LACONIA — Tourists crossing the Canadian border into Quebec are greeted with “Bienvenue,” the French word for “welcome,” and the phrase on local license plates, “Je mesouvenir,” meaning “I remember remember”.
It has been the provincial motto since 1868, when the Prime Minister of Canada added “I remember” to a coat of arms sent to the nation by Queen Victoria of England.
Today, these words have a special meaning for people of French descent who live in and around the city – once a magnet for French-Canadian immigrants who came to work in the textile mills.
Now, for the dozen people who belong to the French club at Taylor Community, and 10 more who come to a French language club at the Gilford Library, they sum up an ongoing mission: to keep family culture and history alive. and transmit a beloved language to others.
“I was a French major and a French teacher and I know how important it is to keep your heritage,” said Rose-Marie Robichaud, whose family is originally from Nova Scotia, when the maritime region called Acadia. “Keeping the language is a way to help me keep this heritage alive. At my age, it’s close to my heart,” said Robichaud, who co-founded Taylor’s club 10 years ago, open to all ages, including people who don’t live with Taylor. “We have such a good time and we laugh a lot. It keeps the language alive in all of us.
A conduit from the past to the present that works today
Almost all Americans have multiple identities. As immigrant, native, or naturalized citizens, they also have ethnic, cultural, and religious ties that they came with or inherited from older family members. In a melting pot society where diversity and varied perspectives are strengths, these roots also provide grounding, social connections and a sense of place in time and in the world. Speaking an additional home language may be one way to do this.
“My heritage is important to me,” said Laconia-born Mariette Facques, who spoke French in the city’s Catholic schools and later studied French language and literature as a scholarship student at Rivier College in Nashua. Now retired, Facques frequents Taylor’s French Club and leads a similar group at the Gilford Public Library. “I am very proud of my family. When I die, my legacy will not be lost.
To bring French heritage to life for the youngest members of the family, Facques took his daughter, two daughters-in-law and three granddaughters this summer to visit the home of their ancestor Gabriel Gosselin – the oldest home today. in Quebec. Built in 1683, it now houses the Cotes a Cotes restaurant. After going through the history and genealogical records, Facques learned that nine generations of the Gosselin family lived in this house, including one of his ancestors, Clément Gosselin, who spied on the British for General George Washington during the war. of independence.
While in Quebec, the Facques family visited four other homes that Gabriel Gosselin owned on nearby Île d’Orléans – a place laden with descendants of Gosselin, including distant relatives.
Ten years ago, Facques made the same trip with the men and boys of his family. This made everyone feel their connection to French-speaking Canada, as well as their ancestral place in American history.
“It was on my to-do list and it was awesome,” she said.
Cultural identity and family roots, including native languages, are important to Americans arriving in the United States to begin life in a country that is essentially a tapestry of ethnic and racial groups stitched together in a sprawling place by shared experiences, hopes, goals and hard work. . In Laconia and Manchester, the story of French Canadians who migrated south to work in factories during the Industrial Revolution is one of hardship, triumph and channeled strength. Between newcomers and longtime residents, there is a ready-made bond: others who speak the same first or second language and can share meals, photos and treats from the past and laugh together.
“It means a lot to me to promote the language to two different groups,” said Facques, who now uses French to converse by phone and email with her husband’s family members who live in northern France. “It’s a good thing intellectually to be able to speak two languages. Being bilingual allows you to communicate with so many more people.
French clubs attract people from different backgrounds and walks of life
Few know this perhaps better than Assou Sagara who in 2012 emigrated from Mali, a West African country, where French is the official language. He has been in the United States for five years, speaks English, and discovered Taylor’s French club while working at McDonald’s delivering coffee and donuts to the club, whose president invited him to join.
Today, Sagara, who trained as a French teacher, works as a housekeeper at the Concord—Laconia hospital. He has been a member of the Taylor Club for three years and feels like home away from home. Meetings are held in English and French, with first-time and expert speakers, including people born in Austria and England who learned French at school, but not at home. For Sagara, it fulfills an important role: the conversations in English with the group and the side-by-side translations in English and French of what they read in turn help him to deepen his knowledge of English.
“This group has everything I need to know,” said Sagara, who recently became an American citizen. “People here are so nice. Before coming here, I heard that black people are not liked” in America. “That’s not true.”
Joan Denne, who lives in Taylor, served in the Peace Corps in Dominica and joined the French club to learn and practice the language that filled her ears while living and working in the Caribbean island nation.
Joe Picard’s parents emigrated from different parts of French-speaking Quebec and arrived with noticeably different accents. But the last time Picard, who is 97, spoke the language before joining the Taylor club was with his father 30 years ago. For him, the French group offers an enjoyable social outing, plus a nostalgic immersion.
“Coming from Quebec, my parents did not speak English. I learned to speak French before I spoke English,” he said. But the community where he lived had no French church or schools, and he never took French classes.
“I had a hard time getting back into the rhythm,” said Picard, who lives in Taylor. “It’s almost like the old adage, ‘Use it or lose it’.” “You really have a variety of people.”
“Before, I spoke French. Then I lost it,” said Rena Fitts, a Laconia native who attended French-language Sacred Heart School from grades two through eight, whose parents were French-speaking. Once they died, she didn’t get a chance to use it again, so it feels like starting all over again. “They translate and make it interesting.”
“A lot of people who are on it have seen their French improve,” Robichaud said, adding that members enjoy socializing and learn a bit about a lot of topics when they take turns reading articles from the Boston Herald. translated into French, provided by the member. Rocher Drouin. They read French literature, including “The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince)”, a classic of political philosophy. The group has songs with lyric sheets printed in French from La Bonne Chanson, a collection of traditional songs that some club members learned in French-speaking schools. Video call slide presentations reach members at home, including a Taylor resident who lives in the south of France for six months every year.
Friedl Scimo, originally from Austria, married an American and learned to speak English when she moved here. She learned French in Vienna while attending a Lycée Français school.
“It’s my European connection,” said Taylor resident Scimo. “My French is just good enough” to understand and be understood. But the main value of the club is friendship.
“I’m not a morning person,” she said, “but if I don’t get up and come here, things aren’t right in the world.”
The club which meets Thursday afternoons at 4pm at the Gilford Public Library is a mix of travelers who want to improve their spoken French and others who have heard French at school or used by members of their family. Many are trying to reconnect with their roots.
At the library, Karen Boucher-Rousseau recently shared information she unearthed on Ancestry.com about a member of her French-Canadian family, Nicholas Perrault, around 1660.
“I’m doing this for my kids,” said Boucher-Rousseau, a retired nurse and school counselor who lives in Laconia. “It’s like detective work. When you read about it, your family becomes alive for you.
The Taylor Community French Club meets Fridays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and is open to members throughout the Lake District.
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