|Reflections on Franco-American Women's Experiences
By Jessica Conyngham
When entering into this course a dominate question in my mind
was who are Franco-American women? Upon completion of the class I
am not sure that I can form any definitive statement in answer to that
question. Franco-American Women's Experiences introduced me to the
immense dimensions of this culture. The class looked at women's lives
from all positions and walks of life. Through reading both fictional
and non-fictional accounts of French women in North America, I have gained
a broader understanding of the history this culture has in America.
The journey through this course of study has impacted me in a number of
ways. Not only did I spend time reading inspirational stories, but
I also became motivated to look at my own life and understanding of history
Franco-American Women's Experiences provided a glimpse into a
history that seems to be largely ignored in traditional United States history
accounts. In New England, especially the state of Maine, there is
a vibrant Franco-American culture. I live in Androscoggin county,
where you can hear people speak French when walking the aisles of the supermarket.
Lewiston-Auburn holds annual celebrations of Franco culture in Maine, and
numerous individuals have contributed time and energy into collections
of Franco-American history and literature. Yet despite all these
efforts I am struck by the fact that I was never taught about this culture
during my time at school. I was a resident of one of the most densely
populated areas for Franco-American's in Maine, yet I went through my high
school and junior high experience without learning anything about the culture
or its impact on the life of the community. After finishing this
class I have found myself thinking about how much of a loss this seems
for the learning communities of Maine. Maybe my experience was an
exception to the rule, but I am still impacted by how little I seem to
know about the history of where I live.
The mission statement for Echoes magazine asserts that the publication
"focuses on positive values rooted in the past that have relevance for
the present and the future. Echoes suggests that knowledge of rural experiences
can help us live in modern society - that there is permanence in the midst
of change and value in remembering our roots" (p. 3). I found this
to be a very positive mission statement. In wondering about what
to research for the final project my thoughts kept returning to my reflections
on what I've learned in the class. In the study to learn about who
Franco-American women are, I began reflecting on my own life and understanding
as well. I think that there are powerful messages to learn from the
past. Discovering and learning about the fibers that form our communities
and families can help to provide individuals with better self-awareness
as well as a pride in shared history. My experiences in this course
motivated me to look further into my own background and history, and helped
me to realize the importance of listening to other peoples stories.
In the introduction to her book Wednesday's Child, author Rhea
Cote Robbins writes "This is a book about how we are our historical self
while we are in the present". The readings and lessons of this class
brought me to the realization that I know too little about local history
and culture. I found the readings to be uplifting in many ways, as
we heard the stories of women who survived numerous hardships yet persevered
and found importance and joy in life.
Though I did not come to the conclusion of WHO Franco-American
women were, I did conclude that they are many things in both past and present.
Culture, or more broadly how culture defines the way we live our lives,
is not an easy concept to pinpoint and explain. The lives and experiences
that the class have studied are individual and diverse. These stories
span generations beginning with the earliest female French settlers, the
filles de roi, and ending with the experiences of modern women today.
It is an immense history, filled with obstacles that are in many ways difficult
As my awareness about Franco-American women and their history
began to grow, I attempted to form broad definitions about the group we
were studying. In my studies I formulated some ideas about themes
that are important in the lives of these women. The categories that
I defined included family, spirituality, work, and dreams. These
are the themes that appeared in all of the material that we studied, the
themes that dominate the lives of numerous generations of Franco-American
women. I think that an understanding of Franco-American women can
be better found through the exploration of these themes. At surface
value it seems easy to determine cultural definitions based solely on language.
Though language is undoubtedly integral to the identity of human beings,
I think that other values such as faith and love determine the paths of
women as well.
The texts that we have read throughout the course look deeply
into the experiences of women within the society that they live.
In an attempt to further explore my understanding of the readings I have
developed a web site that considers each segment of the class in light
of what I have learned throughout the semester. Not only do I feel
that I have gained a better appreciation and understanding of the history
of Franco-American women as a result of this class, but I feel that I have
more knowledge about the modern Franco-American woman as well. The
class has also helped show me the value in spending time reflecting on
our past, and exploring where we came from. I now feel more motivated
to take beginning steps in more own exploration of how I came to be where
I am and what history I carry on my own shoulders.