Franco Americans: A Group Oppressed, a History with Psychotherapy Techniques
I have always been detached from my bloodline, my heritage, my multi cultural experience. I have always felt like a mixed breed without strong cultural identity or tradition. I have been told that I have Native American, French Canadian, Scottish, Irish, and German ancestors. I always held on to that 1/16 Native American Cherokee line that passes through my maternal grandfather by his ‘full blooded’ Cherokee grandmother. The medieval Conwy Castle in Wales that traces my namesake, Conway, to a Welsh castle built for Edward I in 1280s has always sent me dreaming of a royal heritage. Yet my white identity development requires my racial self-awareness. To be a competent multi cultural counselor is to know thyself and ask, “What does it mean to be white?”
In beginning my white identity research, I reconnected with family members and have found that actually I am not the queen of a castle or Cherokee princess but that the majority of my heritage is recorded as far back as 1400 France. My father recorded the long line of French ancestors and then settlers that travelled from France to New France. Franco American cultural identity presents an opportunity to explore the construction of white ethnicity in North America (Langellier, 2002).
I am Acadian. The name Acadia was first used by the French to differentiate the eastern side of New France (Nova Scotia) from the west which began with the St. Lawrence valley and was named Canada (Doughty, 1922). Where Acadia ended and Canada began was never clearly defined and thus became the cause of French and English conflict for several decades.
The Francois Coste family of my paternal grandmother, hails from the Martigues, Maraseille area of France. The Coste family migrated to Port Royal, Nova Scotia between 1672-1695 according to family documents. The family of Jean Fougere, with wife Marie Bourg, a branch from the same paternal grandmother came from the Diocese of Orleans, France, migrating to Cape Breton Island between 1691-1720. Prior to my ancestors travel towards Acadia, settlements appeared to thrive, “In 1667 Acadia was restored to France from English rule and by 1685 the population had doubled” (Doughty, 1922). In 1670, the King of France designed a law to increase the population of New France: “any household who had ten living children all under one roof would receive a yearly pension of 300 pounds from the government”. The population doubled every two decades and the legacy of the large French family endures (Langellier, 2009).
Peace wasn’t to last, 1690 saw the outbreak of another Anglo-French war and in 1702 Queen Anne of England declared war against France and Spain. Despite war, the population of Acadia had grown to about 2,100 people by 1710, and “they were a strong, healthy, virtuous people sincerely attached to their religion and traditions. The most notable singularity of their race was stubbornness. The Acadians were content with the product of their labor and having few wants, they lived in perfect equality and with extreme frugality” (Doughty, 1922). In 1713, The Treaty of Utrecht set at rest the question of the ownership. Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island and the other gulf islands were in the hands of the French while Nova Scotia or Acadia was passed to the British crown” (Doughty, 1922).
The Great Diaspora of 1755 left Acadians completely unprepared for the devastation to come.
“By the King’s orders you are convened to hear His Majesty’s final resolution in respect to the French inhabitants of this his province of Nova Scotia……Thus it is peremptorily His Majesty’s orders that all the French inhabitants of these districts be removed; and through His Majesty’s goodness I am directed to allow you liberty to carry with you your money and as many of your household goods as you can take without discommoding the vessels you go in. I hope that in whatever part of the world your lot may fall, you may be faithful subjects, and a peaceable and happy people.”
-given at Grand-Pre, 2nd September 1755 John Winslow (Doughty, 1922)
Now deprived of all they held dear, the French were sent adrift as wanderers and exiles (Doughty, 1922) and my ancestors were sprinkled throughout the Acadian province in Port Royal, St. Peter’s, Cape Breton Island, Annapolis Royal, Ile Royale, and Port Toulouse. Some were brutally deported from eastern Canada to the Atlantic coast of the United States (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005).
Deportation and exile did not bring peace to Nova Scotia. The Acadians who sought refuge in the forests and in Cape Breton joined with their Indian allies in guerilla warfare against the British and there became more killing and destruction from Indian raids than ever before (Doughty, 1922).
The Acadians suffered severely. Families and colonies were separated and torn apart, spread among New England and as far south as Louisiana, an estimated 6,000 peoples deported and scattered among British colonies and merged into the general population with a lost identity (Doughty, 1922). The history of Franco Americans is described as “silenced, forgotten, lost, sold, abandoned, translated into English, absorbed, deported, or conquered, still often too poor or working-class, keeping to ourselves, staying out of sight, on the move. And ashamed of ourselves” (Langellier, 2009). In Canada, the French were admonished to ‘speak white’ by British who overheard them using their mother tongue in public, a racist form of ethnic shaming. (Langellier, 2009).Characteristic of oppressed people in colonized countries and with significant parallels in the developed world is the ‘culture of silence’; oppressors in the dominant culture attempt to ‘silence’ through education and other institutions (Hanna, Talley, & Guindon, 2000).
