Franco-American pride in Maine

During a recent research trip to Portland, Maine, I stayed with a distant cousin who is only one generation from being French Canadian. Her mother was Acadian and her father was born in Quebec. She grew up listening to her parents speak French at home and tease each other about their different accents.

When surveyed by the US Community Census, 30 percent of all Maine people, living throughout the state, self-identified as having some Franco-American heritage. Perhaps this statistic is not surprising. Between 1840 and 1930, about 900,000 French Canadians emigrated to the United States, primarily for economic reasons. Some might think the American melting pot had long ago erased any remnants of French Canadian heritage, but that is certainly not the case in Maine.

The Portland Press Herald recently published an article on its website about a resurgence of interest in speaking French in Maine. Written by Julian L’Heureux for the Franco-American blog, the article provides an account of past discrimination and a 1919 law that “made speaking French in public school illegal.” Only in 1969 was this “English Only” law finally erased from the books.

To read the article in its entirety, visit French Language and Cultural Pride.

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About Gail Dever

Gail Dever is a Montreal-based genealogist and blogger and a webmaster for the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa.
This entry was posted in Maine, Quebec and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Franco-American pride in Maine

  1. Thanks for pointing this article out! I’ve heard that the percentage might be as high as 40%. Many families changed their names to the English equivalent for convenience or to avoid discrimination, and descendants might have no idea of their heritage until they get bitten by the genealogy bug. A friend and I worked on her tree, and she was amazed to find that she had Acadian ancestors: her name Mallett went back to Jean Maillet dit Passepartout. Your readers might be interested to know that Bob Chenard at the Taconnett Falls Genealogy Library in Winslow, Maine, has worked on French Canadian lines for over 40 years and is usually at the library on Saturday afternoons to help walk-ins. The library is also open on Wednesday afternoons in the three warmer seasons. I’m very grateful for the high French percentage in Maine because it’s probably the reason that Time Warner cable offers TV5Monde!

  2. gagne.jacques@sympatico.ca says:

    Gail This is superb, espcially those with family lineages among Franco-Americans – Four such precious individuals within my own family. Jacques Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2014 12:57:54 +0000 To: gagne.jacques@sympatico.ca

  3. Thanks for your interest in Maine Franco-Americans. I always enjoy reading about people who are discovering and celebrating our heritage. If anyone else here is interested in learning more about this largely ignored Franco-American presence in the New England, I have a blog with a number of articles on this topic.
    http://frenchnorthamerica.blogspot.com/

  4. Fred Stuart says:

    I must of been breaking the law taking French class in the 8th grade in 1963 in Portland, Maine

    • Fred, you weren’t breaking the law because French (or other languages) were allowed as ‘foreign language’ instruction for one period but not as the main language of instruction. This was tough in many pockets of Maine that had French speaking majorities back then and kids didn’t know any other language but French which was spoken in the home. There was no bi-lingual education, no easing kids into it. Kids were punished severely for speaking even a few words of French, even on the playground. Before the law, my grandfather went to a school in Biddeford that was in French for half the day and in English for the other half. He was bilingual and a very well-informed and productive citizen. His “French” education didn’t hurt him any. They should have left the French language schools alone; instead they “solved” a problem that didn’t exist and many Franco-American old timers still resent it.

    • If you attended public school then the answer, unfortunately, is “yes”, but in parochial school it was obviously permitted.

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