Never make a deal on a handshake. Always put it into writing. One of my former law partners sued me over a fee dispute which should have been in writing.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Warren Perrin.
Attorney Warren Perrin, founder of the Acadian Museum, is a skills professor at Loyola Law School. For 16 years he was President of CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) and filed a petition for an apology from Queen Elizabeth for the Acadian Deportation resulting in the Royal Proclamation. Perrin was awarded the French National Order of Merit and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He is the author of 12 books and represented the US at Francophone Summits in Romania, Moncton, Quebec, Vietnam and Switzerland. He was inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame, a lecturer at Yale University, the recipient of the UL’s Outstanding Alumni Award, awarded the Lifetime Contribution to the Humanities and appointed to the Diocese of Lafayette Historical Commission which prepared a report for the Vatican for the canonizations of the “Cajun Saint” Charlene Richard and Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My parents lived in the hamlet of Henry in extreme southern Louisiana near the wetlands. They had four children, all born five years apart three brothers (Terry, me, and Wesley) followed by baby sister Natial. I was born in the front room of the house where we lived with my paternal grandparents, attended by a midwife, my grandmother, and my aunts. Dr. Boudreaux came by from Erath to help out. His bill was $20. To get my five-year-old brother out of the house during this blessed event, my grandfather took him horseback riding and when a large crane flew overhead, he told Terry it was a stork, on its way to bring him a baby brother.
We were a bilingual Cajun family speaking French and English. As a young man, my father Henry “Bud” Perrin was a non-stop workaholic. Not that he was joyless. One of my favorite memories of Dad is how when he told a joke, he loved his punchline so much that he didn’t always get there because he was laughing too hard. Dad’s big indulgence when he got home from work at Union Oil was farming. He wanted to have the best rice crop in the area and the finest Black Angus cattle. He took no interest in our high school athletic efforts, which he viewed as a waste of time.
Nonetheless, while he may have been opinionated and frugal, he was generous with all his children, even when they butted heads with him.
Both my parents had penny-pinching down to a science. Sometimes it seemed as though each tried to outdo the other in that regard. Going to movies and eating out were very rare events, and I only recall three very modest vacations the whole time I was growing up. Meals were prepared from scratch, with leftovers frozen for emergencies. They abhorred waste.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
To Kill a Mockingbird inspired me to become an attorney and to fight for causes for redemption and the representation of marginalized people.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was a senior in high school, I had placed first for the interpretive reading of the poem Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lloyd Tennison. This allowed me to move to regional competition where I won again for first place, allowing me to go to the state competition. I failed to practice enough before the competition and during my presentation I forgot certain parts of the poem, and — rather than giving up — I simply started from the beginning again and I did this three times! Thinking I had really screwed up I didn’t expect to place but surprisingly I won first place and the judges commented how I had been so creative by restarting the poem three times thus emphasizing the beginning rather than the end. This taught me to always be really well-prepared and never, never never give up.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
My book is a haunting revisit of the tragic Munich Olympics of 1972 when terrorists hijacked the games and murdered 11 Israeli athletes, including my friend, David Berger. In many ways, we are still dealing with the effects of that first terrible day when the world stood still and watched the hostage drama play out in real-time on television. But I tried to make the book ultimately hopeful. By weaving together the stories of three weightlifters from very different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions, I attempted to present how diversity and inclusion brought us together to overcome challenges and dismantle hatred and bigotry. I tried to show how a simple sport such as Olympic weightlifting helped us as young men discover ourselves in this complex world and soar higher than we could have possibly imagined.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
After Berger was reported dead, President Richard Nixon called David’s father, Dr. Ben Berger, and gave his condolences in a very cold manner. That intrigued me so I researched what took place before, during and after the call by listening to the Watergate tapes. I learned that Nixon had hatred for Jews, and he did not want to call Berger, but wanted Kissinger to place the call because he was Jewish. Ultimately, H. R. Haldeman convinced Nixon to place the call because he said “We need the Jewish vote to win the election.“ After the call was made, Nixon is again heard on the tape, cussing Jews, and saying that you can’t trust the damn bastards. Daniel Ellsberg, a Jew, has just released the Pentagon Papers!
