By Benoit Pelletier Shoja
Franco-Americans are the largest ethnic group in the state of New Hampshire, ahead of the Irish, English, Italian, German, Scottish and Latino. The 2000 US census reports that Franco-Americans make up 27% of the total population of the state. Manchester alone is 35% Franco. No other group comes close to these figures.
Despite our superior numbers, we are an under-celebrated group. We are a proud people, but we've always been unassuming and private in our pride. It's time to cast off this modesty and stand out. We owe it to ourselves to rejoice publicly in our rich culture and varied traditions.
A first step – and an easy way – to (re)connect with our roots is to simply get together and talk about what it means to be Franco-American. I've encountered countless young Francos who, when we start talking about one or another aspect of the French identity in New England, exclaim, "I didn't know that was French! I thought everyone did that!" And they go away feeling a deeper pride than ever before, knowing that they carry inside them a great tradition. So let's come together to share our common background, examine our similar experiences and celebrate who we are.
3.4% of the population of NH speaks French in the home. This might not sound impressive, until we realize that the only other language more commonly spoken in homes in this state is English, and that twice as many people in NH speak French at home than speak Spanish at home (1.6%). Still, I've heard Franco-Americans avow time and again, "I don't speak good French. I speak gutter French." This is nonsense; this self-abasing attitude originates in outdated linguistic snobbery and has no basis whatsoever in fact. Sadly, Franco-Americans have heard this injurious refrain repeated for so long that we've come to believe it, when in fact our French is not only valid, but honorable. It's the French of the kings of old France, of Rousseau and Molière, of Champlain. Most importantly, it's the French our people have spoken for centuries, right down to our very own mémères and pépères. We can be proud that our French is genuine and we can laugh at those who try to belittle us and tell us otherwise.
There are many local groups and resources available to Franco-Americans, to help us maintain our heritage and further our culture. For those wishing to deepen their appreciation of our history in the world, the Centre Franco-Américain and the Association Canado-Américaine (ACA) each have extensive library and archive collections, open to the public. The Centre also offers French-language classes, or for those who already speak French, there's the Richelieu International, the only francophone service and charity organization in the world. The ACA is the sole Franco-American fraternal benefit society in the world and has chapters throughout our state. The American-Canadian Genealogical Society offers an easy way to connect with our ancestry and roots. And for French-language radio, every Sunday morning we have "Chez Nous" on AM 1370.
Let's celebrate and show pride in our cultural and linguistic heritage. Let's work to preserve it and promote it for our sake and for the sake of our children and grandchildren. We can all draw from the strength of knowing where we come from, from the pride of realizing we're part of a long and great tradition. And the Franco-Americans will continue with confidence and faith for generations to come.