Monday October 21, 2013 | 08:26 AM
“Using my grandmother Memere Breton Emond as a protagonist, I want to bring national awareness to the Franco-American immigration experience,” says Nick Lucey.
Nick Lucey creator of The Memere Project
It seemed perfectly normal to Nick Lucey to hear his mother and grandmother speaking French together when he was growing up.
“We stayed with my Memere in Biddeford when we visited, while living in Wisconsin. I didn’t find it odd for my mother and grandmother to speak French when they were together. But, later, I realized speaking French at home was not common.”
In fact, outside of Maine and New England, it’s rare to find families where French is spoken in the home,” he says. “Many Americans don’t know how French is the first language of many Americans.”
Lucey, 44, is searching for more information about the Franco-American immigration experience. He began “The Memere Project”. He’s documenting the life of his grandmother, Memere Claudia Breton Emond (1911-1989).
Claudia Breton Emond
Breton’s immigration experience brings attention to the history of the approximately 900,000 French-Canadians who immigrated to the US during the last two centuries. He’s particularly interested to learn more about those who arrived in Maine, from Quebec.
“These immigrants are hardly ever heard about outside of New England,” says Lucey.
His Memere experienced a difficult immigration experience. She was born on November 25, 1911, one of 12 children on a small farm in Thetford Mines, in southeastern Quebec. Like thousands of others like her, she immigrated to Biddeford in 1927, to find work in the textile mills. Unfortunately, she was deported back to Canada in 1939, leaving her husband Amedee Emond and their four children behind. This deportation lasted for 22 months. She was eventually reunited with her Maine family following the completion of the required immigration paperwork.
Lucey’s grandfather, Amedee Emond, didn’t experience deportation because his immigration paperwork was, apparently, sufficient, says Lucey.
In spite of the deportation, Memere Breton Emond later told her granddaughter, who was an oral historian at the University of Maine, that she didn’t feel the victim of discrimination against French-Canadians. Lucey listened to her tape recorded story but he still wants to know more about why his Memere was deported, in the first place.
Memere Breton Emond’s story is certainly timely given the public policy focus on immigration, says Lucey. “When immigration is discussed today, most people think of Mexico. Yet, few stop to realize where the world’s largest unarmed border is located between the US and Canada,” he says. He wants to tell the stories about the US-Canadian border. “Using my grandmother Memere Breton Emond as a protagonist, I want to bring national awareness to the Franco-American immigration experience.”
“In telling Memere’s story, I want to explore the history of French-Canadian immigration. Americans simply don’t know much about French-Canadian immigration or about Franco-Americans. I’m passionately interested in this amazing story and telling people about the heritage of Franco-Americans,” he says.
Lucey is looking for Franco-American immigration stories that haven’t been told before. He’s collecting stories from both French and English sources, which means he’s been traveling to Canada to find documents and to visit locations specific to his findings.
While writing and publishing stories, Lucey wants to spotlight awareness about Maine’s Franco-Americans and bring a national spotlight to their experiences.
During my conversation with Lucey, he raised the most curious of cultural questions. “Why does New Orleans claim a French heritage but Maine doesn’t?”
As a matter of fact, Louisiana has created an economy around its French heritage and the “Evangeline” story of the Acadians. This cultural mystique is an example of creating history out of myth. In fact, Louisiana was originally a Spanish colony and the iconic heroine Evangeline was a fictional creation of Maine writer and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Maine, on the other hand, has a French history dating to 1604, when the colony on St. Croix Island was founded off the coast of Calais.
Maine certainly has an opportunity to benefit by embracing the state’s Franco-American history and culture as well, he says.
Link to Lucey’s The Memere Project at: www.memere.org
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