“What to Call Ourselves”: An opinion

Believe it or not, I’m asked, “Who is a Franco-American?”, more than any other question, when I’m either speaking, writing or discussing with others about the culture.

Samuel de Champlain

Denise R. Larson credits “Champlain’s Dream” by historianDavid Hackett Fischer as a resource when discussing “What to Call Ourselves”.

Honestly, there are multiple ways to answer this question. By statistics, based on the 2011 US Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS), the self-identified Franco-Americans make up 23.9 percent of Maine’s population who reported. Certainly, there are many more in this group because many people do not self-report their ethnicity. This compared with 18 percent of the population who declared themselves to be Irish Americans. In fact, Franco-Americans are the largest ethnic group in Maine, as they have been throughout the state’s history. (Reported in Contemporary Attitudes of Maine’s Franco-Americans, Spring 2013).

In an article published in the Fall 2017, University of Maine Franco-American magazine Le Forum, writer Denise R. Larson published an essay titled “Another voice in What to Call Ourselves”. She wrote in response to a discussion in the spring edition of the magazine where others were also asking about how to describe their ethnic identities,….”about ethnic labeling of a group of people among whom I count myself – American citizens who were born in the United States but whose ancestors emigrated from French Canada, where several generations of their families had resided after the progenitor – the first immigrant – had immigrated to New France from old France in Europe”.

With permission, Larson has allowed me to published quotes from her essay.

“Our ancestors did not just pass through Canada on their way to the United States, as if changing coaches on trains. They lived there for generations and founded an entirely new culture.That effort and those decades should not be dismissed in the name of language commonality, yet a label of simply being ‘Franco’ can be (wrongly, in Larson’s opinion) construed as doing just that.  The uniqueness of the culture that became the original Canada can be studied in two texts:  Introduction to New France by Marcel Trudel, Professor and Chairman of the Department of History, University of Ottowa and Chamlain’s Dream: The Visionary Adventurer who made a New World in Canada, by David Hackett Fischer. Are we to call ourselves French-Canadian Americans? What about the Acadian side of our families? “, she asks.

An on-line book review about the historian Fischer’s Champlain biography, described the book as a, “remarkable Samuel de Champlain (biography)—soldier, spy, master mariner, explorer, cartographer, artist, and Father of New France. On foot and by ship and canoe, he traveled through what are now six Canadian provinces and five American states. Over more than thirty years he founded, colonized, and administered French settlements in North America. Sailing frequently between France and Canada, he maneuvered through court intrigue in Paris and negotiated among more than a dozen Indian nations in North America to establish New France. Champlain had early support from Henri IV and later Louis XIII, but the Queen Regent Marie de Medici and Cardinal Richelieu opposed his efforts. Despite much resistance and many defeats, Champlain, by his astonishing dedication and stamina, finally established France’s New World colony.  “.

From my own study about the French in North America, and often lost to history, is the fact that Samuel de Champlain was on the expedition of 1604, when he and  Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons established the failed colony of St. Croix Island, located in the Maine/New Brunswick St. John River. In fact, this failed colony was the origin of the Acadian colony in Grand Pre (Nova Scotia), because the survivors of the settlement relocated on the western side of what was called, at the time, “Acadie”. Therefore, in my opinion, Samuel de Champlain did have a stake in the development of the Acadian colony.

Acadian deportation le grand derangement

Monument à la déportation des Acadiens (Caraquet, NB)

As this diverse conversation about identity continues, Larson adds, “Francadain American is what I like to call myself when I have to put a label to it….I like to ‘accentuate the positive’….and call myself an American of Franadian heritage.”

Ending her essay, Larson tells her readers about how she continues to study and research her family’s Canadian, Acadian and American history and stories.

Très intéressant! Merci!

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.