It was late afternoon and I was at the Bridge with the Jewelry Lady. I’d spent the day at her house, then we’d gone out to the Bridge in the relative coolness of the evening. There weren’t many customers out there, but the Jewelry Lady and I set up anyway.
Three cute little girls under the age of 10 stopped at my table. They were sunburned and windblown, and I could tell the littlest one was extra spunky. I asked if they were sisters, and they said they were cousins.
The girls asked about my bracelets. I said they were $4 each or three for $10.The littlest girl couldn’t afford that price and asked if I had anything for $2. I told the girls they could all pick out a bracelet for $2 each.
As I talked to the girls, their answers were yes ma’am and no ma’am. I said, Y’all are so polite. Y’all must be from Texas. They said they were from Texas.
The girls’ grandpa had been hanging around, and I’d figured out he was one of those old guys who thinks he is funny when he is really obnoxious. When I told the girls I was from Louisiana, he said to them, You hear that? She’s a coonie!
Coonie is a shortened (and more polite) version of coonass, a somewhat derogatory name for the Cajun people of Southwest Louisiana. I am Cajun, so that does make me a coonass, but not everyone from Louisiana is Cajun, so not everyone from Louisiana is a coonass. This man was making a mightly assumption about me and my place of birth. (Since I don’t have a Cajun accent, he was not basing his assumption on the way I talk.)
More importantly, coonass is one of those words people within the group can call each other, but outsiders should not use casually. And for a Texan to call a Cajun a coonass or even a coonie, well, them’s fightin’ words. But I played it cool and didn’t say, I’d rather be a coonass than a fucking Texan! After all, he had three sweet little girls with him.
I finished my transaction with the girls, and as soon as the family walked away, I said to the Jewelry Lady, did you hear what he called me! Of course, she’d never heard of coonies or coonasses, and I had to explain the whole thing to her.
According to http://www.acadian.org/coonass.html
Coonass is a controversial term in the Cajun lexicon: to some Cajuns it is regarded as the supreme ethnic slur, meaning “ignorant, backwards Cajun”; to others the term is a badge of pride, much like the word Chicano is for Mexican Americans. In South Louisiana, for example, one can often see bumper stickers reading “Warning — Coonass on Board!” or “Registered Coonass” (both of which generally depict a raccoon’s backside). The word’s origin is unclear: folk etymology claims that coonass dates from World War II, when Cajun GIs serving in France were derided by native French speakers as conasse, meaning “dirty whore” or “idiot.” Non-French-speaking American GIs allegedly overheard the expression, converted it to the English “coonass,” and introduced the term back in the United States. There it supposedly soon caught on as a derisive term among non-Cajuns, who encountered many Cajuns in Gulf Coast oilfields. It is now known, however, that coonass predated the arrival of Cajun GIs in France during World War II, which undermines the conasse theory. Indeed, folklorist Barry Jean Ancelet has long rejected this theory, calling it “shaky linguistics at best.” He has suggested that the word originated in South Louisiana, and that it derived from the belief that Cajuns frequently ate raccoons. He has also proposed that the term contains a negative racial connotation: namely, that Cajuns were “beneath” or “under” blacks (or coons, as blacks were often called by racists). Despite efforts by Cajun activists like James Domengeaux and Warren A. Perrin to stamp out the term’s use, coonass continues to circulate in South Louisiana and beyond. Its acceptability among the general public, however, tends to vary according to circumstances, and often depends on who says it and with what intention. Cajuns who dislike the term have been known to correct well-meaning outsiders who use the epithet.