Franco-Americans: point of view supporting new immigrants

My letter in support of the University of Southern Maine forum on free speech and immigration, from a Franco-American point of view.

Dr. Glenn Cummings at installation

Installation ceremonies for Dr. Glenn Cummings President of the University of Southern Maine, held in Gorham ME. In fact, Dr. Cummings is an advocate for free speech and cultural diversity. (L’Heureux photo)

On February 16th, the University of Southern Maine hosted a free speech forum titled “Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crises“, with a presentation by Representative Lawrence Lockman, of Amherst, ME. Obviously, Representative Lockman presented his position in response to the immigration of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants who have moved, primarily, into Portland and Lewiston.

Subsequent to the presentation, a letter was submitted from a Waterville attendee Catherine Besteman, who wrote to the Portland newspaper about the program.

In the letter, Ms. Besteman asked the salient question. “How could a person come to the conclusions presented by Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst?”

As I’m an alumni of USM’83 as well as a Board member of the Franco-American Collection in Lewiston, I wrote a letter in support of the University’s position to allow Rep. Lockman to speak, even though, the content of his presentation about immigration was controversial. (He was the lead sponsor of proposed legislation LD 1652 addressing public assistance for asylum seekers.)

In Lewiston and Portland, the foreign newcomers are welcomed into our communities by the  very descendants of the immigrants who came before them. In Lewiston, the Board of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC), are learning how the new immigrants to the area are experiencing a transition, parallel to the French-Canadians who arrived during the 19th and 20th centuries.

It’s an honor to serve on the Board of the Franco-American Collection. This archives was established by Lewiston native, the late Madeleine Giguere (only child of Dr. Eustache and Dinora Cailler Giguere, an internationally recognized sociologist). She intended for the Collection to preserve and spread education about the Franco-American experience. In fact, the Collection is located in the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn Campus and is designated by the acronym USM LAC FAC.

Following is my letter to Dr. Glenn Cummings, President of USM.

Dear Dr. Cummings,

I’m taking this opportunity to respond, after reading the letter to the editor by Katherine Bestemen, who was reporting about her experience when she attended the “Alien Invasion” program, in early February, with Rep. Lawrence Lockman, in Portland.  I felt that the news story warranted an opportunity to let you know how the diversity described in her observations are benefiting the community, especially in Lewiston, as she stated. Although this is my personal letter, I know my sentiments reflect those of the Board of the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College Franco-American Collection.  In a nutshell, we applaud the USM’s support for cultural and ethnic diversity.

As you know, Lewiston has grown and thrived because of hard working immigrants. Franco-American immigrants arrived by the thousands, traveling by train from Canada via the Grand Trunk Railroad, for the purpose of building strong economies for their families and the city, during the area’s industrial expansion.  Although the transition of the Lewiston manufacturing base has shifted, the newly arrived immigrants from Africa and the Middle East are now involved in building a new economy, consisting of entrepreneurial small businesses and they are raising diverse levels of cultural awareness. Moreover, the link between many of the Franco-American families, ie, the descendants of those who came during the last two centuries to work in the mills, with the newly arrived, who are often native French speaking immigrants, are transitioning political and generational divides.  In other words, the two discreet immigrant communities are learning from one another about the challenges and opportunities of building stronger communities. In fact, the Lewiston High School soccer team is evidence of world class performance, because of the athletic talents of the immigrant students.

At the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC), in the Franco-American Collection, the Board is dedicated to protecting the heritage and histories of Maine’s largest ethnic minority, ie the Franco-Americans, while building cultural bridges with those who are now experiencing their own immigration challenges, similar or parallel to those of past generations.

As you have expressed many times, it is our responsibility to do whatever is possible to improve the human condition for all who live in our communities, regardless of where they came from, their religious traditions, cultural beliefs, ethnicity, race or primary languages. As a member who proudly serves on the USM LAC, Franco-American Collection Board, and an alumna ’83, I support your position on free speech and the University’s position of welcoming our international, and immigrant students and faculty.  Moreover, it is my belief that the Franco-American Collection, in particular, is an important cultural resource to the University. In fact, the Collection is more than an archives. Rather, it has grown into a place where the immigration experiences can be demonstrated, and shared between the enthusiastic generations of diverse students.

Likewise, we welcome opportunities for the academic community to come together at the Collection, for forums like the February program reported on, with Representative Lawrence Lockman, to learn, understand and share more about one another.

Congratulations on your leadership of USM!  We share and support your vision for the future. With kindest regards, Juliana L’Heureux

Note- USM President Glenn Cummings, a former Democratic Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, supported Rep. Lockman’s right to speak, in spite of controversy about the content of his presentation. BDN article at this link.

Another supportive point of view on the immigrant experience is a column written by Monsignor Michael Henchal, of the Portland Roman Catholic Diocese, published in the magazine Harvest.

His article in Harvest is at this link or at:

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/34272167/Immigration%20column%20Henchal.pdf

 

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.