Although my nightstand is typically piled high with reading material, it is generally because it is used as a place to store the books I want to read in the near future. I am not one of those people who spend a great deal of time reading in bed. By the time I get there, it’s late, I’m already sleepy and it’s time for shut-eye.
So the reading I do in bed tends to be of a sort that can be consumed in short bursts and still be engaging. Magazine articles are good, as are very short stories or a favorite book that brings joy in re-reading, etc. Another type is something I encountered many years ago when going through a period of stress: inspirational reading.
It is this type of book that I recently purchased and enjoyed reading over several weeks. The Miracles of Mary by Bridget Curran is a compendium of over thirty “Mary” stories — accounts of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin over the course of many centuries throughout the world.
Curran recounts the details of each apparition and reveals an appreciation of the stories as a phenomenon, while allowing them to largely speak for themselves. Part of the strength of her work in fact is allowing the players of each holy drama to give expression to their own experiences. We hear the voices of young and old, the credulous and doubters alike.
At a maximum of just over ten pages, the stories are a way to end the day on a calm and reflective note. If you are not a devotee of Mary, you will find a kind of folk history of Marian apparitions from around the world. Having grown up in the Catholic Church, and with devotion to Mary encouraged by my grandmother (a member of the Legion of Mary) the work resonated with me on several levels. I recommend this for those seeking a spiritual read, without being bogged down in deep issues of theology or catechism.
In one word, a scholar writing about French Detroit encapsulates conventional thinking about French-Canadian culture on the American side of the Great Lakes: vanished. This is not something at all new to descriptions of the region’s Old French-Canadian and Metis communities. In fact these descriptions of the “fading” French culture have been going on for nearly 200 years. Descriptions of the French-Canadians of Detroit as a people whose days are numbered, whose day is over, have long been penned by an array of writers.
Perhaps most striking is the rarity of any sort of characterization at all of the Detroit French in the Michigan Pioneer Society Collection. These volumes of late 19th century essays (available through archive.org) largely consist of first and second-generation Anglo-American migrants to the area claiming the moniker of founders. If the French appear at all in the volumes, they come from the elite families who married early into the wave of early 19th century migration from the East Coast. Sympathetic and romantic as it may have been, Bela Hubbard’s extensive description of the Detroit French (found in the Pioneer writings) echoes the sentiment: “the joyous, carefree days of the Frenchman are over.”
As I’ve written elsewhere, this sense of disappearance has long persisted, finding its place in the dissertations of scholars and books meant for a popular readership. What many of the commentators seem to have in common are three points: they are people who seem to have never lived or had roots in the Detroit River Region; they equate French-Canadian culture with the presence of the French language; they understand French-Canadian and Métis cultures through the lens of the society that marginalized them rather than on their own terms.
While I agree that the loss of language is a tragic, if potentially reversible situation, the persistence of French-Canadian and Métis consciousness among Americans in the Great Lakes region for the many decades since the French language faded, indicates to me that language is not the sine qua non of culture. I wish it were still spoken in Michigan. I wish I spoke my grandfather’s French. I do not. But I have not, therefore, abandoned my culture and disappeared.
Originally posted on ~~Voyageur Heritage~~ The French Canadian Cultural Alliance of the Great Lakes:
Why pride? Why French-Canadian Heritage Week? What’s all the fuss?
A cultural attribute that often comes up when I have conversations with other French-Canadians, Métis, and Franco-Americans about identity is the way we often tend to “not make a big deal” of things. As a culture we have tended, in the USA at least, to avoid confrontation with church, state, and industry. Wherever this comes from — inborn humility, self-deprecation, a history of living under harsh authorities — it means that as the generations pass, we lose touch with our culture and our history. It means we may even lose touch with our ancestry. Effectively, while all around us other ethnic and religious groups thrive with major celebrations and community centers brimming with pride, French-Canadians fade into…
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