Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (2010), 49, (1), 187–197.


187 Book Reviews Edited by Patrice Proulx History, Culture, and Politics RICHARD, MARK PAUL. Loyal but French: The Negotiation of Identity by French-Canadian Descendants in the United States. East Lans­ ing: Michigan State UP, 2008. Pp. x+388 (pbk). ISBN 0-87013-837-5. French-Canadian immigrants to the United States and their descendants have not fared well historiographically. Unsympathetic historians have portrayed them as priest-ridden, dominated by a politically conservative petit bourgeois elite, and too concerned with preserving their language and ecclesiastical autonomy to bother with much else. More sympathetic histo­ rians have portrayed Franco-Americans as besieged by nativists and Irish bishops, huddling around their churches and ethnic institutions for comfort and safety; for this latter group, the main story is the elite battle between socalled radical and moderate proponents of survivance. Loyal but French, Mark Richard's fine new addition to the historiog­ raphy of Franco-Americans, breaks these molds and falls into neither cate­ gory. Richard's protagonists are ordinary, every-day Franco-Americans in Lewiston, Maine. They join unions, they sometimes strike, they choose to become naturalized U.S. citizens, they marry within and without the com­ munity — and they do so, apparently, with little regard for the ideological battles between radicals and moderates. Rather, as Richard emphasizes throughout his book, they retained their ethnic identity even as they sought to become full Americans. Naturalization, speaking English, participation in American electoral politics, and labor organizing happened at the same time and by the same people as ethnic solidarity, continued Catholic prac­ tice, and the retention of the French language. "French-Canadian descen­ dants," Richard concludes, "became political and cultural members of the host society at their own pace, on their own terms, and largely with their own resources" (252). Richard, who teaches history at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and coordinates the Canadian Studies program there, began Loyal but French as his dissertation at Duke University. Richard is also a Franco-American from Lewiston, and his local interest shines through. While Loyal but French is a valuable addition to the shelves of those who study French-Canadians, Franco-American migrants, and American immi­ gration, it is also a local community study of Lewiston. Richard read through every microfilmed edition of Le Messager, the local French-lan­ guage newspaper, from its founding in 1880 to its final issue in 1968, and at times the book reads as a chronicle of an ethnic community. It is this reliance — perhaps overreliance — on Le Messager that is Loyal but French's main flaw. Richard's subjects — ordinary, working-class individuals — rarely get to speak for themselves; rather, they are mediated by the news­ paper's middle-class reporters and editors. This is understandable, since as

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Author details

Proulx, Patrice