Eighth-grade students at Falmouth Middle School learned about diversity within the Franco-American culture during Appreciating Diversity Day. French teacher Sarah Spring introduced programs highlighting the Franco-American experience. Presentations about eight different cultures were made.

Patricia Wright, one of the guidance counselors who organized the program, said every grade level engaged in activities designed by their teachers to fit the theme of learning and respecting ethnic differences.

I spoke about the diversity within the Franco-American culture.

First- or second-generation people of French-American or French-Canadian ancestry are called Franco-Americans. New England’s Franco-Americans are singled out by their immigrant history. Most of New England’s Franco-Americans are descendents of French speaking Quebecois immigrants who came to the region during the industrial expansion of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Yet ancestry alone overlooks the layers of diversity within the Franco-American culture. At least five connected cultures are included. Each one experienced the discrimination rooted in turbulent histories brought on by decades of conflict caused by the colonial era wars between Britain, Spain and France.

In the 20th century, discrimination was directed toward Franco-Americans as immigrants. It was directed towards their practice of the Roman Catholic religion as well as their resolve to speak French rather than English.

Quebecois are the largest group of Franco-Americans. The Canadian Encyclopedia estimates more than 900,000 French speaking Quebecois immigrated to the United States between the middle 19th century until about 1930. They came in waves to find work in New England’s manufacturing industries. Approximately 5 million Franco-Americans who are descendents of the Quebecois are living in North America today.

French-Acadians are also Franco-Americans. They share a special history rooted in the tragic 1755 period called le grand derangement, or the British deportation. Portland poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized this tragic historical event in 1847, when he published his epic poem “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie.”

Cajuns are another group of Franco-Americans with Acadian ancestry who intermarried with other ethnic groups in Louisiana. Their ancestors were the French-speaking Acadians who were expelled from Nova Scotia, as well as other Canadian Maritime Provinces and Eastern Maine during le grand derangement. Displaced Acadians found their way to Louisiana after the expulsion because they heard about the area being a French colony where they could freely practice their Roman Catholic religion. Cajuns established strong cultural and language connections to the Louisiana area where their distinct French dialect is often referred to as Cajun-English.

French Huguenots are Franco-Americans who trace their heritage to the 16th- through 18th-century expulsion of Protestants out of France. Over 200,000 French Protestants fled their country to avoid persecution by the Catholics. A few thousand Huguenots found their way to the British colonies, including New England. Paul Revere (1734-1818) of Boston was the son of a Huguenot father named Apollos Rivoire. Bowdoin College in Brunswick was named after James Bowdoin (1726-1790), who was the son of a Huguenot refugee.

Metis people living in the U.S. share mixed parentage with French-Canadians, and Native Americans or First Nations heritages. They also share Native American ancestries with other ethnic groups. In 2003, the Canadian government recognized the Metis as a distinct ethnic group. The Metis Eastern Tribal Indian Society of Maine is located in Dayton where they own 12 acres of land.

Wright says School Principal Sue Palfrey supported the diversity education program. “It’s a positive, proactive approach to creating a climate of respect and caring in our school,” she says.

 

Juliana L’Heureux can be contacted at: [email protected]