John Henderson

I don’t really have a horse in this race, but I think that if the Franco American Heritage Center adopts a more generic name, Lewiston will lose.

I understand the notion of appealing to a wider audience by removing the “Franco” from the institution’s name, but the name is not the problem. There are enough people of Franco heritage in this area to support this institution as it is currently named and framed. If the center is not attracting enough support, it is because it is not effectively making the “sale” to the Franco heritage community.

I’m not Franco, but I am a culture geek. I like to learn about and experience cultures other than my own, as well as celebrating my own heritages. I am the “general public” you need to attract.

For me (and I speak only for myself) there are two issues that the center must address. First, it must address those members of the Franco community who take themselves too seriously.

Some years ago I met with a group in Lewiston wishing to promote Franco culture. The conversation degenerated into a pointless match about which ethnic group “founded” Lewiston, with the individuals in question making the absurd assertion that it was the French, due to the establishment of “New France.”

First of all, the Androscoggin Valley was in the British colonial sphere of influence, and second, the Irish were in Lewiston in force at least two decades before the French Canadians. This is a fact, not an opinion. Don’t turn off the “general public” by being absurdly over enthusiastic.


The question that the Franco American Heritage Center must effectively answer is, “Why be proud to be Franco?” I am proud of my Irish heritage because my people survived the Great Hunger and overthrew brutal British colonialism to establish their own republic. I love the language, the music, the literature and the sport. Being Irish is fun, even without Mr. Guinness and Mr. Jameson, though they be good company.

So why be proud to be Franco? This is the “sale” that the Franco American Heritage Center has to make; both to those of Franco heritage and the “general public.” If you do, my life as a culture geek is enriched by experiencing what it means to be Franco.

The Franco American Heritage Center also needs a signature event. We used to have those in the Franco-American Festival and the St. John Baptiste parades. Perhaps these events should be revived in a family and child-friendly form. Families might enjoy a Sunday afternoon in June in Simard-Payne Memorial Park with music, dancing and food. The parade could start small, using the paved perimeter path of the park. Perhaps a road race could be staged from the center itself.

The idea would be to create a Franco “St. Patrick’s Day,” where everyone could be Franco for a day. From a participant’s point of view, a festival equals more fun because it is less structured … it is a soft invitation to affiliate with the center. Who doesn’t like fun?

Lewiston does not need to be just another generic town without a past. Lewiston has a past that makes it distinctive — and a good part of that past and distinctiveness is its Franco heritage.

The Franco American Heritage Center must create meaning for individuals of Franco heritage, as well as us in the “general public.”

Why should anyone be proud to be Franco? If the center can answer that question effectively, it will prosper as it is currently named.

John Henderson is an educator in the Auburn School Department and a graduate of Lewiston High School. He has traveled widely, worked in the nonprofit youth development field, and holds a master’s degree in logistics management.

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