Maine’s future is based on understanding its cross-border past. 
Though I was honored to receive membership in the Franco-American Hall of Fame at the Maine State Legislature, such recognition can be a distraction from the more important issue of reforming Maine’s K-12 education to provide a balanced view of our state’s history and heritage.
For that reason, I support LD 422, “An Act to Include the Study of Franco-American History in the System of Learning Results.”
I was born in Lewiston and raised in Augusta. After high school, I left the state and spent 20 years in Alaska. When I returned, I entered the Canadian-American Studies program at the University of Maine. I received a Fulbright Scholarship in 1994 and went to Laval University in Quebec City, where — as a Maine Franco-American — I was treated as a Quebec resident and given in-province tuition.
I had originally left Maine in 1967, in part, because I didn’t feel I fit in here. There was always this sense that if you were French, you didn’t belong. Finding myself back in Maine 27 years later, I was a single father, raising my 4-year-old son. I wanted him to be in an environment in his formative years that was conducive to his identity and self-esteem. In Quebec, we walked on streets named after our ancestors, saw statues built to honor them, and my son studied their history in elementary school.
We returned to Maine in 2000, my new job teaching in the town where I was born — Lewiston. I’m the scholar attached to the Franco-American Collection and director of Franco-American Studies at the University of Southern Maine. Every day I interact with students wishing to learn about their heritage.
English history is well-covered in Maine’s history books. Our Wabanaki brothers and sisters have established Native American history in the Maine learning results. However our Franco-American history is ignored. The latest scholarly book on our state’s history, “Maine: The Pine Tree State,” has no section on Franco-Americans. As a remedy, Professor Nelson Madore of Thomas College in Waterville and I produced “Voyages: A Maine Franco-American Reader.”
This deficiency is also the reason for my proposing the bill under consideration to its sponsor, Rep. Brian Bolduc, which he has strongly carried forth into the Legislature.
Many peoples have contributed to Maine’s history. I merely ask Franco-American history be integrated into existing school programs. This is not hard to do. We have two fine academic programs in Franco-American Studies at the University of Southern Maine and at the University of Maine. We have the bilingual newspaper, Le Forum, at the University of Maine, as well as the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine and the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. There are also many community-based heritage organizations to draw upon.
And consider some facts: The first known European visitors to Maine were members of the French expedition under Verrazzano in 1524, and the French were the first of the two founding European groups in Maine, settling on Ste. Croix Island in 1604.
Franco-Americans are the largest ethnic group in Maine, outnumbering even the English, as of the 2000 U.S. Census; up to 50 percent of people born in Maine have Franco-American ancestry.
Franco-Americans are different from immigrant communities, since their roots are here in the New World — in Maine and the Borderlands. They did not arrive through Ellis Island. Indeed, the French, like the English and Spanish, are the only Euramericans with political states in North America.
Most important, my support of this bill is based on present and future needs. Maine’s economy is tied into the regional and global economy. Maine is like an arrow thrust into the side of French Canada and forms a vital bridge to the Franco-American communities of southern New England and New York.
The more our students know about their origins, the better they will engage with this larger world.
Maine’s history is interwoven with Quebec and the Maritimes. Our future is based on a cross-border understanding of our shared past. This bill is an opportunity, not just for me and for Maine, but for our children and grandchildren.

Barry H. Rodrigue, PhD., is associate professor of Franco-American Studies and Scholar of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine.


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