A Bombing Happened in the Franco-American Culture

By Rhea Côté Robbins
Presentation given at the Maine Women's Studies Conference, Plenary Panel
November 18, 2000

Thank you for inviting me here today.

I'm here to talk about the Franco-American Women's Institute and the Franco-American women's contributions.

The Franco-Americans...
who are they?
Why bother to learn about this cultural group?
Why are they represented in this conference?
What type of information can be shared so that this cultural group will be given credence? 
Lately, I've been describing the i/em(m)igration experience as the:
"Million people march" because 1 million people left Québec between 1810-1920, and of those million there are reputed to be 4 to 7 million descendants in the Northeast.
And when it comes to the Franco-Americans and at what time they i/em(m)igrated, we need to look at the difference between historical/recent immigrant.  Historical i/em(m)igrants came at a time when there were no refugee centers to greet them.  So the neglect is twice-fold historically, then and now.  These are a few facts of their being here in the U.S.

I am interested in the story of their lives; lives told often in story, or myth or legend, something which becomes part of the fabric of the culture's myths. 

Richard Slotkin states in Regeneration Through Violence:  "A mythology is a complex of narratives that dramatizes the world vision and historical sense of a people or culture, reducing centuries of experience into a constellation of compelling metaphors."

A bombing happened in the Franco-American culture. A psychological bombing that continues.  It is called assimilation. 

What are the results of such a bombing?

A scattering of the cultural ways is the result.  Pieces of the identity blown about and each person becomes the depository, honorary keeper of that piece or pieces.

Pieces were distributed among the members of the culture, a song here, a story or two with another, recipes kept, folk tale ways, quilt patterns, brightly colored furniture is revealed at a conference, someone dances a gigue, some call it clogging.  What are they doing those people?  Maman sews long into the night like mémère did.  She bakes us tourtière. She goes home to Wallagrass for a funeral and she brings back some buckwheat flour like it was booty from some war campaign.  She cooks some ployes; memories in a frying pan...my brother and I wrinkle up our little American, Aunt Jemima noes at the ployes.  Bouchard Family Farm markets a mix!  I cook ployes in memory of maman.  Maman taught my five year old daughter how to quilt and embroider.  I have a photo of them, heads together, making a puzzle.  Puzzles seem to be a theme of who we are as a culture.  My daughter remembers the warmth of her mémère.  Pépère teases her he will take her home in a wheel barrow back to Presque Isle.  Tools of the trade for him.  She is his favorite.

Dad listens on WTVL radio to "Melodies Française" when he comes home from mass on Sunday.  Edgar Poulin is the DJ...toutes en français.  We giggle at the thought of it...this is the 60s.  M. Poulin is at the helm for decades holding down the ship, knowing, just knowing they are out there listening.  Maybe even taping their foots.

Each, many have a piece of the puzzle blown to bits...and slowly but surely, the puzzle is being put back together.

The test of the myth or story, is that, so long as it is being used by a culture, than it is in working order.

The study of culture in general does not always examine the lives of the women of that culture.
FAWI exists to raise consciousness about the women and their contributions
To tell the world about the Franco-American women
Resource for you:
1 eZine, moé pi toé
2 links for research
3 interconnectedness with other Franco-American work in the state and elsewhere

How does the culture grow and become itself in a modern society?
Story of putting back pieces of the puzzle and how an ordinary event becomes part of the story fabric of a culture:
Four years ago, my daughter began teaching high school French and Spanish in Guilford, Me., remembering the warmth of her mémère and pépère, faced with students, of whom half have French last names, this she recognized, asked them "Who in here is Franco-American?"  No one raised their hand.  She was frustrated by their lack of identification with the culture.  Thinking of her own growing up years, she related to me, she then asked, "Who has a mémère and a pépère?"  Half the class raised their hands.  "Who eats tourtière?"  More hands.
I now hear this story in other contexts...it becomes part of the puzzle pieces being returned to the board...the quilt is remade and remaking itself anew.  The myths work as long as they serve a useful purpose.

FAWI is at the base of those stories helping to put the puzzle/quilt back together again.

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