Franco-Americans and pride in “Frenchness”

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. This iconic symbol of freedom was a gift from the French to Americans.

The Statue of Liberty is a massive statue, designed by the sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. She is a gift from France to the United States; she was named Liberté éclairant le mondeLiberty Enlightening the World.

This blog is a continuation to the previous post about how Franco-American history is more than a hyphenated ethnic label. New Orleans journalist Errol Laborde’s is a political scientist who writes about Louisiana history, especially focused on New Orleans, in MyNewOrleans.com. He described the relationship between America and France in his article, “Two Nations, Two Revolutions”.

In The French Review, an excellent detailed analysis by Dr. Jonathan Gosnell, is published in Between Dreams and Reality in Franco America. Dr. Gosnell provides expert academic support for Laborde’s articles. In the French Review, Professor Gosnell supports a point of view about why American history should be written with an emphasis on French-American and American-French synergy. Nevertheless, Franco-Americans are overlooked in the story about the American melting pot, even though, knowledge about the centuries of French-American alliances are indisputable. Professor Gosnell has graciously given me permission to quote from his published historic research.

Doctor Gosnell is the professor of French studies at Smith College, in Northampton Massachusetts. He supports the position that being French and “Frenchness” are important.

French-American history is American history

Dr. Gosnell calls on writing American history to include Franco-American history.

In “Between Dream and Reality in Franco-America“, Dr. Gosnell writes:

The United States of America is indebted, as an independent nation, to individual French revolutionary war heroes such as the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau. Historians rightly contend that French efforts in the New World made it possible for American upstarts to complete their revolution. The irony of French aristocratic aid to the American Revolution may be somewhat lost to the general public today, but both Lafayette and Rochambeau have had prominent commemorative sites built in the United States for special remembrance.

In 2005, French and American guests in Newport, Rhode Island, celebrated the 225 years since Rochambeau’s arrival in America and his subsequent collaboration with the American insurgency. Two years later, the French and Americans celebrated the 250th anniversary of Lafayette’s birth. Practically a son to George Washington, wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, and buried in American soil (in Paris), Lafayette symbolizes, like no other, French American interconnectedness.

More than a dozen cities named Lafayette in states across America represent a symbolic tribute to French assistance, which originated not with any particularly sympathetic enthusiasm for the American upstarts but in order to weaken the British.

If Lafayette is one of the most American of Frenchmen, Benjamin Franklin deserves mention as one of the most French of Americans. He was certainly one of the early cosmopolitan Franco- Americans, in some regards.

Nevertheless, outside of Franco- American individuals, families, and organizations, as well as a coterie of specialists, knowledge of French colonial activity in America is limited.

Franco-American assimilation has caused the history of French immigration into the United States to metaphorically evaporate. Franco- Americans have nearly disintegrated within the assimilating American system. “Francos” have yet to be entirely retrieved from the melting pot by multiculturalists. For decades, people of French and francophone descent have been objects of derision from New England to Louisiana. They have been the butt of ethnic jokes and ridiculed for perceived working- class and peasant inferiorities. As a result of this stigmatization, some members of the francophone family rejected French identity altogether, opting not to teach “inferior” French to their children and not to preserve certain cultural or “ethnic” traditions. Assuming a French cultural or ethnic identity in the United States strangely meant that groups of francophone descent became lost from sight. Having internalized the negative attitudes about them, people chose to live French or Franco lives in the shadows. They expressed little pride publicly about their French heritage until very recently, and as a result, a cultural identity began to fade away. There is nothing currently resembling St. Patrick’s Day celebrations for francophone communities in the United States, in which people can demonstrate pride in being French, if only for a day. Yet, a half century ago, Franco- Americans gathered in many a New England town in June and paraded to celebrate their French ethnic roots on St. John the Baptist Day. The New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration has taken on such surreal, over- the- top dimensions that it fails to convey much of anything about French traditions in the United States, unlike some smaller festivities in rural Louisiana. It seems important to acknowledge French and francophone cultures of the United States, if only to identify an obscure part of American history.

French cultural and linguistic survival unites cultural groups, but some advocates of Franco- America regret that individuals have not sought to make use of their collective force.

Reported in the national 2000, Community Survey, Maine had a higher percentage of French speakers than any other state in the country, 5.3 percent, whereas Louisiana had 4 percent. Approximately 70 percent of Maine’s non-English speakers are francophone.

In summary, two notable academics are in agreement. Franco-American history is American history.

Therefore, Franco-Americans are called to action for the purpose of focusing pride on the centuries of historic facts. In particular, Dr. Gosnell presents a convincing historic retrospective with important informaiton to support this call.

Dr. Laborde’s quotes published in the Franco-American blog are at this site here.

I can send to readers a PDF copy of the Dr. Gosnell essay. Please send me an email request to Juliana@mainewriter.com.

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.