June 24, 2012 by LeVoyageur
Bonne Fête de St. Jean Baptiste! June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist/St. Jean Baptiste, is the national holiday of Quebec, with the accent on ‘national.’ It is the day for all Francophone Canadians and French Canadians throughout North America to celebrate the music, food, language, and culture of Quebec.
And this is likely to be not just any ordinary national celebration. The past several months have seen increasing protests throughout Quebec as the Liberal government there moved to raise tuition fees on university education. This action spurred a student protest movement that has succeeded not just in raising awareness, but more importantly to their cause and perhaps to the cause of Quebec sovereignty, they have succeeded in bringing the population into the streets.
In the hundreds of thousands, Quebec’s protests of the past months must be the envy of every liberal protest movement in the world. The protests quickly grew as the Quebec government moved to outlaw protests in the guise of Bill 78 passed in May. The Bill claimed to be an attempt to protect the rights of students to an education, but in fact it has galvanized people across Canada who call it regressive and draconian.
The protests have grown, with 100,000 people marching through Montreal for months in a row. They have also grown in scope and have become a vehicle through which the basic direction of Quebec society is questioned. Leaders of the Quebec nationalist movement, including Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois, have emerged as clear winners, as Premier John Charest faces elections by the end of 2012.
In addition to the mega-marches, nightly ‘casserole’ protests have hit the streets of Quebec, and solidarity protests have erupted throughout Canada. People from all quarters have marched in the street, banging on their cooking pots in protest of Bill 78, many wearing a small patch of red cloth which has become the symbol of the student protests.
As a mainly English-speaking American, I watch from a distance with a measure of pride. Growing up, I had a certain awareness of French culture in America. But Quebec seemed the distant land of my ancestors, even if my grandmother went there on pilgrimage. Many of our French Canadian forebears had been living along the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair for centuries by the time the 1980s came along.
But as an adult, I have come more and more strongly to identify with the struggle of French Canada to not only preserve its culture as a heritage, but to direct its own affairs as an independent nation. It has become ever more clear that French Canadian culture is anathema to the Anglophone cultures that surround it. Where it should be just a memory, French Canadian culture persists to them like a wound that never heals; or perhaps more plainly, an unsettled, unfinished conquest.
In places like Michigan where French Canadian culture is often treated like a distant memory, it nevertheless remains. True, without language and family ties, a connection to Quebec has grown tenuous over the years. Yet French Canada remains a source of pride and identification, resisting total assimilation in America; thus it must be acknowledged that French Canadian culture is firmly rooted in the US as well as Canada. And it is derived not from Canada generally, but from the small French Canadian émigré communities that formed throughout the provinces over the centuries, such as Pointe-aux-Roches, Ontario, the hometown of my great grandparents. And it should be acknowledged that its source is ultimately Quebec itself.
Americans of French Canadian heritage have many reasons to be proud of their ancestry. And they also have reason to support Quebec as a free and independent French-speaking nation. It is where we come from. It is part of who we are. Our ancestors did not emerge unscathed from a benevolent rule of British governors and generals. They survived despite them. French Canadian culture is part of North America. To the people of Quebec I say, as a renewed Quebec sovereignty movement emerges in 2012, I am here, your American cousin, to support it. It makes a difference to us that Quebec remains French.