Une minorité anglophone dans une minorité francophone? Inception! On vous présente le quotidien parfois surréel de ces communautés isolées, de Québec à Grosse-Île, en passant par Rouyn.
Nina Lauren, Quebec City
Close your eyes. Imagine yourself walking through the streets of New York City. You’re on vacation and you’ve called a friend back home in Quebec to talk about the excitement of the city, and about the parks, museums, and hustle and bustle. Now imagine someone, a New Yorker, taps you on the shoulder and says, “Excuse me. This is America. Speak English.”
This doesn’t happen in New York. But it does in Quebec City.
As an anglophone growing up in the predominantly French neighbourhood of the Quartier Montcalm, I’ve had my share of uncomfortable moments where I felt as if I were trespassing on someone else’s property instead of living in the city in which I was raised.
Growing up in Quebec City in the ‘80s and ’90s, Bill 101 obliged my American parents to send my brothers, my sister, and myself to French-language schools. I never once heard my father complain about the Bill. In fact, he once explained to me how it was an important way for the French to preserve their language and culture. In addition, one of the main reasons my parents moved to Quebec was for their children to have the opportunity to learn French. My father understood the strategy of assimilation that was behind the Bill. He believed in in it so much that he established his own version of the Bill in our home. The rule was simple: English could be the only language spoken in our house. This also meant no television, further limiting the reach of French into our family. We fully embraced French culture outside our home yet his protectiveness of our English language heritage made me understand the fragility of culture and language and how easily they are lost.
Still, my understanding of the situation didn’t relieve any of my struggles as an anglophone teenager trying to define myself in a population trying to find its own identity. At times it was brutal, so much so that I decided to leave Quebec City in my early twenties and move to New York City to pursue an acting career.
New York City’s ethnic diversity astounded me. When my friends would visit from Quebec, I felt reassured, knowing nobody would stare at them in Central Park for speaking French, and no one would ask them to speak English instead.
While I’ve never been attacked for being anglophone in Quebec City, at times I’ve been made to feel shame for speaking my native language. Now, when people say, “Euh? Allo? Scuse, mais t’es au Québec, tu devrais parler Français!” my reply is always, “How rude of you to barge in, you are not included in my conversation.” I say this in English because a little humour eases the sting of conflict, I find.
Today my dad, who still lives in Quebec, and who once obliged his own children to communicate solely in English, no longer chooses to speak to me in English in public. If he wants to say something to me now he speaks to me in broken French. I assume it’s because he’s uncomfortable with the accompanying stares. For me, the looks can be intimidating, but I stubbornly keep responding to him in English. I insist on it because if there’s one thing I learned from my experience growing up in Quebec, it’s to preserve your heritage.
My father is the only person in my family who remains in Quebec. My mother has moved to the States. My sister moved to Australia, and my brothers have also left. I’ve never spoken about it with them and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that they all chose English-language countries to settle in, if they felt the same alienation I sometimes do in Quebec. They all love to visit Quebec, although they never stay for long.
When I eventually settle permanently in New York I’ll never forget my Quebec City roots, but I’ll go knowing that I’m moving to a world-famous city that is vibrant for its music, culture, art and education centres, not in spite of the influx of diverse cultures and languages but because of them.