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A panel discussion on Franco-American history, culture and literature will be held on Wednesday, October 31, at 4:30 p.m. in the Pugh Center of Cotter Union at Colby College in Waterville. The event will feature four scholars, activists and writers who will explore the history and culture of New England’s Franco-Americans and efforts by activists to preserve their past and revive their heritage.
Author Rhea Côté Robbins was the 1997 winner of the Maine Chapbook Award for her work of creative nonfiction Wednesday’s Child. Robbins is the founder and executive director of the Franco-American Women’s Institute, an organization that promotes awareness of the contributions of Franco-American women to their culture, families and communities. Playwright and activist Greg Chabot is a 1966 Colby graduate, a Waterville native and director of the theater group Les Gens d’à côté. His play Un Jacques Cartier errant has attracted critical attention in the U.S. and Canada.
Ray Pelletier is an associate professor of French at the University of Maine and the associate director of the university’s Canadian-American Center. Susan Pinette is director of Franco American Studies and assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Maine.
Between 1840 and 1930 nearly a million French-Canadian men, women and children crossed the border to work in New England textile, shoe and paper mills. They built churches and parish schools, formed fraternal and mutual aid societies, subscribed to French-language newspapers and maintained their French-Canadian identity rooted in the French language and Catholic faith. Many returned to Quebec with money saved from their mill jobs, but many more remained and gradually adopted a new identity as Franco-Americans. Over generations, most lost their ability to speak French and their sense of a distinct identity.