LEWISTON — A history lesson about Franco-American immigrants turned into a discussion about working hard and meeting new challenges at the B Street Community Center.

Doris Bonneau told Adult Basic Education English class students of the routes immigrants from Quebec took to the northeastern United States, the 10-hour shifts they had in mills and the prejudices they faced throughout Maine.

ABE classes help students to prepare for post-secondary schools such as universities and community colleges.

Bonneau, a retired English teacher and former assistant school superintendent, asked students in the March 6 class to consider the similarities and differences between immigrants to Lewiston today and in the past. A student said he thought Lewiston had more tolerance than years ago.

“That made my heart feel good,” Bonneau said after the class. “I really think we are working hard in this community to assure that there is a certain level of tolerance.”

The pictures she showed of the Lewiston area illustrated how much Franco-Americans built and how they became well known parts of the city. The structures included the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul as well as F.X. Marcotte Furniture.

Bonneau encouraged students to consider ways of furthering their education and remembered how she got her father’s support to attend the University of Maine at Orono.

“I think that is what America is all about. America is about opportunity. People who are ready to work hard,” she said after her presentation.

Bonneau told the students how special and important they were and hoped they further their education and achieve their hopes and dreams.

College Transitions and Adult Basic Education instructor Amy Hatch said many of her students are immigrants and thought they could benefit from finding out they are not alone in their experiences and not the first to arrive in Lewiston from another country.

“The moment I met Doris I knew she had to meet my students and tell them all about the first immigrants that came to Lewiston, Maine, the French Canadians. She is such a wonderful speaker and her connections with the Gendron Franco Center show my students how those first immigrants made their way through and persevered,” Hatch said.

Bonneau serves as volunteer chair of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College and a is volunteer and performer at the Franco Center as a member of the Maine Music Society.

Her presentation was the last part of a local history unit taught by Hatch at the community center, 57 Birch St.

Doris Bonneau speaks to students at the B Street Community Center about Franco-American history earlier this month.

Adult Basic Education students posed for a picture with Doris Bonneau after her class about Franco-American history. In front are Alexander Wilson, Bonneau and Edmundo Kipo; back, Mohamoud Abdillahi, Evandro John, Yussuf Mahamud, Julio Catumbela, Hana Omar and Iqbal Jashaami.


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