The wonderful new-ish journal Résonance, a publication made possible by the Franco American Programs of the University of Maine, has published it’s second volume. It is freely available online thanks to the University, and is full of prose, poetry, reviews and more.
In 1972-1973 the Journal published a series of articles by the excellent Franco-American historian, Michael Guignard. This was prior to the publication of his unequaled work, “La Foi – La Langue – La Culture: The Franco-Americans of Biddeford, Maine”. I came across this series while searching for articles on Israel Shevenell this week, and I wanted to bring them to light so they can be read and enjoyed by all again.
I wanted to call attention to the following article, because it so beautifully articulates much of my own experience and I suppose that of many others as well. I excerpt the first paragraph to draw you in, and it will – I promise. Then click on the link to read the rest at the wonderful site where it lives. Be sure to read on at the end, the numerous comments are just as instructive. ~Renée
“Why are we so invisible?” I’ve heard this question wherever Franco-Americans gather, be it through my social media contacts, at conferences, or at my occasional speaking engagements. The history of Franco-Americans is all but left out of the historical accounts on both sides of the border. It couldn’t be more missing among the history of U.S. ethnic groups. And it is largely unknown in Québec.”
If you live in Maine and have a french last name, it is pretty likely that some portion of your family history trails back to Quebec or other parts of Canada, whether you realize it or not. After all, we share more border with Canada than with the U.S., and you haven’t always needed a passport to cross over those lines. Also, in the past we were a much less settled society – if you needed to move away to find work it wasn’t as big a deal – people moved around quite a bit, actually (the New England genealogists’ lament!)
One of my college professors (I was an undergrad in Maine) used to love to tell the story of how, when she asked for a show of hands amongst her students one day the number “who were french”, she only got a few hands. But then when she asked who had a memérè and pepérè (french grandmother and grandfather) most of the hands went up. These second, third, fourth generation Franco-Americans just never saw themselves as having any kind of particular culture or heritage, besides being Mainers (which is it’s own thing, for sure…but that is a different blog post).
For others though, being Franco was an important and distinguishing part of their identity throughout their lives – in terms of their family, or their community, or both. In the radio piece above, we hear scholar and journalist Jane Martin (a Biddeford native now living in Montreal) talk to her own family members about their Franco identity, while reflecting upon her identity as well. The piece eloquently explores the challenges of moving between different cultural worlds and identities – French versus English; American versus Canadian.
As for me – I had one grandparent who immigrated to Maine from Canada as a teenager. But my Grampa married a Yankee girl, only ever spoke English, and was about as all-American as they come – I didn’t even know he was a naturalized citizen until after his death. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized I had any kind of Canadian connection at all – and at that point, I woke up to the myriad little things my paternal grandfather did which were part of his Franco self.
So how about you? Did you come from a strongly grounded Franco family like Jane? Or are you french in name only, like me? It has been interesting but a little sad too, since it’s too late for me to talk to my Grampa about his life – but maybe it’s not too late for you. So go have those conversations, and begin your journey of self-discovery – whatever your heritage may be. Bonne chance!