AUGUSTA, Me- I was pleased to recently see some of the life’s work of the late Peter Archambault, of Madawaska, when I visited the Holocaust and Human Rights Center, on the Campus of the University of Maine Augusta (UMA) and the Michael Klahr Center Exhibit Space. It is the mission of the HHRC to “…promote universal respect for human rights through outreach and education. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other events past and present, the Center encourages individuals and communities to reflect and act upon their moral responsibilities to confront prejudice, intolerance and discrimination”.
Unfortunately, Mr. Archambault died in 2015, but his visually compelling illustrated essays about Franco-Americans will live on. His focus was to counter ethnic discrimination. During an informative visit with Shenna Bellows, the Executive Director of the HHRC, I enjoyed viewing the Archambault exhibition, consisting of illustrations, cartoons and original articles published in the University of Maine Le F.A.R.O.G. Forum, when it was a monthly bilingual publication, published by the Franco-American Centre. (F.A.R.O.G. was a deliberate play on the negative stereotype attributed to Franco-Americans and it was an acronym for the title “Franco-American Resource Opportunity Group”.) Each illustration and exhibited item demonstrated a powerful perspective created by Archambault to counter the stereotype of the Franco-American. In fact, he was motivated to teach future generations about the Franco-American experience, particularly exposing the stereotyping of Maine’s largest immigrant minority group. As a creative illustrator, Archambault conceptualized his francophone commentaries in the imagery of “Beau frog”. His prolific cartoon commentaries are unforgettable. The purpose of “Beau frog” was to create a graphic that would lift the self esteem of Franco-Americans. By creating “Beau frog”, Archambault helped to transform the negative stereotype of being a “frog”, into a positive one.
Although the HHRC exhibit closed on August 17, the power of Archambault’s illustrations, depicting the damaging history of francophone stereotypes, will be exhibited in other venues as opportunities arise.
As described on the HHRC website, in the 1970s and 1980s, Madawaska, Maine native Peter Archambault (1939-2015) was staff artist for Le F.A.R.O.G. Forum, a monthly bilingual publication of the student-led Franco-American Resource Opportunity Group, and later the Franco American Centre, at the University of Maine at Orono (UMO). In addition to the rich cartoon commentary on local and national political landscapes that he drew during his tenure, Archambault developed the character, “Beau-frog,” in a creative re-imagination of the slur directed toward francophone and French heritage people. Beau-frog’s daily trials and exploits as featured in Archambault’s work moved from the mundane to the extraordinary, the hopeless to the hopeful, and illustrated some of the pressures and challenges of a minority figure coming to terms with a personal and cultural identity, in the midst of the larger group English speaking majority. Beau-frog is a cartoon that depicts the Franco-American’s experience in Maine, from Archambault’s point of view.
Today, Le F.A.R.O.G. has changed its name. It is now a quarterly publication titled Le Forum, published by the University of Maine Franco-American Centre. I am honored to sometimes have my articles about Franco-Americans published in Le Forum. The editor is Lisa Desjardins Michaud. A link to many of the past issues is at this page: https://umaine.edu/francoamerican/centre/le-forum/
During our visit, Bellows discussed some history about Franco-American discrimination. Indeed, the KuKluxKlan activities in Maine that peaked during the 1920’s were specifically targeted towards threatening Franco-Americans. Many witnessed reports of crosses burning were recorded as they occurred in several Maine cities. Franco-Americans were immigrants who spoke French and largely practiced Roman Catholicism. Discrimination against Franco-Americans during the early 20th century was rooted in an anti-immigration movement. As a secret movement known for holding rallies with frightening white hooded attendees, the “Klan” was likely an outgrowth of the “Know-nothing” political party and its anti-Catholic positions.
Also, our conversation discussed the 1755 Expulsion of the Acadians, by the British, from “Acadie”, the Canadian province later named Nova Scotia. Acadian descendants continue to tell their deportation history, even 263 years later. This tragic episode is now part of American literary history because of the epic poem, “Evangeline“, published in 1847 and written by Maine author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. As a matter of fact, “Evangeline” is one of Longfellow’s most popular stories and has become an international metaphor to describe the tragedy of the Acadian expulsions from their homes in Acadie.
Language discrimination targeted against Franco-Americans led to a terrible law passed in the 1919, by Maine’s legislature to ban speaking French in public schools. A first person history about the impact of this law was documented in the essay, “The Silent Playground“, by Judy and Ross Paradis, of St. Agatha, (Aroostook County) Maine. This harmful language discrimination law remained in effect for nearly a half century before it was repealed. In my opinion, the Paradis’ essay should be required reading by all Maine history students and reviewed in sociology courses.
Although our subject matter during the HHRC visit was about the damaging impact of discrimination, the conversation with Bellows was positive and productive. Moreover, I hope we see Mr. Archambault’s exhibition hosted in other forums. His creative work is so abundant, it could be possible to divide the exhibit in half and share it in multiple locations (just my opinion).