Lise Ravary is a columnist and blogger for Le Journal de Montréal
A few months ago, I wrote about the largely white, mostly Francophone and very boring reality of the Montreal area where I live. It came back to me as I pondered the Québec the Parti Québécois wants to build and the accusations of self-loathing thrown at those who do not practice identity nationalism.
Why does it bother me so much? I am a Canadian and I belong to the Québec people. I am proud of my French Canadian roots and of the culture that nurtured me. I grew up in a working class part of town. We did not go to Place des Arts to hear classical music. We watched québécois sit-coms on TV. I am proud to be a native French speaker.
I attended university in English. The experience didn’t assimilate me or turn me into the stereotypical West Island Anglo hag. If anything it reminded me that the Quebec of my dreams would speak French and would work to keep it that way. Like the Danes are proud to be Danish and speak Danish. Since we live amongst some 340 million English speakers, we would all speak English well enough. We would stop believing the canard that only Québec has an original culture.
We would get rid of our inferiority complex. We’ve been around since 1534. We have lived under the British, the most powerful colonial master of its time and yet, our culture and language have remained strong. The biggest threat comes not from immigrants or Anglo Québécois: it hails from Hollywood.
Of course, we would speak and write impeccable French. We need to teach it love and use it with care. And keep our accent brought over from Old France: I like the fact that it bothers the French.
The doors of Québec would be open to all the peoples who share our values of liberty, equality and secularism, but never would we ask them to shed the culture into which they were born. It is sad to meet the child of Italian immigrants who cannot speak Italian.
The Québec of my dreams would host many religions: Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Orthodox, Jews, Evangelicals, Mormons, Wiccans, all living in harmony with the local “Cathatheists,” a homegrown yes-no faith. In a generation or two, curry, cumin and coriander will mix well enough with maple syrup to ensure that the children and grand children of immigrants are as pure laine as those of us with Québécois ancestors.
It takes time to build a Québécois, whether she or he hails from Bordeaux, Casablanca or Shanghai. Speaking the same language only ensures linguistic integration, no more. I am not French. Never been. Never wanted to be. The way of life in France is as alien to me as any other European country. My ancestor, François Ravary dit Francoeur, came to Québec in 1733 from Le Mans, in the Loire region of France. I have never been to Le Mans, and there are many other places on my list of places to see before I die.
As a child, sadly, I was not taught about the authors and the thinkers from other French-speaking countries: African countries, Arab lands, Haiti and other Caribbean nations, Switzerland, Belgium, French South Pacific islands, Romania even. It was always France, France, France. And now, today, it’s all Québec, Québec, Québec.
Secularism would protect the rich diversity of religions. Secularism is about separating church and state, not making religion disappear. Police officers, teachers, judges and other representatives of the state would not be allowed to wear obvious religious signs. At the hospital, you take the doctor you get, male or female, unless you are elderly. You want the windows of our gyms covered because you don’t want to see women exercising ? Cover your own. Want to preach God? Have some serious credentials and obtain a permit, like any other peddler.
It would not be OK to go around in public with one’s face hidden behind a veil or a hood, we’d be quite strict about that. And yes, masks are OK on Halloween, Purim, and on a ski slope.
Montréal will never be a Megapolis. But, what the heck, let’s act big—big like Boston, as Jacques Parizeau used to say. When everyone is the same, it’s as dull as watching paint dry. We need to enrich our art with the creativity of others. We have painted enough rural scenes of the Charlevoix area to last us a couple of centuries. There are many ways to be a Québécois. Otherwise, life here would be so boring.