Beyond Quebec stereotypes: Two stories of integration from leaders of the future.

Author:Milner, Henry
Position:BOOKS
 
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These are two recent books written by French-speaking (I read the Verboczy book in a very good English translation that has just come out), sophisticated Montrealers. Neither is a great work of literature or social science but each, in its own way, contributes to our knowledge of an insufficiently known and discussed dimension of Quebec society, and serves to counter certain stereotypes. I know both authors slightly, having participated in events in which they were involved in recent years, including ones they helped organize. (1)

Both write from their own experience but generalize from it to contemporary Quebec. In the process they explode two widely held myths about Quebec. These might be stated as follows:

  1. Allophone immigrants are outsiders in the majority community, especially in nationalist circles. It is in the anglophone minority, reflecting a Canada that is open to them and to the diversity of their society, that they are most welcome.

  2. The Quebec public sector is a drain on taxpayer money; the services it provides are inefficient and ineffective, and serve the interests of the providers more than those receiving the services.

The post-Bill 101 generation

Verboczy attacks the first myth on the basis of his experience. While he is of a very different generation, in certain ways his experience reflects my own. He was born in 1975 and came to Montreal at the age of 11 (I came at the age of four in 1951). We are both of eastern European (Hungarian and Polish) Jewish background (he is half Jewish, on his mother's side), and grew up in the Cote-des-Neiges district on the other side (northwest) of Mount Royal from the city centre. Cote-des-Neiges, where I still live, is now even more of a multicultural bastion, with more than 100 languages spoken.

The most important difference between us is that he arrived with his mother after Bill 101 was enacted, so he entered the French-language school system despite his mother's integrating into a largely English-speaking Neo-Quebecois community. In contrast, as I was growing up in the 1950s, the school system and wider community relationships were such that it would never have occurred to my parents that any language other than English was to be my langue maternelle. (Indeed, before coming here they were unaware that French was spoken in their new home.)

Verboczy, like other Hungarians I have met, is a chauvinist when it comes to the culture of his nation of origin. He sees it as simply natural...

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