I was raised by a separatist. Not a stubborn one, convinced that English Canada's mission is to swallow Québec, chew it up and spit it back out, but a separatist nonetheless. My mother has never advocated the political-economic common sense of separation; it is her cultural heritage, our cultural heritage, she so strongly wishes to preserve.
"Our cultural heritage is akin to that of the French," my mother says. "We have kept our Latin roots," she added, reminding me of French folk songs and tales such as the Fables de la Fountaines which remain with me today.
"There is a québécois identity," she explains, "and perhaps we have a greater sense of belonging to this national identity because we feel we have had to fight so much to preserve it. This struggle, this fight for self-preservation, has been fought out and passed on from generation to generation." And it is from this struggle, my mother explains, that the québécois culture was born and has taken shape in song, literature, cinema, television and so on.
Language is a starting point, she says. After all we are the largest francophone community in the Americas, and as she pointed out, it is with this language, and its charms and intricacies, that the québécois culture is constructed and with that it is infused in our being.
But it is also the issue of language and the fear of losing this mother tongue which has been brought to the attention of so many in government and the media. For some this has made Québec a place and a people of ill repute. It has sparked more than its share of debates, has been the talk of the town, big and small, in every daily and every rag from coast to coast.
Anglophones within Québec's borders are still angered at the mention of Bill 101. This bill mandates that all signs be French, or if bilingual, have a significantly larger french lettering and its English translation be squeezed below, in hopes that it will not offend the passerby. For most Anglos this bill was, and perhaps still is, nothing short of a show of dictatorship from the Québec government; an obstruction to the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill also restricts access to English primary and secondary education. But to québécois hardliners it is simply a means of precaution, a security blanket for the French language; a somewhat clumsy retaliation from a frightened people.
And it is from this fear that the separatist movement was born. "It is simply part of a greater picture," says my mother.
"As a people we feel challenged. It is fear, we fear we do not fit in the great painting that is Canada. We want to be autonomous, we want to chase those fears away."
Without the french language, Québec would only be an insignificant part of a whole, believe nationalist hardliners. We as a people would simply have been engulfed by our surroundings. Without our mother tongue, sovereignty would have no reason to be, no interest, no legitimacy, they say.
The Quiet Revolution also played an important part in shaping our culture, says my mother. After the dark ages of the Dupléssis era, during which the people of Québec were under the bloody claws of the Catholic church, there was a cultural explosion in the province—a liberation of sorts. It was this liberation which allow the formation of the sovereignist groups active today in the fight for autonomy.
La Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, perhaps the first knight of the "movement indépendantist", has a clear mandate they state: to fight for the rights of all québécois and continue the battle towards a victorious sovereign Québec. Its leaders say they are preparing the minds of the québécois across the province to realize that the present governmental regime must change for it is unable to provide justice for the people of Québec. It will not accept a condescending sympathy for its people, and prefers apathy until Québec is treated as an equal partner in the federal collective.
This group, along with others of its kind, encourages the Québec government to exercise its sovereignty and to negotiate with the federal government in the name of french Canada in order to obtain a new understanding; a new contract between two nations which will then be able to enjoy equality on all levels. For the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, equality is essential in maintaining Canada's integrity within its geographical borders.
The NO side won over the YES side in both the 1980 and the 1995 Québec referendums on independence (although by less than a percentage point in 1995). Are québécois losing faith in the cause? Will there still be québécois culture to defend in a few years from now?
"Our culture has changed ," admits my mother. "More and more influences are coming in, especially in the arts.
"This cultural bombardment is likely one more reason why we feel it is important to preserve our language, key to our culture, with means which sometimes come across as extremist."
Québec may be the Canadian province with the least knowledge of its neighbours, and is likely seen as much less concerned about the future of other Canadian provinces than English Canada is of Québec. This is neither good nor bad, believes my mother. "We fear assimilation; this lack of knowledge simply reflects our fear of invasion."
"Maître chez nous," say québécois, some for economic and geopolitical reasons; others because of the weight of history which rests on their shoulders; and for those, like my mother, who fight to keep our language and noble culture alive. It is to preserve the works of Gilles Vignaults, Félix Leclerc, Paul Piché, the Séguins, Robert Charlesbois, Michel Tremblay, Ann Hébert, Yves Beauchemin, Pierre Falardeau, Raymond Lévesque, and of all the little québécois and québécoise that my mother believes that separation is right for Quebec.
We must preserve these cultural jewels, not keep them hidden by selfishness, but rather protect them, pamper them, share them.Sarah Murphy was born in Quebec City. She was born a francophone and was raised as an anglophone. She has survived 2 referendums on Quebec independence. She now resides on very conservative Prince Edward Island. VERSION FRANÇAISE