Yet in Nova Scotia, the Acadians were missed by the oppressive British. In 1761, then lieutenant-governor wrote ‘it appears necessary that the inhabitants should be assisted by the Acadians in repairing the dykes for the preservation and recovery of the marsh lands, as the Acadians are the most skillful in the country’ (Doughty, 1922).
The Treaty of Paris, in 1763, brought about peace between France and England and put an end to French power in America. The Acadians were no longer considered a menace and many were able to descend home. The persecution and exile from Nova Scotia required the French Canadians to hide from the English in a psychological sense. “They lived apart and turned in upon themselves in isolated rural settings, dominated culturally as well as religiously by the Catholic Church, they led simple lives and had minimal education” (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005).
My Fougere and Coste families settled for over 200 years in Atlantic Canada between 1670-1890s. “Some Acadians were to wander as exiles in many lands for many years, separated from their children and from their kind, while others, more fortunate, were soon to regain their native soil” (Doughty, 1922). The earliest movement in my family history documents a return to Nova Scotia recorded in 1784, 30 years after the English had exiled the French.
My great grandfather, Jeffrey Elias Levangie, was born in Havre Boucher, Nova Scotia in 1885; he the family heir that migrated to Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1900s to raise his Franco American family. “The people of Massachusetts loved not Catholics and Frenchmen; nevertheless, they received the refugees with especial kindness” (Doughty, 1922). Franco American neighborhoods became known as ‘little Canada’‘les petits canadas’, the safe community where French Canadians congregated upon emigrating to the United States. Les petits canadas were barricades against assimilation, especially the against the English language, Protestantism, and the dominant Irish Catholic hierarchy (Langellier, 2009).
Franco Americans have been shaped by Catholicism, by their language, by dedication to family and work, and by a conservatism that arose from their rural roots (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005). They kept their faith, language, and culture as an ethnic victory.
Their ethnic survival is named la survivance, the passionate effort to maintain French identity in North America. Through sheer stubbornness, French pride, and a long memory, la survivance focused on language retention, strict allegiance to the Catholic Church, parochial schooling and ethnic social organizations (Langellier, 2009). Church power secured French identity through its hold on education, by parochial schools unifying language, faith and customs. These schools anchored the neighborhoods, reproducing rural villages in urban settings to create resistance in assimilation (Langellier, 2009). This devotion to the French language and Catholic faith made Franco Americans the targets of religious hostility and racist attacks. In the 1880s and again in 1920s, French Catholics were the target of cross burnings by the Ku Klux Klan (Langellier, 2009).
Always a hardworking group, even the British could not deny their resilient efforts. The French would “do and make do”. It was said “in our lives nothing is thought, everything is done” (Langellier, 2009). By the 1940s, the Franco community was largely working class in the United States (Langellier, 2009). Despite their work ethic, if we were to take the state of Maine as a relative sample, we would see that Franco Americans lag the rest of the population in earnings and education according to the 2010 census data. Among older French Americans, there is a strong connection between pride in culture and economic success (Long, 2012). Today, Maine’s largest ethnic populous is of French descent, however more than 98 percent of Mainers classified as Franco-American were born in the United States, and “the French language is no longer central to Franco identity (Long, 2012). Of those coming of age Franco Mainers 82% expressed doubts about the value of college and yet 19% identified themselves as unemployed. One clear poll showed how having one family member attend college, spurred others to value education. This has increased emphasis on programs that honor Franco-American heritage and culture toward economic benefits (Long, 2012).
The North American French embodies a cultural identity that has persisted for 400 years, enduring as a ‘quiet presence’ of Franco Americans. Franco Americans are twice immigrants, first from France to New France and then from Canada to the U.S. (Langellier, 2009). 200 years of discrimination, oppression, and poverty have shaped the Franco American culture and character that ‘yokes ethnic pride with ethnic shame’. Within the white ethnic hierarchy, Franco Americans have been at the bottom (Langellier, 2009). As recently as the 1980s, young children were place in speech therapy to ‘correct’ their accents writes langellier. Franco Americans tend to distrust even other ethnic groups that have been the target of prejudices as they have suffered abuse and discrimination, the survival of Franco Americans is in their spirit of endurance (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005).
President Clinton’s race advisory board concluded that racial legacies of the past continue to haunt modern policies and practices that create unfair disparities between minority and majority groups (Sue, et al., 2007). Franco Americans have experienced distinct racial disparities and micro aggressions including: alien in one’s own land, ascription of intelligence, denial of individual racism, anthologizing cultural values, communication styles, second class status and environmental invalidation.
“Oppression is related in some way or another to most of the problems presented to counselors” (Hanna, Talley, & Guindon, 2000). For effective counseling to occur, states Sue, et al (2007), a positive coalition must develop between the counselor and client and working with clients who differ from the therapist in race, ethnicity, religion, culture and sexual orientation can pose special challenges. Franco Americans emphasize conformity, respect for authority and institutions, family loyalty, religious traditions, hard work and emotional self-control (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005).Anger is often a hidden emotion within the family and is either not allowed or vented passive aggressively; when anger does erupt, silence, slamming doors, or self punishment are common expressions(McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005).
