From La Sagouine. Published by Goose Lane Editions in 2015. Translated from the French by Wayne Grady. Antonine Maillet is the author of novels, story collections and plays, as well as numerous radio and television scripts. La Sagouine is a collection of monologues by a cleaning lady who speaks in Chiac. La Sagouine has become a symbolic character in Acadian culture and in 1992 a tourist park, Le Pays de la Sagouine, was opened in Bouctouche, New Brunswick.
Yeah, well, they came down here and did the census. We was all censursed, no problem. They censused Gapi, and they incensed la Sainte, and they censused me, too. It was a pretty big deal, take my word for it without a word of a lie. When they do a census like that, they got to cense everyone, even the chickens and pigs. We ain’t got no chicken coop or pigsty at our place, so they censused the cats. They rummage around in your cupboard, too, and measure the size of your house. They even count the damn shingles on your roof. When they asked Gapi if they could see his bank book he told them they could go piss up a rope. He can’t keep a civil tongue in his head, that man can’t.
They ask you all kinds of questions. Some of them are hard to answer. What’s your name? What names were you baptized with? Who’s your father? What was your mother’s maiden name? What did you have when you were last sick? When was it you were born? How many children dead? How many living? How much money do you make a year?
In Gapi’s opinion, they were sticking their noses a bit too deep into his business, like when they asked him what his father did before he died, he looked right at them and said, ‘Before he died?’ he says, “Well, he stretched out his legs and went. ‘Arghhh!’”
Like I say, they can ask some damn fool questions.
What it comes down to is, when you get censused you got to remember everything that happened to you your whole damn life. It’s worse than confession, for Christ’s sake! They wanted to know how much we spend on flour in a year. In a year no less! Now, is there anyone on God’s green earth can tell you exactly how much money they spend in a year? We buy our flour by the pound, one small bag at a time, and whenever we run out, or when we got enough dough to pay for it, or more likely when they’ll give it to us on credit, we go out and get some more. And us, we use flour to make bread with, or pancakes, not account books, that’s what Gapi told the censors. And we don’t keep tabs on every damn clam or quahog we sell, neither. All’s we could tell the census was that we fish so we can sell, we sell so we can buy, and we buy so we can eat. And at the end of the year, we don’t got any more fish in our bellies than we fished out of the bay. Down here, that’s what we call ecunemics.
And they can ask even harder questions than that, too. Like when they asked la Cruche to explain what she did for a living, or when they asked Boy-à-Polyte the names of all his children. Oh, they can come up with some real head-scratchers!
Then they ask you about your religion. Well, so you’re all ready to answer that one and then you think. Okay, wait a minute, now. There’s one or two things that need to get explained first. It ain’t a simple matter of was you dipped in the font and confirmed by the archbishop himself when he came around on his tour. They want to know who’s the patron saint of your home parish. Well, by home parish do they mean the one where you do your Easter duties on Trinity Sundays, or the one where your children was baptized, or what? What’s a home parish? We didn’t want them to think we was a bunch of Commies down here, so we just told them we was all Christians.
And that ain’t the end of it, because the hardest question of all was still on their list. What’s your nationality? Not even Gapi knew the answer to that one. Your citizenship and your nationality. Well. It’s hard to say.
We live in America, but we ain’t Americans. The Americans all work in shops in the States, and they come up here for their summer vacations and walk around wearing white shorts and speaking English. And they’re all rich, them Americans, whereas we ain’t. We live in Canada, so I guess that makes us Canadians. But that don’t sound right, neither, because there’s the Dysarts and the Carrolls and the Joneses who ain’t the same as us, and they all live in Canada, too, so if they’re Canadians then I guess we can’t be. Because they’re English, and we ain’t. We’re French, you see.
No, we’re not really French, neither, that’s not what I meant by that. When you say you’re French it means you come from France. And we’re less French from France than we are Americans. So we’re more like French Canadians, is how they put it to us.
Well, no, we ain’t that, neither, because French Canadians, that’s people who live in Quebec. They used to call themselves Canadians but now they’re all Québécois. So how can we be Québécois if we don’t live in Quebec? Well, for the love of all that’s holy, where the hell do we live, then?
We live in Acadie, so we been told, and that means we’re Acadiens. So that’s what we put down under Nationality: Acadien. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, there ain’t nobody else with that name. But the censors, they didn’t want to write that on their list, because they said there’s no such country as Acadie, and so Acadian can’t be a nationality. There’s no place in their jogger-free books.
So after that we didn’t know what else to tell them, so we just told them to give us whatever nationality they wanted. In the end I think they lumped us in with the Natives.
It ain’t easy to make a life for yourself when you don’t even have your own country to live it in, and you can’t tell nobody what nationality you are. You end up not having the faintest idea who you are any more. You feel like kind of a fifth wheel, you know what I mean? Like nobody wants you around. It ain’t them that makes you feel that way. They tell you you’re a bondified citizen, but they can’t tell you a citizen of what. You’re part of a country, maybe, but you don’t have no place in it. So sooner or later you got to leave to go find yourself a place, one of us after another.