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Public Celebrations


Lawn sign listing history of occupancy for home during "Welcome Chez nous; Homecoming 1993," Grand Isle, Maine.
The importance of community-wide activities has increased as social and economic changes have reduced opportunities for intergenerational family gatherings, religious celebrations, and other occasions when stories, songs, rituals, and other traditional forms of Maine Acadian expression are shared. Since the early 1970s, concern about maintaining Maine Acadian culture has been expressed both publicly and privately. This concern has resulted in efforts by local governments, schools, and community leaders to promote cultural awareness, activity, and pride. Events such as the Acadian Week and Family Reunion in Madawaska, Festival des deux rives in Van Buren, Chez nous Homecoming in Grand Isle, and various other community homecomings publicly reinforce Maine Acadian identity. Bilingual and adult education programs similarly supplement more traditional means of transferring culture. In adapting and, in some cases, formalizing elements of their heritage (such as family gatherings, commemorations, and language acquisition), Maine Acadians renew and reinterpret their culture and identity in ways representing significant departures from the recent past.

I remember when we were young they never talked too much about our grandfather and great-great-grandfather. I know it is getting popular now because we have what they call the Acadian Week and each year they'll pick a family, like Theriault or Ouellette, and those people who can, come from all over to attend. . . . You'd be surprised how that brings a lot of people together. (Madawaska woman, focus group 1993)

St.  Luce Catholic Church, Frenchville, Maine, refurbished for the parish's sesquicentennial, 1993. While secularization has diminished the Church's influence in many areas, the continuity of Catholic heritage and its role in the public expression of Maine Acadian identity persist. The celebration of the sesquicentennial of St. Luce parish (in Frenchville, pop. 1,232) provides a recent example. According to the St. John Valley Times (1993), more than 400 parishioners and friends marched in the initial procession. Describing the celebration, the front-page article stated:

Educator Ross Paradis and his wife, Maine State Senator Judy Paradis, with Acadian flags at the Acadian Festival Parade in Madawaska, 1995. Photographer: Paula Lerner,   2003.

The procession started at the Frenchville Town Office and wound its way down U.S. Route 1 to the Community Center where a free community picnic was held. An estimated 600 individuals were served at the picnic. Sunday evening saw the church filled with spectators as Les Chanteurs Acadiens filled the air with traditional French and Acadian songs. Antiques were on exhibit at the church Monday and an evening of prayer was held there last night, Tuesday. There's a Veillée pour les vieux tonight at the community center, an evening for the young tomorrow night there, Josée Vachon performs at the church on Friday evening, there's an arts and crafts fair Saturday, and the Sesquicentennial Mass will be held at 3 p.m., followed by a banquet at the Community Center.

These successful public events garner considerable local publicity, and in turn, may affect private behavior and values. Reunions, weddings, and anniversary celebrations are often scheduled to coincide with summer vacations when relatives "from away" visit the Valley.

The Acadian banner is prominently displayed throughout the Valley, especially during festivals and celebrations.The Acadian flag flies at the Acadian Cross Historic Shrine in Madawaska. A yellow star transforms the French tricolor into the Acadian banner. It originated in the Canadian Maritimes in 1884 and was adopted as a cultural symbol by Maine Acadians in the 1970s. The banner is flown, along with the Maine State and United States flags, at many civic events in the Upper St. John Valley. A representation of the banner introduces each chapter in the print version of this report.

Public awareness about and interest in Maine Acadian identity has developed throughout the Valley in response to the changes described above, inspired in part by the national trend toward celebrating ethnic roots and distinctiveness. Individuals even embrace Maine Acadian identity when their active connection to Maine Acadian culture is limited. Verna Cyr, who was born in Fort Kent but only recently began to think of herself as a Maine Acadian, explained (focus group 1993):

My grandmother was a Hafford, which was English, and in those days the mother was with the children [always]. So I just thought I was Acadian, after I took a night course [on Maine Acadian history].

In the Upper St. John Valley, many Maine Acadians now feel a responsibility for maintaining their culture, not only for their own communities, but for the benefit of others. Speaking of the second and third generation living away from the Valley, Bernette Albert of Madawaska commented before the Maine Acadian Culture PreservationStanding in front of the Acadian Cross Historic Shrine in Madawaska, Bernette Albert explains the landing of the Valley's first Acadian families. Commission (June 1993):

We know who we are, but the young ones don't. . . . And that's why they come, for instance, to our family reunions. They come from every province in Canada. They come from every state in the Union. Why? They don't come to . . . see Fraser Paper. No question about it. They come to find out who they are.

Maine Acadians consider the Upper St. John Valley their cultural home whether they live in Van Buren or Virginia Beach, St. Agatha or San Diego. Geographically dispersed, they construct and maintain their ethnic identity in a variety of ways according to individual experience and community norms. This chapter has looked at some of the principle markers of cultural identity; at their expression and use in contemporary public contexts at the "hearth" of Maine Acadian culture.

Educator Ross Paradis and his wife, Maine State Senator Judy Paradis, with Acadian flags at the Acadian Festival Parade in Madawaska, 1995. Photographer: Paula Lerner,   2003.
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