At State House, the French are still Strongly in Fashion
March 20th, 2003
By PAUL CARRIER, Portland Press Herald Writer Copyright – 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
AUGUSTA – The French are a people scorned in America these days, thanks to France’s vocal opposition to a war against Iraq. But the mood was far different at the State House on Wednesday, where Maine’s strong Franco-American heritage was celebrated and the French language echoed from one end of the Capitol to the other. French bashers were nowhere to be heard during Maine’s second annual Franco-American Day, but their assaults were on the minds of some people who took part in the daylong event.
Almost a quarter of Maine’s 1.2 million people claim French or French Canadian ancestry, according to the 2000 census. If participants in Wednesday’s festivities are any indication, Maine’s Franco-Americans are of many minds on the anti-French sentiment that has swept the country in recent weeks. Some are personally offended by attempts to characterize the French as cowards, pacifists or ingrates, either because such attacks ignore France’s many contributions to America or because they disagree with President Bush’s handling of the Iraqi crisis. “Vive la France,” said Rep. Joanne Twomey, D-Biddeford, who grew up speaking French in York County and addressed an anti-war rally in Quebec City in French last month. “I’m very proud that France did what they did because it reflects my beliefs.”
Most of Maine’s Franco-Americans are of French Canadian descent. In most cases, their ancestors sailed from France to what is now Canada in the 17th century and their families lived there for hundreds of years before moving to the United States. So even French-speaking Franco-Americans often feel no more connected to France than Hispanics with Mexican roots feel emotionally tied to Spain. “Our ancestry is from Canada,” said Democratic Rep. Richard Mailhot, a Franco-American from Lewis- ton. “I don’t think of myself as of French ancestry.” As a result, Mailhot said, American hostility toward France “doesn’t upset me a bit.” The French tried to settle on St. Croix Island near Calais in 1604, established a permanent settlement in what is now Nova Scotia in 1605 and founded Quebec in 1608. That was 12 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Some Franco-Americans say they are deeply offended by the claim that France has forgotten its debt to America, because those who make that argument ignore America’s debt to France. “Without the French during the Revolutionary War, we would not have a free country, as we do today,” said Lionel Guay Jr. of Lewiston, the founder of the Franco-American Heritage Center in that city. “People forget history,” he said. France sent money, munitions, troops and ships to help the American cause during the Revolution and the Marquis de Lafayette was a major general in George Washington’s army. A century later, France gave the Statue of Liberty to the United States and it remains “probably the best gift the United States has been given” by anyone, said Donat Boisvert, coordinator of the Franco-American Heritage Collection at Lewiston-Auburn College. For decades, some Franco-Americans said Wednesday, children were penalized for speaking French in Maine. The Ku Klux Klan campaigned against Jews and French Catholics in Maine in the 1920s. And as recently as the early 1990s, a southern Maine radio station created a statewide furor by running a comedy routine featuring a dim-witted Franco-American character known as Frenchie. The feature was dropped in 1993. “We didn’t deserve it then,” former state legislator Judy Paradis of Frenchville said of the prejudice aimed at Franco-Americans, and the people of France “don’t deserve it now.” Some Franco-Americans who have spent time in France said Wednesday the French people are extremely fond of Americans, and do not deserve to be vilified for their perceived anti-American sentiments. “To see the American flag flying proud and straight at that (veterans) cemetery (in Normandy) was a very moving experience,” said Patrick Paradis of Augusta, a former state legislator whose French ancestors settled in Canada in 1638. The French people are “very pro-American,” he said.
Remarks by Governor John E. Baldacci
March 19th, 2003
Day at the State House March 19th, 2003
Pour marquer cette occasion, je salue la communauté Franco-Américaine du Maine. Depuis des siécles, les gens de souche française enrichissent notre état. Le “Fait Français”se voit et s’entend, à travers le Maine: à Biddeford, à Westbrook, à Rumford, à Lewiston, à Augusta. à Waterville, dans la Vallée Saint Jean, ainsi que dans plusieurs autres endroits. Les noms de famille comme Cyr, Violette, Martin, Paradis, Perreault, Gagnon, Rossignol, Dutremble, Côté, etc., que nous trouvons partout dans le Maine démontrent notre héritage français, et nos liens historiques avec le Québec et l’Acadie.
Je félicite la communauté Franco-Américaine pour ses maintes contributions à l’économie et à la vie culturelle du Maine. La diversité des groupes ethniques de notre état est une remarquable richesse digne de respect et d’honneur. En tant que Gouverneur, je suis fier que le Maine puisse jouir de diverses cultures, traditions et langues, car tous nos citoyens sont l’honneur et la fierté de notre état.
