One year ago, I was getting ready to start my first year of law school. I thought I was ready. I knew that it was what I wanted to do. I also knew that I wanted to study in French. I was really excited to start my first year of law school. I was sure that it would all be alright.
I wasn’t wrong- but I wasn’t right either.
I have two secrets, one surprising and the other one not, for those who know me. The first: because my parents were able to get a certificate for me, I went to a semi-private Anglophone school, to then continue my studies in English until I was 22 years old. The second: before this year, I had always identified myself as Francophone.
Yup you read that right, the Anglophone with the accent, who doesn’t understand the Francophone cultural references, who makes mistakes all the times, who publically identifies herself as Anglophone- had always identified otherwise.
My last name is Fortin. My parents identify as Francophone (and/or as bilingual), and my father even has a little accent when he speaks English. My parents always spoke to me in French. My friends, throughout all of my studies from grade school to McGill, even during two international exchanges, always saw me as Francophone as well. I never doubted this identification, because I never had reason to; I took the identity that reigned at home, and that was that.
Your identity is just that, yours. No one can tell you who you are except yourself.
At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.
My following words represent my experience and my opinion. No one but myself is tied by them, and neither do I pretend to be speaking for anyone else.
We say that our identity belongs to no one but ourselves, and that it is up to us to choose it, but that is not at all what I lived in my first year of law school.
My very first day, I found out that I have an Anglophone accent in French. Not too surprising when you think of it, I had always studied in English after all. But what was surprising, was that that accent immediately labelled me an Anglophone.
I was pretty shocked. I had never identified as Anglophone before. The Fortin family are Francophones, was I not a Fortin?
The more time was passing, the more I was living an identity crisis. People kept commenting on my accent, on my identity, on the fact that I didn’t know the songs, the movies, or the shows that everyone else knew. At that point, obviously I had to be Anglophone, a real Francophone would know!
I felt really alone, and really lost. I had no more identity; I wasn’t good enough to have it. I had an accent- you can’t be francophone, you have an accent. I didn’t know what Cornemuse was (I still don’t, for the record)- aw honey that’s just because you’re Anglophone. I read or turned to doctrine and jurisprudence in English sometimes if I was in a rush because it took me less time- oh you must have trouble reading in French because you’re Anglophone.
There’s a perfect expression for how I kept reacting, but it is not an appropriate one to put in words. But really, who can blame me? I didn’t know who I was anymore. Clearly, our identity does not really belong to us, we don’t even choose it ourselves- it’s the rest of the world that chooses for us.
Losing your identity like that is hard, but it did give me the chance to find a new one: being Anglophone. So yes, I took it, that identity everyone was pushing on me. A bit because I was tired of fighting back and wanted to be left alone, but also because I realized it was true.
Being immersed in Francophone culture (that I do love, I have Alaclair Ensemble in my iTunes now) helped me realize that the way I expressed myself, the way I thought, even my personality traits, are much more aligned with Anglophone culture. Even more so, to be completely blunt, the problems, the struggles, and the worries that I still live with on a daily basis while at the faculty, are shared by other Anglophones (and allophones). We form a little community.
This first year of law school and my existential identity crisis made me realize a number of things- realizations that pushed me to write this opinion piece, to share them. First, identity is formed by much more than our own free will. Two, an identity crisis is a complete waste of time and energy. Three, albeit apparently obvious to everyone else but me, there are still tensions in 2017 between Anglophones and Francophones.
It’s this third realization which motivates me the most. Even in 2017, there exists so many misunderstandings and old stereotypes. Multiple times throughout the year, I had to explain to my Anglophone friends that no, my new Francophone and (sometimes) sovereigntist friends didn’t hate Anglophones. Other times, I had to explain to my new Francophone and (sometimes) sovereigntist friends that no, Anglophones are not against using and speaking French: there’s no risk losing this language even if it’s not the only one spoken. These misunderstandings create nothing but a vicious cycle that helps no one. Anglophones believe that Francophones want them out of the province, and Francophones believe that Anglophones don’t want to protect the French language. This cycle brings absolutely nothing positive, and does nothing but perpetuate the same old stereotypes and tensions that our parents and grand-parents lived through. Isn’t our generation supposed to be better and actually change things?
These opinions will not be shared by everyone, and that’s fine. I’m not asking for that. I’m simply asking that we ask ourselves the question: how can we undo these old ideas and behaviour that no longer reflect the new reality? I might be idealistic (scratch that, I am), but I do really believe that as Quebequers, no matter your first language, we all have interest in breaking down stereotypes and barriers. The reality is that a large majority of Francophones on the one hand, and a large majority of Anglophones on the other, do not think or behave like the other group might imagine. We have to come together- nous devons nous réunir. I’m not talking about assimilation. Linguistic cultures have every interest in protecting themselves, to seek the survival of their communities. It’s their right, and it’s important. But, just like the symbol of yin and yang in Daoism, two separate entities can still come together and have shared ground, all the while staying true to itself.
So, after all of that. Here I am. La petite anglophone avec le nom francophone, having survived a cultural linguistic identity crisis to be comfortable in my skin and in my identity.