March 9, 2016 by The Editor
No, it’s true, despite all of the writing I have done on French heritage cultures in North America for the past few years: I am not a Francophile. I am also not a Francophone. Although I speak the language tolerably well, I am not fluent and do not feel right claiming to be a French-speaker in a comprehensive sense.
‘Francophone’ is a word that should be clear to everyone: it means a person who speaks French. (Although I imagine there could be a debate about whether speakers of Michif or Creole are Francophones.) Francophones live in and come from all over the world. To speak French has no bearing whatsoever on your race, creed, or ethnicity. It is a language. It is the language associated with particular cultures, such as the Québécois culture and the many associated Franco North American cultures descended from the settlers of New France. It is also the ancestral language of many Anglophones in North America.
But what is a Francophile? Generally speaking a ‘-phile’ of any sort is someone who has a deep interest in a particular topic. Think ‘Anglophile.’ An Anglophile is someone who can likely tell you the line of succession of the British Royal family to 50 or 60 people; who can recite the genealogies of monarchs; who have tea sets with Windsor Castle on them; and who love Roald Dahl and Downton Abbey.
But there is one thing an Anglophile is likely NOT and that is English, or broadly speaking, British. They may have ancestry in the British Isles, but that is largely irrelevant. There are Anglophiles and Francophiles around the world. An American who is an Anglophile does not share British or English culture as an ‘insider.’ And that is the key point. To be a ‘-phile’ particularly when it comes to interests in other countries or cultures is to be fundamentally an outsider.
That is why I am not a Francophile vis-à-vis North America’s French heritage. I am not an outsider to French North American culture. I am not an outsider to French-Canadian culture due to the fact that I am not a Francophone, any more than an Anglophone in Quebec is an outsider to Québécois culture. I am a French-Canadian French-Métis American Anglophone born to a 10th generation Great Lakes ‘Canayen’, my father, whose first words included French. I am an advocate for Franco cultures in North America. I have referred to myself as “francogene” because I am part of the French-Canadian/French-Metis ethno-cultural communities. I suspect this is offensive to Francophones who are not French-Canadian and confusing to others who understand “French” in Canada only from a linguistic point of view.
Some time ago, I encountered the idea that because I am Anglophone, I no longer have the right to consider myself French-Canadian. Meanwhile, I have seen articles in the popular press about Anglophone Quebeckers who were labeled French-Canadian merely because they reside in Quebec. These are confusing and mistaken ideas about North American French identities. They are also agenda-based points of view that reflect a multiculturalist worldview premised on language politics. It is reductive reasoning, diminishing Franco esprit de corps and ethnic solidarity to the point of irrelevance.
So let me ask those of you whose work is in building and advocating for Francophones and for the French cultures of North America to refrain from calling Anglophone French-Canadians in Canada and the United States “Francophiles.” We are not outsiders to French North American cultures. I call upon writers, politicians, cultural leaders, and thinkers in French Canada and the wider North American Francophonie community to cease calling people like me, who are Canadien-Français/Métis-Français de souche, by the term “Francophiles.”
There are French-Canadians throughout Canada who do not speak French. There are millions in America as well who deeply appreciate their roots in French North America. For some, appreciation is an appropriate word. It is true to say that many people do not connect with their roots in a meaningful way, but acknowledge them as many Americans and Canadians acknowledge their roots without feeling “German” or “Czech.” This is not a criticism, just an acknowledgement of reality.
But to suggest that those of us who do engage with our French-Canadian, Acadian, Cajun, Creole, and Métis cultures but do not speak French as a primary or even secondary language are therefore only “Francophiles” is wrong. My ancestors did not persist in marrying other French-Canadian Métis and speaking French into the 20th century in order for their late 20th century descendants to be relegated to the status of pawns in Canadian multicultural/language politics.
I try to read a little French every day. I correspond with patient French-Canadian acquaintances on social media who encourage my growth in the use of French. In turn, I encourage others to consider the importance of French to our culture. I emphasize that while fluency in French is not likely to occur among the majority of people born to English-speaking parents, we can still embrace words that resonate. Words like tourtière instead of meat pie. We can understand that Métis means more than “mixed or part Indian.” And we can better spend time worrying less about loss of culture and instead understand that “La Survivance” in the context of the descendants of Nouvelle-France means much more than just ‘survival’ and, importantly, more than just the survival of the French language.