From Harvard to Manchester, Americans are rediscovering their francophone ancestry

Twice a week this French-American offers a course on discovering French in North America. A cycle that also tells its story.

I grew up in Dearborn, near Detroit, near Ontario. I grew up listening to Radio Canada and speaking French at home with my parents and you say.

I’ve taught at the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and the University of Virginia and we’ve never talked about French-American reality or that Quebec exists! »

Quote from Claire Marie Bresson is Professor of French at Harvard University

Claire Marie’s grandfather, originally from Saint-Fabien-des-Bagnes, near Quebec, was the first to settle in the United States. Join the nearly 900,000 French Canadians who immigrated to New England in the 19th and early 20th centuries. An important community that we talk about very little in the United States.

It was this remark that prompted the professor.

Then I wondered what it meant for me to be Franco-American, to have this experience, to speak French in North America. I have done a dissertation that speaks not only of the identity and reality of French-Americans but also of French-Canadians everywhere in Canada.explains the Franco Michigan woman.

Claire Marie Bresson, French-American, teaches French at Harvard University.

Photo: Radio Canada/Karen Mathieu

She also persuaded the prestigious Harvard University to take an interest in a French course based on the history and culture of Francophone North America. She added a little geography to it.

One day, I said I had family in Quebec and my friend said to me, “Uh yeah! It’s near Haiti!” Seriously, I didn’t laugh, even though I know geography is hard. »

Quote from Claire Marie Bresson is Professor of French at Harvard University

That is why, as I have explained, I began my studies commissioned by the United States and North America and asked them where the francophone parts were.

Dekyi Tsotsong and Owen Sughrue in a park.

Claire Marie Bresson’s Harvard students, Decai Tsutsong and Owen Sugro

Photo: Radio Canada/Karen Mathieu

In the garden in front of the café, musicians enliven passers-by and customers sitting on the terrace. Two of Claire Marie Bryson’s students, Owen and Decay, join in on the conversation.

Owen is also French American.

I’m from Massachusetts. My grandmother is from Quebec. She spoke French with her family, at school and church. His brother Paul spoke to me in French when I was little, in little phrases like: “How are you? Thank you! You’re welcome!” But that’s not much! says the student.

The family’s transmission of French stopped there. So at school he had to deepen it even more. When I was 14, I learned French for four years, and four years here at Harvard as well. It’s a relationship with my grandmother and my mother’s familyHe says.

I am an American immigrant from TibetSays Dicky, the other Nepal-born student. She has no French-speaking ancestors but does have a love for the French. Study American history. Like his mentor, throughout his career, he was never told about the French Americans.

I had never learned it in my classes before or even in my French class. In high school and Harvard, we only talk about France and Paris. »

Quote from Dekyi Tsotsong, student

In his case, learning French is just an option. I lost my Nepali, Tibetan is not very good, but I had the opportunity to learn French. I don’t know, I had a connectionShe said in perfect French.

The Heritage of French Canadians Podcast

Jesse Martino in a radio studio.

Jesse Martineau hosts the French Canadian Heritage Podcast.

Photo: Facebook French-Canadian Legacy podcast

Less than an hour from Boston, French-American Jesse Martineau invites historians, politicians, and artists to his microphone each week to talk about the history of francophones living in the United States. his podcast French Canadian Heritage Podcastwhich has been around since 2019, is also a way to take ownership of your own story.

She was born in Manchester, New Hampshire. My parents spoke French at home when they were children. My great-grandfather was from Saint-Apollinaire, my great-grandfather from Saint-Léonard-d’Aston, other ancestors from Sainte-Monique or Saint-Georges-de-WindsorHe says.

All of my ancestors were from Quebec, but my sister and I are the first generation not to speak French. »

Quote from Jesse Martineau, host of the French-Canadian podcast The Legacy
Jesse Martino in front of a poster.

Jesse Martino is also a barrister at Manchester High Court.

Photo: Jesse Martino

Mr Martineau, who is also the chief prosecutor at Manchester High Court, decided that the transmission would not stop like this. Last year, he spent six months in Quebec taking French lessons.

At the time, says Jesse Martineau, parents stopped speaking French to their children partly because they feared they would be discriminated against. Being francophone, he explains, meant we were poor, that we were factory workers. He was not well regarded for speaking French.

Professor Claire Marie Bryson goes even further. People are forced to speak English. There are many who have said that if students speak French at school, they should transcribe: “I will not speak French on the school grounds.”I won’t speak French in the schoolyard. There was assimilation and xenophobia.

New birth?

According to Jesse Martino, more and more French Americans are interested in their ancestry. Meetings are organized for exchange and sharing.

I think it is now a renaissance. There is energy, you see in people younger than me. »

Quote from Jesse Martineau, host of the French-Canadian podcast The Legacy

Infatuation or decline? Estimates vary. Jesse Martineau believes there will be more than two million descendants of French-Canadian immigrants in New England. In 2010, on the other hand, about 200,000 New Englanders said they spoke French at home, according to census data.

Claire Marie Bresson doesn’t think these numbers are representative. When we say “Francophone”, does this mean that I speak 100% French? Does this mean that I use words from time to time? It’s really hard to know how many we have.

However, networks work. She said: I know Jesse Martino. I also have a podcast called Francophone in North America. I even participated in it Podcast. We talk on social media. We are a community from all over New England. That’s positive!

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