UMaine publication highlights Franco-American experiences

Posted July 11, 2010, at 7:24 p.m.

For more than 35 years, the Franco-American Center at the University of Maine has published a wonderful quarterly of writings that illuminate the Franco-American experience.

Originally FAROG, now Le Forum, the journal offers stories of growing up in Franco families, art, music, poetry, genealogy, historical articles, recipes and what’s happening in other states, such as Connecticut, Minnesota, Missouri and Massachusetts.

If you haven’t read Le Forum, or you know of it but haven’t seen it recently, the spring 2010 issue is a gem.

It starts with the sad news that Irene Simoneau died recently at age 69 in Bangor, but then shares her legacy with a few of her writings from 1974 to 2008. They are special.

The first, “Environmental Protection and Our Endangered Species: The Franco-American Case,” outlines the downside of a melting pot:

“Our heritage melts before our eyes and still we cannot see the loss. A culture will die: its language, its customs, its songs, its sense of the tragic and comic in life. Perhaps we’ll find it again in the archives, perhaps not.”

In 1977, Simoneau wrote about being born Mary Irene Simano, a Franco-American girl with an Italian-sounding name in Lowell, Mass. Eventually she legally changed her name to Irene Marie Simoneau, the way her grandparents spelled their surname — and went on to tell readers how they could do the same.

In the 2008 piece, Simoneau wrote that although she hadn’t been aware of discrimination growing up, she was certainly able to look back and see it “in my life and community.”

This is a wonderful grouping of Simoneau’s writings.

Anne M. Cormier’s Acadian background as a child in Van Buren informs her life as a writer, now the author of a novel, “Mission.”

For Le Forum, she wrote about registering to start school in the 1950s, quickly picking up the emphasis on using English rather than French.

“What’s your name?” she was asked by her teacher, a family friend whom she knew well spoke French.

Not sure she was ready to jump into English, Cormier said quietly, “Tu sais mon nom” (You know my name).

The conversation went back and forth like that for a bit.

And what do you know? At home, her French-speaking parents switched to English, as well, “because they thought it important, in that way, to help me do well in school.”

Cormier puts that tactfully, whereas many others of the same era would say plainly that in school the message was plainly that speaking French was wrong.

Other articles in the 55-page issue include “The Three Franco-American Monuments in the Promenade Champlain, Quebec” and “14 Months of the New Board of the Societe Historique Franco-Americaine,” both by Albert J. Marceau of Newington, Conn.; and “The Germain Saga,” by S. Ella Marie Germain, CSJ.

The Duperon-Dapron family of Missouri is the subject of “Of Days Gone By,” by Harry Dapron.

Bob Chenard’s “Franco-American Families of Maine” continues with the Marquis Family, using a particular way of organizing marriage records to follow a family. It is the same method that Brother Eloi Gerard Talbot used in his volumes on Bauce, Dorchester and Frontenac, and also in the series on Montmagny, L’Islet and Bellechasse. Maine State Library in Augusta has these books.

Some of the articles in Le Forum are in English, some in French and some have both translations, such as Virginia Sand’s poems.

Lisa Desjardins Michaud is the editor of Le Forum, which is a most special publication. It shows and shares what you cannot find in mere names and dates.

Subscriptions to Le Forum are $20 in the United States, $25 elsewhere and $40 to libraries.

Purchase a subscription for yourself and give a gift subscription to someone you hope will preserve his or her Franco-American heritage.

Send checks to Centre Franco-Americain, Universite du Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5719.

For more information, visit francoamericanarchives.org. Click on Le Forum to see recent issues of the journal.

Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or e-mail queries to familyti@bangordailynews.com

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