club was the community gathering spot for music, dance, food, and all aspects of Cajun culture. Since the closure, however, there have been no similar venues to take the Rodair’s place; many Cajun restaurants instead cater to country music. As a result, the next generation are growing up without a place to gather to participate in Cajun culture: they don’t speak or understand French; they don’t know the music or the dance; and since they didn’t grow up with the culture, they have no interest to participate.

            The situation is vastly different from Louisiana, where Cajun music and culture is extremely prevalent. In comparison to Texas, Louisiana possesses a strong support network that encourages and teaches young kids various aspects of Cajun culture, particularly the music. This can be seen through the prevalence of the music in classrooms, and the full support by Louisiana to create classes for the music. Music is therefore a top priority, something not present in Texas. There are few people who can dedicate themselves to teaching music in Texas; supporting their family is instead the top priority, while music is secondary. The in turn influences the level of enthusiasm and encouragement by the community for kids to pursue the music. While there is still strong encouragement, the enthusiasm has waned in not just the younger generations, but the older generations as well. When shows do occur, the older individuals that come out only stay for a few songs and leave early, leading to less interest overall in continuing the music.

            While there are multiple issues present in the low levels of participation in Cajun music in Texas, several strategies were addressed during the meeting that could spark a revival. While there is a decline in the younger generation to participate, those who choose to continue the music show a clear devotion to teaching others. Donovan Bourque, Elizabeth Kelly, and Bridget Roberts all voiced a strong interest to encourage the next generation of kids to participate in Cajun music and culture. After discussing different strategies, many participants agreed on the necessity of a monthly Cajun music jam and workshop that specifically targeted children of younger families. Randy Cagle reflected on his own experiences of playing music to younger kids in the schools, and seeing their strong interest in traditional music. Drawing off this experience, many agreed on reserving a room in a public library as a good first step. If a couple instruments could be donated and flyers were to be passed around in both the library and around town, this could be a first step into getting young kids interested in the music and, eventually, have them start learning to play themselves.

Stay tuned for updates on Texas Folklife's efforts working with the Cajun community in Southeast Texas!