To mark this occasion, I take this opportunity to salute the Franco-American community of Maine. For centuries, people of French decent have enriched our state. The “French Fact” can be seen and heard throughout Maine, In Biddeford, Westbrook, Rumford, Lewiston, Augusta, Waterville, the Saint John Valley, as well as in many other places. Family names like Cyr, Violette, Martin, Paradis, Perreault, Gagnon, Rossignol, Dutremble, Cote, etc., that are found everywhere in Maine illustrate out French heritage, and out historic links with Quebec and Acadia.
I congratulate the Franco-American community for it may contributions to Maine’s economy and cultural fabric. The diversity of Maine’s ethnic population is a remarkable asset worthy of respect and honor. As Governor, I am proud that Maine enjoys diverse cultures, traditions and languages, for our citizens are the pride, and strength of our state.
UMaine’s Franco-American Centre to Distribute Thousands of French Language Books to Maine Communities
March 13th, 2003
March 13, 2003 by Susan Young for UMaine Press
Thousands of books in French will be distributed to communities throughout Maine by the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine. The books were donated by schools, businesses and individuals in Quebec to strengthen ties between people of French heritage in the United States and Canada, and to help Franco-Americans maintain their culture and language.
The book distribution program was organized by the le Conseil de la Vie Française en Amérique (the Council on French Life in America), a Quebec group that aims to help people of French heritage in North America better understand and maintain their culture and language. The distribution of books will officially be announced by the council in the Hall of Flags in the State House in Augusta at 11 a.m. on March 19. That day has been designated as Franco-American Day by the Maine Legislature.
The donated books, which number between 7,000 and 10,000, arrived at the university’s Franco-American Centre on March 12. They include children’s books, dictionaries, novels and biographies and have an estimated value of $75,000. They will be made available to the public through a distribution planning group from Maine Franco-American communities in the regions of Biddeford-Sanford, Augusta-Waterville, Lewiston-Auburn, Bangor-Old Town, and the St. John Valley. “This firms up further the relationship – through culture and language – that exists between the two regions,” says Yvon Labbé, the director of the Franco-American Centre and a member of the council. “It is nice to be able to give something free to the community,” he adds.
The council was founded in 1937 but was in decline in the 1980s. It was rejuvenated in the late 1990s with a mandate to do more work for Franco-Americans who live in the United States. Thus, the idea for the book collection project was born. Books have previously been collected for distribution in Louisiana. More than 30,000 books were given away there. Labbé says he hopes that more books can be collected and given to other communities in Maine and other New England states.
NSF Grant Awarded to Dr. Jane Smith
March 9th, 2003
Speech: Inventing Tomorrow’s Library with Roch Carrier
“Words aren’t the true reality. Thinking about a trout isn’t the same as holding it, slippery and trembling, in your hand; but words make a kind of magic that revives dead things and brings to life other things not yet alive. Words bestow life.” — Roch Carrier, No Country without Grandfathers
Although Quebecker Roch Carrier was raised just a handful of miles from Maine, his life experience has been worlds apart from what it might have been had fate set his course on our side of the border. His childhood in the village of Sainte Justine, Quebec, where he spent his youth idolizing the larger than life hockey player, Maurice “the Rocket” Richard, served as inspiration for what has become Canada’s most treasured picture book, the Hockey Sweater. As a young man he traveled around Europe on a scooter carrying not only a typewriter, but also the ideas which yielded La Guerre, Yes Sir!, the novel which launched his successful literary career. These days he splits his time between his home in Montreal and Ottawa where, among other things, he serves as National Librarian of Canada, tirelessly advocating for the preservation of Canada’s material history. On May 3rd, 6:30pm, the Maine Libraries Conference will proudly welcome him to Augusta, where he will speak on the topic, Inventing Tomorrow’s Library. The general public is invited to attend this exciting banquet, which will also feature live traditional music. Copies of Roch Carrier’s books will be available for signing as well. Attendees must register in advance using the form accessible from www.mainelibraries.info, or by contacting Edna Comstock at the Maine State Library, (207)-287-5600. Admission is $11.
Directions to the Maine State Library: The Maine State Library is located in the Cultural Building in the State House Complex in Augusta. From the south via the Maine Turnpike, take the first Augusta exit; from the north via Interstate 95, take the second Augusta exit (NOT the Augusta-Belgrade exit at the Civic Center). Bear right onto Western Avenue. Go to the third traffic light (about .5 miles from entering Western Avenue) and, merging into the right lane, turn right (note the sign “State Offices West”). Follow this street which curves to the left and presents the Capitol dome in the distance. At the next traffic light (1.2 miles from entering Western Avenue), turn right then left into a large parking area (note sign “State Museum, Library, Archives”). The large flat-roofed structure diagonally to your right is the Maine State Cultural Building.
