Good questions were posed during my podcast interview with Jesse Martineau on the French-Canadian Legacy podcast. In fact, the interview is now live at this site.
We enjoyed an uplifting discussion about Franco-American identity.
In the podcast, I was able to reflect about the history of Franco-Americans and cultural identity. Although I’m not a sociologist or anthropologist, my experience writing about the culture has exposed a universal theme about the Franco-American subtitle, being a Quiet Presence” (per Dyke Hendrickson). In fact, Franco-American history does not blend with the homogenized Great American Melting Pot, because the history of immigration, beginning in 1604, with the failed St. Croix Island settlement, pre-dated the Plymouth Colony. Instead, Franco-Americans have experienced the marginalization of their history, and culture, largely because of language, religious and immigration discrimination.
It’s important for Franco-Americans to have their stories told. It’s important because of the credit deserved for the sacrifices, and contributions they have made for the development of the industrialization of New England, for their patriotism and as examples of the immigrants’ American Dream.
It’s interesting to read about the history of immigration attitudes that were framed during the 19th century’s industrialization of New England. In the book, “Ancestors and Immigrants: A changing New England Tradition“, by Barbara Miller Solomon, published in 1956, she described attitudes about immigrants that were held in the past. Unfortunately, many of the attitudes seem to have transcended time. There are definitely parallel opinions between then and now.
In fact, the book described an “Anglo-Saxon complex”, documented in 1880, by noted academics who complained about how the Irish and the French Canadians were “by race, ‘uncongenial'” to the institutions familiar in New England traditions and politics. (p. 67). Moreover, one politician even wrote an essay in the Cyclopaedia of Political Science (a publication that began publishing in 1881) about how “Institutions which were successful with the well-trained and thoughtful New England Community, could not work with the “mixed and ignorant population.” Other opinions about the immigrants to New England, claimed that the new arrivals of Irish and French-Canadians “caused a shock to the population”.
Of course, today, the Franco-Americans who are descended from the French-Canadians, are assimilated into 25 percent of Maine’s population. Franco-Americans are Maine’s largest ethnic minority. “Maine is the most French of the New England states,” said Severin Beliveau, in a 2016, speech given to the American Council of Quebec Studies, published in Le Forum, a University of Maine quarterly journal. This cultural transition, from French-Canadians to Franco-American citizens, occurred within three to four generations after the arrival of the first immigrants, as described in Solomon’s history.
As I prepared to answer the thoughtful questions asked during the interesting podcast, it occurred to me how many Franco-Americans are unaware about the discrimination experienced by their ancestors. In fact, there are many Franco-Americans who are unaware about where their grand-parents came from when they immigrated to New England from Canada. It is a tribute to today’s French-Canadians that their outreach programs to Franco-Americans have supported building those historic cultural connections. For example, signing the Fleur de Lys agreements with Franco-American cultural associations, are among these efforts.
In my opinion, learning about Franco-American history is important because the experiences of our ancestors and immigrants will connect us to what we are witnessing today, with the immigrants who are desperately fleeing economic insecurity and persecution in their native countries. Our immigration histories share their human condition.
While browsing through some of the materials I’ve collected about French-Canadians and immigration, I found a reference published in “The Franco Files“, by the Franco-American writer Jo Anne Lapointe, attributed to John Lambton (1792-1840), the 1st Earl of Durham: “He thought that French Canadians, whom he described as a people ‘without history and without literature’, would gradually abandon their identity.” https://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP7CH5PA1LE.html
It’s important to set the record straight and prevent that wrong minded prophesy from happening.
Franco-Americans have a special immigration history and the 400 years of historical stories continue to be told.
“Merci!”, to Jesse Martineau, for bringing attention to this history in the French-Canadian Legacy podcast.