Viola Fontenot (Courville) of Lafayette, Louisiana, grew up a sharecropper’s daughter in Acadia Parish. She is a retired assistant vice-president of Tri Parish Bank. A student of Chere Coen's memoir classes, she contributed to Growing up in South Louisiana and is now working on a children's book, Le Petit Chaoui Du Grand Bois. She is passionate about her Cajun language at a weekly Table Français.
11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
State Capitol Building, House Committee Room 4
Gathering Strength: Memoirs of Resilience
Noon to 12:45 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Bookselling Tent
A Cajun Girl's Sharecropping Years
Today sharecropping is history, though during World War II and the Great Depression sharecropping was prevalent in Louisiana's southern parishes. Sharecroppers rented farmland and often a small house, agreeing to pay a one-third share of all profit from the sale of crops grown on the land. Sharecropping shaped Louisiana's rich cultural history, and while there have been books published about sharecropping, they share a predominately male perspective. In A Cajun Girl's Sharecropping Years, Viola Fontenot adds the female voice into the story of sharecropping.
Spanning from 1937 to 1955, Fontenot describes her life as the daughter of a sharecropper in Church Point, Louisiana, including details of field work as well as the domestic arts and Cajun culture. The account begins with stories from early life, where the family lived off a gravel road near the woods without electricity, running water, or bathrooms, and a mule-drawn wagon was the only means of transportation. To gently introduce the reader to her native language, the author often includes French words along with a succinct definition. This becomes an important part of the story as Fontenot attends primary school, where she experienced prejudice for speaking French, a forbidden and punishable act. Descriptions of Fontenot's teenage years include stories of going to the boucherie; canning blackberries, figs, and pumpkins; using the wood stove to cook dinner; washing and ironing laundry; and making moss mattresses. Also included in the texts are explanations of rural Cajun holiday traditions, courting customs, leisure activities, children's games, and Saturday night house dances for family and neighbors, the fais do-do.
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