Québécois(e), Franco-American, Acadian, and more by David Vermette
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
There is No Name for Us
The descendants of the many distinct Latin American and Hispano-Caribbean groups in the USA have adopted a common name: Latino or Hispanic. Although the South Florida Cuban-Americans, the Mexican-Americans of California, and those of Puerto Rican origin in New York City (to name just a few of the peoples called Latino) come from quite different countries, and each maintains its cultural distinctiveness, Latinos have recognized that their interests were best served by recognizing their commonality in terms of language or heritage. By gathering all of these distinct groups under a single name, they have increased their cultural presence enormously.
There is no single name that embraces all of the French North Americans. We have many names: Québécois(e), Acadien(ne), Cajun, Franco-American, etc. Although each of these groups represents a distinct culture, with its own narratives and traditions, we share a common root, and yet that commonality is very little expressed or appreciated. Instead we tend to emphasize differences. In some instances some of these groups even regard one another with a measure of contempt, with one group, for example, looking down their noses at the brand of French spoken by another. This is unfortunate since we are such a fragile plant. It’s as if we’re on the last lifeboat off of the Titanic and we’re bickering over who has the nicer shoes!
Among the Franco-Americans of New England, descendents of a late 19th-early 20th c. migration from French-speaking Canada, there was a partial merger of two of these distinct groups. Some of the mill towns in New England attracted emigration from among both the Québécois and the Acadians (French speakers from the Maritime Provinces of Eastern Canada). In some places the two communities went to the same churches and schools, lived in the same neighborhoods, and worked in the same mills and factories.
As French-speaking Catholics in a foreign land, they recognized that they had much more in common with each other than they had with the dominant culture. Their Yankee neighbors would not have understood the differences between the two groups and labeled them both, correctly or not, as “French-Canadian.” In some cases they intermarried with one another, creating a hybrid of the two cultures.
My Grandparents' Wedding 1923: Son of Québécois Marries Acadienne
Three of my grandparents had roots in various regions of Québec, while my maternal grandmother was an acadienne from Prince Edward Island. I’ve informed myself about the history of both groups and claim a heritage that is both Québécois and Acadien and elements of both cultures were present in the foods and folkways of my family.
It should be emphasized that these mixes happened in a minority of cases nonetheless, the hybrid called “Franco-American” has features of both cultures. In fact, one of my great-grandfathers was a Franco-Ontarien, adding yet another flavor to the mix. Franco-Americans in New England also came from all parts of Québec, representing a mix of regions that our Québécois cousins might regard as distinct.
I suggest that French North Americans at least consider following the example of our Latino friends and christen ourselves with a name that applies to all of us. This is not to lose the pride in being Cajun, Franco-American, or Québécois. Cuban- or Mexican-Americans have certainly not lost any of their flavor in regarding each other as fellow Latinos. It seems clear to me that our future lies more in emphasizing our commonality and our unity rather than our divisions.