Franco American Day trés bon at State House
January 9th, 2003
AUGUSTA – From the lively clogging, spoons-playing and singing on the third floor to the traditional French menu at the Cross Cafe, one didn’t have to look far to find signs that Wednesday was Franco-American Day in the Legislature.
The event, which drew hundreds of Franco-Americans from Fort Kent to Biddeford, was held to celebrate the French presence in Maine and to recognize the fact that fluent French speakers are an economic and cultural resource to a state that shares borders with New Brunswick and Quebec.
Among those attending were French classes from several schools in the Augusta area, members of numerous cultural and social groups, and representatives of organizations that promote the French language.
In honor of Franco-Americans in Maine and in Canada, House members departed from tradition and conducted part of their morning’s business in both English and French. The same occurred in the Senate afterward.
House Speaker Michael Saxl, D-Portland, opened the day’s proceedings in French, followed by an English translation, and the Rev. Michael Gendreau of Augusta delivered a brief invocation in the two languages. The Maine and U.S. flags were carried by a Franco-American veterans contingent from Lewiston.
Melanie Saucier, the 6-year-old daughter of Gary and Diane Saucier of Fort Kent, charmed the House and hundreds of onlookers with her rendition of the national anthem in French and she repeated the song in English. Saucier said Wednesday’s performance was her second at the Capitol. The first was on her sixth birthday last April.
Legislation – including a joint resolution recognizing Franco-American Day – and several special guests were introduced both in English and French by French-speaking legislators, among them Rep. Rosaire Paradis, D-Frenchville, Rep. William Smith, D-Van Buren, and Rep. Marc Michaud, D-Fort Kent.
Though he did not formally address either body, M. Stephane Chmelewsky, consul general of France in Boston, was a special guest of the Legislature and attended the morning’s proceedings in both the House and Senate.
Others who were singled out for special recognition were three St. John Valley journalists from both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border: Don Levesque of the St. John Valley Times, a Madawaska weekly; Jean Pedneault of Le Madawaska, a French-language weekly newspaper published in Edmundston, New Brunswick; and Beurmond Banville of the Bangor Daily News.
The three newsmen received individual legislative sentiments for their work, which spans decades, covering news and cultural issues of interest to people on both sides of the border.
“I’m very pleased, actually, to get this from the Legislature,” Banville said after the presentation. “It’s nice for once to have politicians say something good about journalists.”
French Day at the Legislature was the brainchild of the FrancoFun Caucus, a group of about 20 legislators of French descent who meet regularly in Augusta for breakfast, with a French menu.
The bipartisan group is headed by Paradis, president, and state Rep. David Madore, vice president, a Republican from Augusta. Former state Sen. Judy Paradis, Rosaire Paradis’ wife, started the movement when she was in the Legislature.
One-third of Maine’s population is of French descent and 7 percent speak French, one of the two national languages of Canada, the biggest trading partner of Maine and the United States. According to Paradis, 45 percent of the members of the Legislature are of French descent.
Wednesday’s bilingual proceedings show a dramatic shift in attitudes toward Maine’s native French-speaking people – and marked the first time in more than 30 years that French was spoken during official legislative proceedings.
To this day, many in Maine consider the speech the late Sen. Elmer Violette delivered in his native French on the floor of the Maine Senate in the late 1960s as the key to the return of French to the state’s public schools.
At that time, the state was grappling with a law banning the informal use of French in schools. The bilingual education movement just was getting under way. Under a state statute that had been on the books for half a century, French could be spoken only when it was taught as a foreign language, even though many children began school without having been exposed to English.
An effort to change that law sponsored by Emilien Levesque, a lawmaker at the time, was breezing through the Legislature. The measure had gained the full support of the Maine Department of Education and the rest of state government and was on the verge of becoming law when a state senator from the southern part of the state moved to “indefinitely postpone” the bill, effectively killing it.
Violette, who went on to become a justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, gave a spirited rebuttal on the floor of the Senate, delivering a portion of his remarks in French. He recalled later that he was so mad that he called for a roll-call vote, but the senator in question had left the room – and the vote for the return of French was unanimous.
As a future activity, the group hopes to conduct a summit on the Francophones of Maine (Le Sommet de la Francophonie du Maine) in 2004, the 400th anniversary celebration of the French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s landing on St. Croix Island in the St. Croix River, which marks the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick. A colony was established there 16 years before the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.