Thursday, March 28, 2013

Canadien, Canadien-Français, Québécois

Early in the history of Nouvelle-France a distinction was made between les Français and les Canadiens. Les Français were those born in France and intending to return there. It included officialdom, and many of the clergy and military personnel. The term les Canadiens signified the French-speaking colonists born in Canada or permanently settled there. The term was used as early as the 1680s.*

After the Conquest, ratified by 1763, the new English colony was called the Province of Quebec but its people remained Canadiens despite the fact that the colony’s name and frontiers changed several times.

The place where most Canadiens dwelled was called successively Canada, the Province of Quebec, Lower Canada, Canada-East, and again the Province of Québec (and perhaps a couple of names I’ve forgotten) but the inhabitants continued to call themselves Canadiens.

With the American Revolution many of the Anglo-American colonists who wished to remain loyal to the Crown found homes in the British Province of Quebec. The division of this Province into two units, called Upper and Lower Canada, and the reorganization of its constitution in 1791, were to accommodate this new English-speaking population.

Upper Canada (the root of today’s Ontario) was the home of many of the American Loyalists, while Lower Canada constituted the older, solidly French settlements. We should not forget, however, that there were already Francophones in Upper Canada and Anglophones in the Lower province in these days.

Les Canadiens continued to call their Anglophone neighbors les Anglais. The children of Anglophones born in Upper Canada, however, began to claim the right to be called Canadians. The children of immigrants to the British North American provinces from many lands also claimed this right in later times. Yet, many Francophones spoke as though only they were Canadiens.

After the union of Upper and Lower Canada in the 1840s, a new variation was required. The uniqueness of the national identity of the Francophones was signified via the hyphenated label Canadien-français. This label persisted into the mid-20th c.

This label’s English equivalent, French-Canadian, is still the recognized term in the USA. If I say to most Americans that I am Franco-American or use the word Québécois they might not know what I’m talking about. I find that the easiest route to comprehension is to say that I am of French-Canadian descent. Americans seem to have some hook, however small, on which to hang that term.

The label Canadien-français crossed geographies. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries a Canadien-français was a Canadien-français whether one lived in Maine, Michigan, Ontario or Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! This term was a national label unconnected to any particular geography. It represented a nation without a state.

Then came the great social and political revolution in Québec known as la révolution tranquille: the Quiet Revolution. This period in the 1960s, followed by the ascendancy of the Parti Québécois in the 1970s, changed the culture of Québec more swiftly than at any time in its history. The sixties were a time of social change throughout the Western world but perhaps nowhere else were the changes as profound as in Québec.

With this change came a new national label: Québécois. This label affirmed the new, secularized, forward-looking stance adopted by the Quiet Revolution. It rejected the former, hyphenated identity, a hybrid something-or-other, some part Canadian and some part French. The rapidity with which the Francophones of Québec embraced this label is astonishing. It was a brilliant piece of what we would now call rebranding.

So thorough and successful was this rebranding that the term is used even retroactively. For instance, in Québec one might speak of “the Québécois who were involved in the Rebellion of 1837.” But the Patriotes of 1837 would not have recognized the term. They were Canadiens. For them, I suspect, the term Québécois would have designated a resident of the city of Québec. **

This bold and decisive rebranding of the Francophone people of Québec is not without its ironies. After all, it was the English who called the community centered on the Saint-Laurent, the Province of Quebec. The French called it Canada. If we were to revive someone’s Franco-American great-grandmother she might wonder why we are surrendering our national label to les anglais. “We’re the Canayens!” she might say. “Why are we allowing les anglais to convince us that we are no longer such?”

One of the innovations of the term Québécois is that, unlike the terms Canadien or Canadien-français, the new designation is tied to a specific geography, that of Québec. Whereas my grandfather would have been recognized as a "Canadien des Etats-Unis,” is any Franco-American a “Québécois(e) des Etats-Unis”? Is such a category possible?
Canadiens des Etats-Unis:
WWI-era ad in
a Franco-American newspaper
Source: Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College
It appears that the intention of the nationalists who transformed the Canadien-français of Québec into Québécois, was to reinforce the viability of the latter as a nation with its own territory as a prelude to establishing an independent republic. As such, the rebranding was formidable although it had consequences keenly felt among the Francophones who lived elsewhere in today’s Canada.

Canada became a land that the Québecois began to speak of as a foreign country. The art in the label Québécois is precisely in this distancing from anything Canadian. In declaring themselves to be not a type of Canadian (i.e. "the French type"), an identity at least as unique as that of any other nation-state is affirmed. 

