Sunday, June 4, 2006

Qui perd sa langue, perd sa foi.*


Pam Belluck of The New York Times had a marvelous piece today about the revival of the French language in Maine. As someone whose maternal grandfather (Emil LeTourneau) came across the border from Trois Rivieres, Quebec, into New England at the last turn of the century, I'm fascinated by this story. It raises all kinds questions about historical and current issues. Belluck's piece accurately notes the negative stereotypes about French Canadians, their supposed lesser intelligence, speech, work ethic and so on. I grew up hearing negative comments about French Canadians--Canucks--from my mother. Some of what she told me about French Canadians turned out to be true when I met her cousins many years later--there was a real sense of insularity and rejection of other ethnic groups, as she'd always said.

But the historical reasons, the oppression by the English of Canada and the clear sense of superiority New England Yankees had was never mentioned, probably because it was so built into society as to not be visible.

I recently read "A Great And Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story Of The Expulsion Of The French Acadians From Their American Homeland," a richly detailed history of abuse and violence that has escaped most Americans' attention.

Belluck's article was one of the top e-mailed stories from the Times' site for a couple of days, no doubt catching attention because of the OTHER language issue, that of Spanish-speaking immigrants, legal or otherwise, allegedy determined to reclaim the Southwest for Mexico. People's resentment of having Spanish spoken seemingly everywhere is high in many places. It'll be interesting to see where this revival of French in Canada goes. Will speaking French make Maine residents more employable? Ah, that will be very interesting, won't it? Imagine someone creating a Salvadoran-American Day, the way people in Maine have established a French-American Day? The outcry would be deafening, would it not?

*Who loses his language, loses his faith.

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