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
Three events caused me to write this book: my good friend, Walter Imahara obtained an apology from the US government for his internment following Pearl Harbor, and he obtained an apology in 1988 from the United States government. This inspired me to launch a lawsuit against the queen of England in 1990 resulting in The Royal Proclamation of 2003 wherein she apologized for the deportation and ethnic cleansing of my ancestors in 1755. Finally, the German government apologized on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Olympics (September 5, 2022) to the families of the 11 Israeli athletes killed due to the lack of security, botched rescue attempt and cover-up.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
When Walter Imahara learned that he had inspired my efforts to redeem my ancestors’ good names, he launched into a research project and wrote a book about his family’s experience of being uprooted from California and sent to a concentration camp in Arkansas for four years during World War II — and his subsequent redemptive life wherein he created and donated a traditional Japanese garden to his hometown.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Don’t laugh at racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic and other stereotypical jokes or assumptions. By laughing, you’re acknowledging the joke is appropriate and encouraging more inappropriate comments. You can interrupt without being rude. Don’t let your silence speak for you. Simply say, “I don’t find that funny,” or “I don’t appreciate jokes like that.”
Make an effort to get to know people different than you. Look for things in common with other people and celebrate the differences. We can learn from and appreciate something about everyone.
Learn about other people and their culture. By learning about other people, your life will be greatly enriched and your appreciation for your own culture will deepen.
Think before you speak. Words can hurt, whether you mean them to or not. When describing a person, think if mentioning their race is important to the story. Do you refer to everyone from South or Central America as Mexican? If you don’t know someone’s country of origin, don’t assume. Some people prefer Black, while others like African American. Some prefer Latino/a, others like Hispanic. If you’re unsure which to use, ask. It’s important to use the correct language.
Be a role model. Be vocal in opposing discriminatory views and practices, especially with friends and family who respect your opinion. Don’t criticize, but help educate others about issues and about your own experiences.
Don’t make assumptions. Do you assume that African Americans like rap music or that Asians are good at math? Stereotypes hurt everyone. Examine what your prejudices are and make adjustments to look at everyone as an individual.
Work on projects with members of groups different from your own. Working as an equal alongside others from different groups on a common project is one of the best ways to undo prejudice and increase familiarity with others
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
One good definition of an effective leader is “a person who does the following: Creates an inspiring vision of the future. Motivates and inspires people to engage with that vision. Manages delivery of the vision. Coaches and builds a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision.”
As an attorney, I try to open new areas dealing with protection of the environment by suing the largest oil companies in the world and ultimately obtaining judgments against them for cleaning up the environment in South Louisiana. Also, I was one of the first attorneys to sue Iran for killing a marine by blowing up the barracks in Lebanon in 1983. I obtained a 50 million judgment. I did it by proving they were a terrorist state — to hopefully quell their thirst for terrorist activities.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
1. Never make a deal on a handshake. Always put it into writing. One of my former law partners sued me over a fee dispute which should have been in writing.
2. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s better to abort a mission earlier rather than later. I once had a tenant that I trusted, but he started being late on his rent payments and ultimately tried to sell all of my furniture and runoff with the money.
3. Money can ruin friendships. Rather than expecting to get paid back for a loan you gave to a friend, you should view it as a gift. Only lend as much money as you are comfortable parting with.
4. Confidence is the key to just about anything and it can be learned. I have a French Cajun accent, and in law school I was embarrassed to talk until I was told by a judge that I would not be practicing law in New York City, but in South Louisiana where everyone is a Cajun. To speak two languages now gives me great pride.
5. Learn how and when to say no, saying no isn’t selfish. I have always been too generous with my clients, loaning them money when they are in need — this has cost me over the last 53 years!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The young Acadian heroine Madeleine LeBlanc defiantly announced to all after the terrible Deportation by the British in 1755, “We’ve cried enough, now let’s build a shelter for the night.” These simple words emboldened the returning Acadians and after a concerted effort they had constructed a place of refuge for the first night.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Former President Obama
- He Is Visionary. …
- He Is Thoroughly Organized. …
- He Is Courageous And Fearless. …
- He Is Convincingly Influential and persevere. …
- He is a Positive influencer. …
- He Exhibits State-manly Confidence. …
- He Stays Human And Remains Humble. …
- He Is An Unwavering Self-Believer.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit acadianmuseum.com or request to be on my monthly newsletter La Parole email list, Facebook.
Warren A. Perrin
Co-author, Acadie Then and Now: A People’s History (French and English editions) winner, Le Prix France-Acadie https://www.acadianmuseum.com/boutique.html
Co-author, Seeking an Acadian Nation: the 1930 Diary of an Evangeline Girl https://www.acadianmuseum.com/boutique.html
Chairman, the Acadian Museum of Louisiana https://www.acadianmuseum.com
President of CODOFIL, 1994–2010.
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Author Warren Perrin Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.