With the Quiet Revolution, the newly minted Québécois, having survived a series of setbacks, circled the wagons. The gaze of Québec nationalism became focused on fortress Québec. Increasingly, there became a sense of Québec as a lone Francophone holdout in an unvariegated Anglophone landscape.

Once, however, the Francophones of Québec had continental ambitions. The Louis Riel affair, the question of French language schools in Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, as well as various Franco-American events, were burning issues in Québec, debated in the press and followed with care.

I note with reluctance that nowadays, even among well-educated Québécois, I find little cognizance of the Francophone or Franco-gene groups in North America beyond the borders of la belle province. In fact we live all over the continent. I suggest gently that le fait français might be reinforced if we looked beyond our separate fortresses to renew our ancestors’ broader, continental perspective.

I hold that Québec’s best allies are Franco-Americans. As a general rule, we have maintained our affection for Québec and support its people in whatever path they choose.

Monsieur René Lévesque understood the potential importance of Franco-Americans to Québec’s future. Last year I learned from participants in these events that Monsieur Lévesque visited the Franco-American Center at the University of Maine during the campaign for the first referendum on Québec sovereignty in 1980.

Still waging a Cold War, there were fears in Washington that an independent Québec could become “another Cuba.” Monsieur Lévesque turned to Franco-Americans to help explain Québec to the USA. He understood that Franco-Americans were a link between his people and the mainstream USA which could be a great benefit to Québec.

Feebly, writing in English no less from a humble blog, I offer a hand to the rebranded Québécois behind the fortress walls. If you come to know us better you might find that we are not foreigners but long lost family.

* cf. Gilles Havard and Cécile Vidal, Histoire de L'Amérique Française (Paris: Flammarion, 2003) 403f
** To avoid this anachronism, on this blog I have used the older term Canadien, with the French spelling and usually italicized, to designate the 19th c. descendants of the former French colony of Canada although I have not always used the term consistently.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Family, History, and the Formation of the Heart

How is the heart formed?

By the heart I mean neither the physical organ nor the sentiments and affections but something deeper. In French the word for heart is cœur, which appears to be related to the English word core. The heart I’m speaking about is our psychological core, the center of our values and aspirations. It is by means of the heart that we perceive meaning. If we feel that something is worthy of our attention, valuable, meaningful or important it is by means of this metaphorical heart.

Inside this metaphor, it’s self-evident that different hearts function differently otherwise we would all have the same values and the same sense of what is meaningful, which doesn’t seem to be the case. What it is that we value or find meaningful is the result of a process of formation. How is one heart formed in one way while another is formed in some other way?

One day I noticed a stone beneath my neighbor’s rain gutter. I noticed how the stone had been smoothed by erosion caused by years of rainstorms. That stone had been formed by its “experience,” drop by drop, storm by storm.

At the risk of mixing metaphors, perhaps the heart is formed in an analogous way. At birth the stone has some rough shape but immediately the infant’s perceptions begin to form the stone, bit by bit, drop by drop. As we grow older the range of our choices grows and the choices we begin to make, and the responses to those choices, also form the heart. 

The scientific literature focuses also on such factors as genetics or birth-order. No doubt these play their role on the individual level, but do they account for the remarkable persistence of cultural traits at the level of the heart, at the level of the values that communities share?

In some schools of psychology the family system is seen as a crucible of the heart and thereby a conveyor of cultural values. My parent’s choices were a factor in the formation of the hearts of their children as their parents’ choices were for them. We discover a web of connected family systems that link back through a chain of history and causality. 
Carillon Sacré-Coeur Flag:
The Heart was a symbol with
immense spiritual power
in the traditional
French North American cultures

On the assumption that I know my grandparents and my grandparents knew theirs, the living memory of an extended family system reaches one’s great-great-grandparents. Generally, my great-great-grandparents were born in the 1820s. The collective memory of my extended family system stretches from 2013 to people whose hearts began to take shape in the 1820s. This is a rough estimate of a family’s effective historical horizon. 

Perhaps in all cultures but certainly in the Franco-American culture, stories play an enormous role in the process of forming the heart. Stories are vehicles for conveying who we are, what is important, and what ought to be done, especially when these stories are about our own family. The stories in my family that appeared as living memories did indeed extend to my grandparents’ grandparents.

For example, as a child I heard the tale of my great-great-grandfather Joseph Doucette and how he resisted with force and at the price of bodily harm what he regarded as an unjust economic and social system.