Today the French speaking population in this country is concentrated in mainly the northeast and in Louisiana, yet it is the third language group in the united states. Counselors in these areas have a primary need to raise their cultural consciousnesses about the French American experience(Hagel, 1978).
In France, counseling looks very different than in the US. Professionals in the fields of counseling have different qualifications and often act as either vocational counselors or counseling psychologists (Bernarud, Cohen-Scali, & Guichard, 2007).
The word ‘counseling’ in French is often misunderstood. The closest translation is ‘conseil’ which literally means advice. For the French, counseling is far removed from the idea of therapy. Counseling is sometimes scorned and absent from some mental health manuals, at times presented as a quick fix remedy. (Bernarud, Cohen-Scali, & Guichard, 2007)and Counseling psychology textbooks commonly referenced do not exist in the French language. (Bernarud, Cohen-Scali, & Guichard, 2007)
Little has been published on psychotherapy with Franco Americans. (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005) The increasing federal support for French bilingual education programs and dissemination of Franco oriented publications point to the need for the study of Franco American culture. This study can greatly enrich the cross cultural experience of the counselor and client as well as foster renewed self awareness and pride. (Hagel, 1978)
The French have a long history of self help. Personal problems were considered too intimate to share with a therapist ‘stranger’. Working the problem out on one’s own or tolerating it is still a common ethic. Franco Americans are tentative in therapy and interventions may take time. The more pragmatic a therapists advice is, the more likely the client will return. Given the family’s apprehension and resistance, the therapist’s ability to establish rapport is paramount. Franco Americans have traditionally led private lives, characterized by persistence, “a spirit of independence and resourcefulness” (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005)
The most common defense mechanisms are denial, displacement, sublimination and rationalization. They may have a tendency to scapegoat, assume the martyr. the therapist may begin ‘intensive brief therapy’ only by the third or fourth session when the qualities of ‘survivance’ persistence, endurance and tenacity have been invested in the therapeutic bond. Crisis brings a need for practical behavioral solutions and A cognitive behavioral approach tends to be effective. (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 2005)
Most French ancestors rarely wish to discuss their ethnicity in treatment, according to mcgoldrick,et al. (2005). And reject an early emphasis on ethnicity in family therapy. However, if the therapist refuses to acknowledge the significance of racism or ethnicity in treatment, the alliance between therapist and client will breakdown. The willingness to discuss racial matters is of central importance in creating a therapeutic alliance. (Sue, et al., 2007) it is often pointed out that when clinician and client differ from one another along racial lines, the relationship may serve as a microcosm for troubled race relations in the us. (Sue, et al., 2007) often unintentional micro aggressions occur that pose the biggest challenge to the majority of white mental health professionals that have not developed their own white identity and are unintentional an unconscious in expressing their bias. Cultural competence requires racial self-awareness. (Sue, et al., 2007) As a result of having little or no awareness of their ethnic history, Franco Americans ‘make family sized stories into group sized stories” an over generalizing that takes away from their history and cultural identity. (Langellier, 2009)
There is a correlation between cultural pride and success, With traditional institutions — such as the church, workplace and family — that passed along cultural knowledge from generation to generation losing influence, integrating studies of Franco-American cultures, would be beneficial because “having a strong sense of who you are and where you come from means you’re more likely to be successful,”(Long, 2012) Being cognizant of white racial identity development to identify racial micro aggressions as nearly all interracial encounters are prone. (Sue, et al., 2007)
Bernaud, J., Cohen-Scali, V., & Guichard, J. (2007, January). Counseling Psychology in France: A Paradoxical Situation.Applied Psychology,56(1), 131-151. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2007.00281.x
Doughty, A. G. (1922).The Acadian Exiles, A Chronicle of the Land of Evangeline(Vol. 9, pp. 1-161). Toronto, Canada: Glasgow, Brook & Company.
Hagel, P. L. (1978, April). Resources for the Teaching of Franco-American Culture.The Modern Language Journal,62(4), 182-186. doi:10.2307/324353
Hanna, F. J., Talley, W. B., & Guindon, M. H. (Fall 2000). The Power of Perception: Toward a Model of Cultural Oppression and Liberation.Journal of Counseling & Development,78(4), 430-439. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2000.tb01926.x
Langellier, K. M. (2009, May 22). Performing family stories, forming cultural identity: Franco American Memere stories. Communication Studies,53(1), 56-73. doi:10.1080/10510970209388574
Long, R. (2012, September 25). Franco-American Mainers lag rest of state in earnings, education, new analysis shows.Bangor Daily News. Retrieved from http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/25/news/state/franco-american-mainers-lag-rest-of-state-in-earnings-education-new-analysis-shows/
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Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (May-June 2007). Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice.American Psychologist,62(4), 271-284. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271
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