Multiculturalism, ethnicization and other identity considerations

A few months ago, I met a Canadian from Ontario by chance abroad. We spoke, in English. Then, driven by a certain proximity to me, he ended up telling me: “I am French Canadian. » He had a French-speaking last name, an English-speaking first name, and he did not speak French. The same for his mother: they never spoke French at home, but they were “French Canadians”. It was there that I understood that Canadian multiculturalism, marginal in Quebec, maintained a serious problem of ethnicization and racialization: I felt no national empathy for this person who spoke to me of an ethnic bond, in English.

Discussions over the past few days reveal that this phenomenon of strengthening the ethnic group is spreading in Quebec. We see this both in the examples presented by Jean-François Lisée in his column of February 24 and in the reactions to them. There would be a French-Canadian ethnic group… the “Kebs”. On the one hand, degrading anti-Kebs behavior produces the Quebec ethnic group, or renews it, by recounting it, mocking it, degrading it, distinguishing it. Then, on the other hand, we react without surprise with a “we”, which defends itself, and I am one of them. One bent of this group, however, is ethnonationalist, that is, they think “in pure wool.”

What we see at work is a very classic process of Canadian ethnicization. To fully understand it, you must reread Hubert Aquin and his text from the 1960s, “ The cultural fatigue of French Canada »published in May 1962 in the journal Freedom. We understand that already at the time, attempts were being made to ethnicize Quebec. The author tells how Trudeau Sr., “PET”, tried to project an ethnic reality onto Quebec. Aquin, justifying himself by the history of the great migrations of the 19the century, from which he himself came, retorted: “The nation is not, as Trudeau suggests, an ethnic reality. There are no more ethnic groups, or very few. » It is in particular for this concern for inclusion and historical accuracy that the term “Québécois” would have been adopted.

And Aquin has perhaps never been so right. So-called pure Quebecers are very rare, or largely mixed. These mixtures are multiple: Irish, Scottish, Indigenous, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Chilean, Chinese, German, Alsatian, Senegalese, Moroccan, Algerian, and many others. In truth, there are “very few” pure wools. One of the reasons explaining the impression of this isolated ethnic sphere is in particular the perpetual minoritization of federal Canada, describing Quebecers as “French Canadians”. The Ontario anecdote recounted above is perhaps the culmination of this ethnicizing determination. Then, it is also Canadian multiculturalism which tells new Quebecers that they are immigrants and not Quebecers, and even that they must live with their differences.

There is also a historical phenomenon that perpetuates the “pure wool” impression. It must be understood that Quebec’s approach to reception was for a very long time the adoption of French, and even the francization of family names. This Frenchization renews the perception of a single “pure wool” ethnic group. Thus, the historian Simon Jolivet reports that 30% of Quebecers have Irish origins. And that’s just the Irish. What should we do with other ethnic groups or Frenchized English who have adopted “pure” names (Farnsworth becoming Phaneuf)?

The objective here is not to say that Quebec identity does not exist, or even to completely get rid of the concept of ethnicity. Nor is it about inviting everyone to reconnect with their “true roots”. On the contrary, my text is an invitation to embrace Quebec culture and defend it. Let us think of Aquin: he explains to us how the Quebec nation is based on a common language and culture, and not on ethnicity.

The ethnonationalists and anti-Kebs, who are probably a minority, are partly right. Ethnonationalists are right to defend Quebec culture, but are wrong to confuse culture, ethnicity and nation. The anti-Kebs are right to denounce a problematic integration (major cuts in francization and integration under the PLQ; contradictory Quebec-Canada injunctions), but they are wrong to imagine a non-existent and contemptible Quebec culture. By not making these differences, the two groups find themselves in the same camp: they imagine a multicultural world, where Quebec culture is sealed, unattainable, and apparently acquired by blood and parents. Should we not, instead, put these differences aside, and think of ourselves together?

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