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BP oil spill imperils Cajun culture

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There are countless casualties of the Deepwater Horizon explosion that sent oil spewing into the Gulf in late April, but how it is affecting Cajuns here is particularly profound: It threatens not just to take away their livelihoods, but also to grind down an identity of independence and self-reliance that was established when their ancestors were forced to find ways to survive in an environment that many considered uninhabitable.

Cajuns interviewed for this story all expressed loyalty to the land of their ancestors and said that those who traveled outside the state always find a reason to return. Many expressed the belief that their way of life would not work outside the region and said that when they do travel, they no longer feel Cajun, but like just another assimilated American.

"What are they going to do in another place? What they do is what their families have been doing forever," says Ann Savoy, an author and Cajun musician who lives outside Eunice, La.

Ms. Savoy says that central to understanding the Cajun culture is knowing that isolation. "The Cajuns see themselves as another culture and not so much Americans. They love this freedom that they wouldn't have in other places. Because when you live in a swamp, you can do anything, all the time," she says.

Savoy says Cajun identity is so distinct that each town often has its own cuisine, musical style, and dialect. The cultural markers are a result of families staying put for generations, which is what makes these communities resilient in the face of nature's hardships and resistant to change.

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