I recently spent a weekend in Montréal with two friends of mine from a South American country. I had met the woman in France while doing a sort of stage in Lyon. Her husband came to visit and, while a very nice guy, conversation was somewhat limited as he spoke solely in Spanish. She spoke French rather fluently and had good English too. All in all, we got along well and kept in touch when our short working stint was over.
A couple of years later, I was living in Montréal and I had the occasion to visit them in their country. I knew that they didn’t want to stay there because so many things were going wrong—what with food shortages for the most basic items, like chicken. I talked about my experience with the Skilled Immigrant paperwork and process for Québec Immigration. I mentioned (to her mostly, as we spoke to one another in French) on numerous occasions that they should consider moving to Québec as skilled immigrants, being that I thought they could easily fit in.
They eventually filled out and sent in the Skilled Workers immigration paperwork, but his language abilities were not up to par. Their dossier was rejected. Later on though, she was accepted into a program at the Université de Montréal and was able to secure for herself a student visa as well as papers for him. So, they came here last summer. I went around with them the first few days, somewhat showing them the city and helping to find an apartment. They ended up choosing one in Côte-des-Neiges. Not the best neighborhood for any meaningful integration—even though large francophone institutions like the university and Sainte-Justine are nearby. But where they decided to live wasn’t my choice.
I had trouble hiding my distaste of the dwelling itself and especially when I saw that the building’s owner was some old-stock anglophone that didn’t speak French and looked at me funny when I spoke to him in French. The woman who collected the rent was some older Portuguese immigrant that only spoke in a broken English with a few words of French. I thought: how are they going to integrate when this is their first impression of Montréal? Yes, she would be a student at the francophone Université de Montréal, but what about him? I then gave them all the information they would need to enroll him for francization classes, offered free of charge by the government. Some of these courses were even being held just a few blocks from where they were going to live.
Anyway, fast-forward a year. He still has not learned to speak one word of French. His English isn’t very good either—maybe functional on a very basic level—but French ought to take priority. They have neighbors from Alberta and plenty of acquaintances who speak Spanish. She told me that her part time job was almost always conducted in English. As for him, he found a job at a sausage-casing factory where there are a handful of Spanish speakers. When he needs to speak to non hispanophones, he may do so in his basic broken English. He complains that jobs here are usually advertised to require knowledge of both languages. Just that in itself is ridiculous—why should someone working in a factory making sausage casings need to have functional English in a supposedly francophone society? But Philippe Couillard, for example, seems to think this kind of bilingualism is oh-so-necessary in case Americans (or Canadians?) ask the workers questions.
When large amounts of immigrants are hired somewhere, to get the ball rolling and getting them to work, those immigrants will usually do whatever is easiest, which usually does not involve using French in the workplace. Anyway, why should the people running these places care about things like community, language, way of life and society? I know that business exists to generate monetary wealth. I get that. People need money and those who are indifferent to the fragility of French in Montréal will merely say that these workers are just adapting themselves to the reality of the situation in order to make ends meet.
So, he feels a bit stuck. He is not, however, making any effort to learn French.
I told them that it might be better to move to Ontario or somewhere else where the language situation is more straightforward. Still their response was that they like the quality of life in Montréal and want to stay. I then told them that learning French is imperative and that it is generally looked down upon to not know French and continue to live here—except of course by indifferent francophones, anglophones and “allophones” (I really gotta write a new article regarding these allophones in Montréal).
So, if Montréal’s quality of life is what interests them, which can be found nowhere else, isn’t it reasonable, if not obvious, to say it comes from the French factor? It seems to me that what really interests them is a Montreal with a very marginalized and folkloric French language. Why do they stay when paradise on earth is just a few hundred kilometers to the west (or to the east or the south)! Nevertheless, they want to stay in uniquely francophone Québec, a place unlike anywhere else in North America (or in the world really), without contributing to its preservation or helping it thrive. All they’re doing is contributing to Montréal’s anglicization, while finding the whole French thing to be just a cute detail. Can’t they see the contradiction?
Now, I know that my friends are just responding to the current reality of Montréal. The—what many would consider—dead end jobs do not require French and these seem to be the only jobs they can get, so they adapt to the requirements presented. Where is personal initiative? Where is the will to integrate into society? Why don’t they just admit the real reason they came here, as it clearly wasn’t for French Québec. It wasn’t for integrating into this society and trying to help make it better. It was purely for economic reasons as well as believing what they see in Hollywood films, which happens a lot more than most are willing to admit. I know because some of them have actually told me with a straight face that this or that Hollywood film gave them the idea to move to a certain place. Why not just throw darts at the map?
The more important questions is this: if Québec wants to not only survive and thrive, how can we afford something around 50,000 economic migrants every year, who are not at all motivated nor inspired by a Québec societal project ?
And I don’t know what to tell my friends, because they are right when they say that they don’t need to use French for their work, so why bother learning it? She already speaks it and may have a better chance at getting a better job later on. I think they understand that getting a better job in Québec often usually means knowing French (in addition to English), but is that even true? She isn’t deaf and knows her colleagues don’t need French. I’m not saying she has that great of a job (some part-time office job downtown), though when I worked in the Peel/Maisonneuve area and in Ville-St-Laurent, I had what can be considered a good, well-paying job. And while being bilingual French-English was seen as an asset, French really wasn’t necessary. The project was done in English, most of the people with whom I worked were unilingual anglophones—usually 2nd or 3rd generation Greek or Italian anglophones, who tend to be pretty hostile towards French, or the occasional anglicized Chinese/Thai/Filipino person.
I know from my own experience that French wasn’t necessary and even somewhat frowned upon. Aside from the anecdotes I’ve already mentioned in my previous article, another one involved some black girl whose parents were from Nigeria. While talking about protecting French, nationalism and such, she smugly retorted: “Oh, then you must hate me then…” I think in Québec, the word hate, among others, has become a code word for anti-French, anti-nation and anti-Québec. Oh, you must hate me. You must be an idiotic racist, anti-Semitic bigot who can’t speak English. Seriously, do these types of clichéd insults to shut the other person up even work anymore?
Back to the topic at hand, my motivation in moving here comes from my will to help contribute to French Québec and make Montréal and in general Québec as francophone as possible—leading to a real diversity, strong and durable. With this in mind, why should someone coming from a poorer country that doesn’t speak French and doesn’t really want to, why should they go above and beyond just wanting to feed, clothe and entertain themselves with Made in China garbage? If knowing how to speak basic English can provide these vulgar, base-level needs, why bother taking the time to learn French and take part in Québec’s cultural life that they claim to like? Observing this multicultural environment in which we live that promotes mediocrity and citizen-of-the-world bullshit (basically the glamorous lie of a jet-setting anglophone), one can almost understand the actions of the typical immigrant.
You’ve probably already guessed that I now regret telling them to come here. Even if they are both pleasant and dependable, I shouldn’t have just naïvely thought they would have the same interest for Québec and its North American French language society as I do. That not being the case, like most immigrants, they are leaving behind more difficult conditions in their real country, while not adapting themselves to their new host society. They often don’t speak French and if they speak white, it’s because speaking white means speaking money.
I don’t mean that these immigrants end up being rich, neither that their lives aren’t difficult. I am not saying that I necessarily want them to leave Québec. But I do want them to integrate. I want them to speak French. I want them to contribute to Québec society in ways going beyond just paying their taxes. In a strong and francophone Québec, people from other countries are welcome, provided that they want to help me as well as the rest of us build Québec. Even though we are individuals, I am not interested in extreme individuality, with a fuck all attitude to go with it.
Let the accusations of racism begin!