You can read Doucette’s story here and then I’ll ask what does a child learn from hearing a story like this not once but repeatedly? The story’s subtext makes clear that our people were the underdogs. “We” are not the ones with the power. “They” are. The rules are set by these others who have the power to establish systems in “their” interest and not necessarily in “ours.” A host of heart-forming messages are contained in such stories. 

I contend that even in families where specific stories have not come down from so distant a past, even if you have no idea who or what your grandparents’ grandparents were, these ancestors still haunt us. Their distantly echoing voices are still heard in the recesses of the heart through the messages we receive consciously or not from parents, grandparents, or others. The voices of more proximate generations are even louder and clearer.

We might borrow from engineering the notion of tolerances. Materials have certain tolerances to temperature and pressure, a degree of elasticity, etc. An aviation engineer is free to design an aircraft as he or she sees fit but only within the tolerances allowed by the materials as determined by the laws of physics. Similarly, as individuals we maintain substantial freedom of choice but only within the tolerances of the materials in our hearts.

History does not determine our choices but it does inform them. Many people choose to value what their forebears did not, but even these choices are not made out of context. Even if we recognize our tolerances and wish to transcend them, this transcendence is precisely of those tolerances. It is in response to them.

Here are some of the tolerances I’ve detected in my family system:

  • Authority comes from outside, from above rather than from within. We are not self-authorized but externally authorized.
  • Risk aversion: risk is seen from the standpoint of potential loss rather than potential gain.
  • One does not put oneself foward too much and one risks shame if one does. In a group situation it is important to feel out the context before making your contribution.

It requires little imagination to see how incompatible these assumptions may be with a competitive, aggressive, entrepreneurial, hyper-individualistic socio-economic system such as that of the USA. Although not all Franco-Americans share these tolerances, I would be very surprised if a sociological study did not find that such attitudes are shared disproportionately among this population as compared with some others.

Now that I’ve made them conscious I have won some freedom of choice with respect to these attitudes. But I cannot merely set them aside much less ignore them. Many raindrops through many storms formed the stony heart in the way in which it is formed. In a theoretically free society I have the theoretical freedom to transcend them. But to do so it is useful – some might say necessary – to understand the full weight of the history that informed them.

Our political or economic freedom, such as it is, does not mean that we are atoms floating in a void, only occasionally colliding in utterly context-free and wholly chosen transactions. We are not entirely self-determined but exist in context. Human beings exist within systems that include family, religious, and ideological systems as well as political and economic ones.

Choices are free within the tolerances allowed by a particular context within this network of overlapping systems. Our choices may be oriented toward changing one or another of these systems, but this is only possible by recognizing their character and scope.

If the past has no bearing on the formation of the heart then history is a frivolous discipline. It consists of stories that are perhaps entertaining but by no means important. If the experiences of our grandparents have no bearing on who we are now then I see little point in knowing about them at all.

If the experiences of generations past do not contribute to the formation of our hearts then what we call history is a mixed assortment of anecdotes about atomic individuals who made choices based on a self-created core that appears ex nihilo, unshared, and without the taint of context.

But this is no world that I live in. My heart was not formed to believe in such a world.

Monday, March 4, 2013

There Are Many Names For Us

One of the earliest posts on this blog is called There Is No Name For Us. I argued there that it might be empowering to coin a term that would describe all of the various groups that descend from the 17th and 18th c. French colonists in the New World. I looked to the model of the terms Hispanic and Latino, which serve as umbrella terms for the various peoples of Latin American descent now living in the USA.

Rather than asserting that there is no name for us I might just as well have said that there are too many names for us: Québécois(e), Acadien(ne), Franco-American, Cadien, Canadien-français, etc. Vituperative arguments ensue over the names because some of them are ill-defined and people tend to become entrenched within their own understanding of any term they acquire as a self-description.

Let’s take an historical view of this name game.

In the first years of the 17th c. the French began to have permanent settlements in North America. As I understand it, the geographical term Nouvelle-France included all of the French colonies on the continent, which consisted roughly of three main territories.
  • l’Acadie – Centered in today’s Canadian Maritimes, the people of Acadie came to be associated with what we now call Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, among other areas.
  • le Canada – Included the St. Lawrence Valley to the Ottawa River, westward to the Great Lakes region which was sometimes called le Pays d’en Haut.
  • la Louisiane – A vast territory in the modern American Midwest sweeping southward from the Ohio Valley to the Gulf of Mexico. This region was often divided into an Upper and a Lower Louisiana.
The boundaries between these regions were often disputed and the names were not always used precisely. Nonetheless, the original designations by which French North Americans were known correspond to these three regions: les Acadiens, les Canadiens, and les Louisianais.1

