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Generations of assimilation: My journey as a Francophone

Jacq Brasseur
Northwest Territories
Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers (in French only)


One day, during my French class at an immersion school in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, I approached one of my friends to ask her what she was doing that weekend. I asked her this in French. She replied to me with a confused look and asked, "Why are you speaking French?"

It was then I realized that my passion for the French language, which probably had roots in my paternal grandfather's French-Canadian heritage, was very unusual for a student in an academic immersion program. Since that moment, I've devoted myself to the French language.

Two years after finishing high school, I was approached by the coordinator of Jeunesse TNO, an organization under the Fédération franco-ténoise, to sit as a board member for the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française (FJCF). When I called my mother to share the news with her, she asked me, "Do they know you're an Anglophone?"

At that moment, my understanding of what an "Anglophone" was, was very different from the one I have today. Today, I proudly identify as a Francophone, and let me tell you why.

Three years later, I'm still continuing my mandate as a member of the FJCF board of directors and as a representative of the Northwest Territories within a national community of young Francophones. The opportunity to meet other young activists, not only in the field of language activism but also in the areas of indigenous rights, student rights and human rights, is an opportunity that I cherish.

It was last September when I truly discovered my Francophone identity. I was at a convention for the Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF), and after having spoken with a number of Francophones, I started to really ask myself questions about my own linguistic heritage.

My grandfather, Joseph Brasseur, son of a Cajun woman and a Québécois man, lived in Lampman, Saskatchewan. There were other Francophones in Lampman, and my grandfather successfully resisted Anglophone assimilation until the moment when he moved to Outlook at the age of 17.

Outlook was mostly a Norwegian town where there was a lot of anti-French sentiment. For this reason, my grandfather quit speaking French and made the decision to live the rest of his life in English in order to avoid discrimination. He met my grandmother, an Icelandic woman, and together they had five children. It was because of discrimination against French that when my father was born, they gave him a completely Anglophone name: Garth.

Me? I count myself lucky to have a name that symbolizes my Francophone identity, and I thank my parents for this—my Anglophone parents. My grandfather lost his French; and by extension, my father never had the opportunity to share his culture and linguistic heritage with me, his daughter.

Today, I identify as a Francophone. I ask myself why other Francophones explain la Francophonie as if the only criterion for being Francophone is to have French as your first language. Why is it that the Anglophone world's ability to assimilate other languages has the power to determine whether my family and I are Francophone or not? I beg you, please, to re-evaluate what your idea of a "Francophone" is.

Without French immersion, I never would have had the motivation, nor taken the initiative, to learn French and rediscover my heritage. I fight for my right to speak and express myself in French each day, and nobody in my family helps me. They couldn't if they wanted to. I constantly need to resist Anglophone assimilation. It's bad enough that I need to fight this battle without my family; I would like other Francophones to stand with me in solidarity.

If I've learned one thing from my experience in French immersion and throughout my French language activism, it's that within "la Francophonie," there is way more than one single narrative.