Identify Yourself Tuesday, Apr 29 2014 

The ladies are yammering about identity. Too many of the seemingly random readings I’m coming across raise slant questions to a perennial one my own mother frequently asked: Who do you think you are?

With mom (Aurore Orise Brunelle, grand-daughter of Parmelie Ledoux), the question was really more about a child acting with hubris, something that would challenge the gods of the French to rain down corrective lessons. That wasn’t something one wanted to invite into one’s life.

It’s a different question now, this Who do you think you are?

Are you what the dominant culture defines you as or are you what you feel inside? Or both? Or more? Or none of the above? Do you have to have a certain genome, untainted by epigenetic transformations or come from a certain place or be descended from certain people? Or be born someplace, or live there for some amount of years, or generations?

Did Marie-Reine Charpentier become Canadienne when she left Paris at age 13 to come to New France to marry? Was Marie Vigneau (born in Beaubassin, Acadie, and married on Iles St. Pierre et Miquelon, France) always Acadienne? Was Anne Pastourel (born in Boucherville, wet-nurse in Detroit, married in Montreal, and died in Trois Rivieres) always Canadienne? Was Parmelie Ledoux a French-Canadian because of where she was born (St. Octave in Rimouski) or a Franco-American because of where she died (Worcester MA)?

I imagine these women sitting around an old wood farm table in a French Nanog where they enjoy a grand chuckle at the confusion and questions they raise in their offspring – some French-French and some French-Other. “Just when you think you know us, here’s something else to think about: you can’t believe everything you read or think. You’ll get to know some things about us, some of which will even be true. Tee hee hee.”

What provoked this meandering of mind was a snippet in the September 27, 2013 The Week (p. 6) — okay, I am a bit behind in reading — in which Kashmir Singh, a Sikh community leader points out that he’s lived in Quebec for 40 years then asks “Am I Québecois, or not?”

I know that if he were the husband of my third cousin’s sister-in-law’s aunt, I’d say ‘yes’ without thinking. And thank him for diversifying the gene pool. But I’m not so sure that living in a place for 40 years is a priori proof of identity. I wonder next: does that make me provincial/narrow-minded/bigoted/limited? For heaven’s sake, do you have to belong to people rooted in a geographic place for hundreds of years to wear a tribal moniker? And if one or more of your generations leave that geographic homeland, do you lose your tribalness? When do you belong? When do you un-belong?

I’ve lived in Orange, Massachusetts for 28 years and am still considered an outsider by people born here, even more so by people whose parents and grandparents were born here. Though I’ve been going to Cape Cod for more than 50 years and have some deep emotional ties and one-week of property there, I’m there considered a “wash ashore,” a person who doesn’t really understand “Cape-ness.” This does give me an inkling of and kinship with Mr. Singh’s frustration.

Even plants have to struggle to be considered resident in the U.S culture. Plantain came to Massachusetts with the English colonists hundreds of years ago, and, yet, though this “white-man’s footprint” is ubiquitous in lawns and sidewalk cracks, it’s still an “introduced species.”

Well, isn’t everything? It’s not like we’re still stewing in some primordial soup waiting for life to emerge or watching pterodactyls sore across the horizon in our early primate forms.

Which thought then reminds me of a conversation I had with my Cape Cod pal Valerie Lane one August retreat. (Marie Vigneau was yammering for mental attention then.) We were wondering why we have affinities and affiliations for some places and people and not for others within our own families. What is it about the stories of some lives that rivet attention while others at best disinterest and at worst remain invisible?

Each question leads to more questions to revisions of thought and knowing to more questions and more revisions. Each step seems to reveal more about the “not known” than the “known.”

I can hear the ladies now: Aah. Now, you’re finally listening. Tee, hee, hee.

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Diaspora and Coming Home Monday, Aug 26 2013 

I’ve just finished Christopher Hodson’s (https://history.byu.edu/Pages/Faculty/Hodson.aspx) inspiring new and first book The Acadian Diaspora. Wow. It is, for me, the beginning of understanding the deeper story of the consequences of being uprooted from your people and of being scattered hither and yon. And how I came to find it seems a bit like the wandering route of the ancestors to get back to their roots.

There I was in late July, looking in my family history files for the Comeau line so that I could keep a year-old promise to Cousin George to send him what I had about the link to our patriarch Pierre (married to Rose Bayols in 1649 in Port Royal, Acadie). I was still trying to find my way back to listening to “the ladies” when Marie Vigneau stepped forward demanding attention. There she sat on a branch of the genogram, a grand-daughter of Marguerite Comeau, who was herself a grand-daughter of Pierre and Rose. What did it mean that Marie married in 1764 on the still-owned-by-France islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon?

So, I “googled” her and her parents (Jean-Baptiste Vigneau and Agnes-Anne Poirier) and came upon Jacques Maurice Vigneau who was something of a Moses to a group of Acadians who were first deported to Georgia. Lo and behold, up pops Marguerite Comeau, his mother, and her husband Maurice Vigneault, grandparents of Marie. That made Jacques, known to the British colonists in Boston as Jocky Morris according to Hodson (p. 59), her uncle. Jacques’ story, told through Hodson, became my story.

What an eerie feeling to be reading a history of a people only to discover that you are reading a history of your people.

The kicker was that I was reading this part of Hodson’s book as I sat on the Lower Marshview deck at Craigville on Cape Cod. Note that this is in Barnstable County. So, when I read that Vigneau and his extended family (100 Acadians) in the spring of 1756 headed up the Georgia coast in old canoes (p. 59) past “both Carolinas and New York before the alert residents of Barnstable, Massachusetts, had the group arrested” (p. 60), I felt stunned. Seriously? The ancestors of the people in this place that I love arrested my ancestors?

What do you do with something like that? I’m still sorting it out, but I suspect that Marie would like to state her opinion about what it was like to wander hither and yon.

I’m listening.