I was just cleaning out a closet, going through things I have had since my teenage years and a song popped into my head, Heloise by Montreal’s own Me Mom and Morgentaler. While I, as a young teen had already been to see a big show at the Montreal forum, Me Mom was the first local band I had ever gotten into and everybody in my hick town high school was into them. What was interesting to me and kind of blew me away about them was that, much to my surprise, when I got into their music, I discovered that not all of it was in English.
Coming from a hick town of 3000 in the 80s, life was very, very political, the French kid’s parents didn’t want their children playing with us because we were “calice d’anglophone,” for as much as I really wasn’t sure what that meant when I was a kid. But, there was a divisive line, you were either French or English and there was some kind of animosity between each side and even though you didn’t understand why it was there it was something that was carried over from a previous generation and we knew that because we were Anglophones that we were hated and that was just part of life in small town Quebec in the 80s.
When we were little, we played with the other English kids in our little hamlet on our side of the bridge in our little town. Every day as we would head out of of St-Andrews we would pass under the remnants of a train bridge that had long since been partially been taken down. On it, in big letters, was written “Say No.” It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that one of the local teens had written it regarding the 1980 referendum that later led to the mass exodus of Anglophones and business moving out of Quebec to Toronto.
While we have always been two solitudes here in Quebec to a certain degree (much less now), at the time, it was perfectly acceptable to lob hatred at Anglophone kids by other kids because they were Anglophones. When I speak to other kids who grew up here, its always a common laughing point, like oh yeah, I got spit on too, they threw rocks at me, ha, ha, ha!
Ironically, my parents hatred was much more focused on each other than the outside world. My parents and my extended family never really showed any animosity towards the Francophone community or any other ethnic community. My mother had been part of the Baha’i faith movement in the 70’s and both of my parents taught school in Point St-Charles and St-Henri so even then they were used to very ethnically diverse communities. What I learned about hatred was that that there were far better reasons to hate people beyond language because that was too simplistic. Hating a whole group of people for a religion, a gender, a body type, an ethnicity, all of these reasons to hate someone where just stupid and if anything, lazy. If you were going to hate someone, you really needed a good excuse, like they were a murderer or a pedophile or a bully or an utterly horrible person who was vindictive and mean and hurt other people. They really needed to meet a certain kind of criteria.
When it came to French however, despite the hatred I felt lavished upon me, my desire for friendship and acceptance made me always very determined to try to learn it, despite the concentration difficulties I suffered due to an extra weird home life. I had always felt very alone. I wanted to skate with the French girls at the outdoor rink. I wanted to sing Nathalie Simard songs with them. I wanted to be part of something, anything, I didn’t want to be hated…. I had no idea why I was hated over a language. But, in time, I just got used to it because the hatred then started coming from all directions, because I was fat, because I was female, because my parents worked at the high school and then on top of that they had their own weird shit in our fishbowl lives that also drew a lot of ire.
But I digress, getting back to that song was such a crossover for me because it was the first time I was seeing the cultures overlap and coexist happily. Coming from the country, I did not see that happen too often. And, it wasn’t just that the band was bilingual, their identity as being bilingual was part of what made them cool. Suddenly that whole fabric of the previous generation had begun to unravel and it has been unraveling beautifully for the past 25 years. I speak French and write it passably though my keyboard is in English and I can’t for the life of me figure out the accents. Recently I have been looking for work and I have been talking to my career counselor completely in French and texting to a group I joined online in French. I am actually really loving it. I am loving learning more of the language because suddenly it doesn’t feel like a struggle and I don’t feel judged by my mistakes with the language anymore.
Maybe its just me feeling more self-confident that the person on the other end isn’t going to hate me for my flawed language skills and appreciate how hard I am trying and how enthusiastic I am to do a good job and get my message across. Maybe its because we have all lived through some horrifying, life changing, world events that have brought us closer together as a species in an understanding that we are all human and language based hate is just ridiculous.
Or, maybe we have just found different reasons to hate other people. Its really hard to say. Social media is one of those weird fucking things that can really allow you to broaden your horizons in reaching out to the world but also, at the same time, fill your world with likewise thinking, hateful filth who share the same narrow, hateful views.
For me it has led me away from a place where I believed that self hatred was the norm, that it was okay to hate me because I was anglophone, a woman, not attractive enough, not smart enough, not good enough and not worth the happiness and acceptance I so desperately craved. Not all of that stemmed from language however, there were a lot of hateful, fucked up people in my personal life that contributed directly to that hatred. Now I am looking back at it all in horror and realizing what a devastating effect all of that misogyny has had on me. Language politics were one thing but as a kid in the 80s and a teen in the 90s we were spoon fed the wrong messages daily in just about every sort of media from the seemingly innocuous National Lampoon movies I saw in the theater as a young child in the theaters to the early 90s supermodel mania where the only thing beautiful was Kate Moss’s waify 13-year old boy like body. At 13 I did not look like a waif, I was 5’7, weighed about 190 pounds and threw up just about every meal I ate because I never felt accepted in school, didn’t feel accepted anywhere, never for a moment felt pretty and loathed myself because I could never look like her.
That feeling prevailed with me throughout most of my young life. I won’t say that it was entirely based on the endless hatred and previously permissible misogyny of the past as there were a number of other major factors in my personal life that significantly contributed to my having almost no self esteem for most of my life but all of this didn’t help.
But, life is different now. When I started working in newspapers I met a number of very brilliantly minded anglophone and francophone journalists who could switch languages on a dime and loved everybody else equally.
Even before that, when I was a new kid in town on the Plateau at 18, there were a number of older gothy types that pulled me into their circle and wrapped me up in their black lace arms and loved me and were kind to me and appreciated every effort I made to speak French and taught me how to dress so that I didn’t look like a hippie from the country.
I could not believe the wealth of warmth, kindness and acceptance that was showered upon me even though my French was bad. I tried really, really hard and they taught me.
And again at work, I tried really, really, hard and I was taught some more and was cared about and accepted and very rarely was I treated differently because I was an Anglophone.
As for the rest of my personal struggles, I am working hard on those. Its hard but I will get there because I can now see my worth. I now feel confident enough to write in French even if I can’t figure out where the accents are on my English keyboard. I am rebuilding myself but I now have the strength to do that.
At that, I feel a new era has come upon this province, particularly as we have seen so much global hatred, locally we have never seen so much more unified love. In Quebec, no matter who your neighbor is, there seems to be an outpouring to reach out to your neighbor and find some sort of solidarity with them no matter who they are.
There is always going to be the random douche bag here or there that hates whoever they are going to hate that day. I had a man scream at me and my tired children because they were acting like tired children in a grocery store at 6:00 the other night. The baby (2 1/2) was crying and he tried to grab at the man’s frozen fries. He screamed at all of us, for me to be a better mother and control my children better to keep them from being so loud and he told them to shut up.
He was just an asshole. Some people are just assholes. I don’t think it has much to do with who we were.
And so in believing that most, though not all, but most human beings no matter what they speak or where they come from are inherently good because that is what I have seen throughout most of my adult life, I love Quebec because I am Quebec. Quebec is in my heart and soul and has been in my genes for some 200+ odd years, it is my beautiful home and where my heart belongs and so I am not going anywhere.
Quebec, I love you!