The term Louisianais does not include the Acadiens who were expelled from their homes in the 1750s and eventually found their way to Louisiana. This group, known today as Cadiens or Cajuns, ought to be distinguished from les Louisianais, that is from those who came to the southern colony directly from France.2

Two other groups with roots in the French Regime period include the Creoles of Louisiana and the Métis people, with their cultural center of gravity in Manitoba and the prairie provinces of today’s Canada. Any discussion of these groups, products of relations between European settlers and other peoples, touches the third rail of North American history: race. If I say no more about these two peoples here it is due to my own ignorance regarding a sensitive topic rather than to neglect or disinterest.

By 1803, what was once Nouvelle-France had been divided between Great Britain and the fledgling United States. British and American settlers became permanent residents of the former colonies of Nouvelle-France. However, the Francophone descendants in the former Acadie and in Canada retained their national designations.

For example, into my grandparents’ days, to these Francophones, a Canadien was someone who spoke French. The people of the British American possessions who spoke English they called les Anglais. This latter term applied not only to those with roots in the British Isles but also to Anglophones whose ancestry might well be German, Ukrainian, or Greek.

As the English speakers in the British North American possessions began to call themselves Canadians, the distinction between Francophones and Anglophones was sometimes emphasized by means of the hyphenated term Canadien-français and its English equivalent French-Canadian. This term was accepted until the middle of the 20th c. in Québec and is still heard in other parts of today’s Canada and in the USA.

Like their Canadien cousins, the Acadiens retained their name, their distinctiveness, and their regional character, i.e. an Acadienne was an Acadienne whether she came from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, or the Magdalen Islands. The Cadiens of Louisiana also retained their name and separate identity.

Then came the great emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from the former French colonies of le Canada and l’Acadie to the USA. What term ought to signify the children of these immigrants?

Around 1900 the term Franco-Américain came into use particularly among the large and cohesive group of Francophone immigrants in New England. This term was used to distinguish those born in the States, or permanently settled there, from those born in Québec or in the former Acadie.

Some within this group continue to use the older term French-Canadian, but that term is problematic for several reasons. First, it causes confusion. If I were to say to most Americans that I was French-Canadian they would assume that I was born in Canada. Not only was I not born there but neither were my parents, nor most of my grandparents. I am not any kind of Canadian in the modern sense of that term. I am an American and my identity-political label should reflect that.

Attestation to the term
Franco-American from the

Brunswick (Maine) Record
December 5, 1935.
Another reason the term French-Canadian is tricky in the New England context is that there are many Acadians there who would say that that term refers to people from Québec alone. Some Acadian descendants in New England reject the term Franco-American if it means that they’re lumped in with the latter. This view I have heard in particular from some inhabitants of the Saint John’s Valley in Maine who insist that they are not Franco-Americans but Acadians.

Many Franco-Americans, like myself, are the product of a mix of the peoples known as Canadien-français and Acadiens. Of my eight great grandparents, five were born in Québec, two were Acadians, and one was a Franco-Ontarien from the Great Lakes region. This is a textbook case, a sociological mean for New England Franco-Americans.

When I use the term Franco-American, I am referring to the descendants of this mix of North American Francophones who came to the Northeastern states circa 1870 to 1930. In my nomenclature, Franco-Americans, as such, are a phenomenon of the Northeastern States. I would make no objection if my cousins from the Great Lakes, Missouri, or Louisiana do not recognize the term and do not apply it to themselves.

The term encounters a rather silly obstacle, namely that it is associated with a brand of canned pasta products. The usage of the term as an ethnic designation predates the brand name but, since almost no one outside of New England has ever heard the term apart from the latter context, one encounters snickers at the mention of it.

Readers who have followed this name game play-by-play, as tangled as any mess of canned spaghetti, will note how complex it can be. I do not claim that my terminology or distinctions are definitive. I’m placing a stake in the ground with the expectation that others will move the markers as they see fit.

At the risk of trying my readers’ patience, in a future post I will say a few words about the designation that replaced the older terms Canadien and Canadien-français during that decade of change, the 1960s: Québécois.

1. The term “Louisianais” does not seem to have been used during the first French Regime in Louisiana but was in use not long after.
2. As usual, the history is messier than my survey claims since I am leaving out the Swiss and Germans who were integrated with les Louisianais very early on. Also, many of those who call themselves Cajun today are not descended from Acadiens at all.