Leyla Sall is a professor of sociology at the Université de Moncton and author of 2021’s L’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick et “ces” immigrants francophones: Entre incomplétude institutionnelle et accueil symbolique (Acadie in New Brunswick and ‘those’ francophone immigrants: Between institutional incompleteness and symbolic welcome).
Sall gave a public talk in Fredericton on Oct. 19, 2023, titled: “Francophone immigration, linguistic stakes and social cohesion in Acadie.”
According to Sall, social cohesion in linguistic minority situations is a new research area in Canada. Sall’s larger research group is looking at social cohesion in four different minority contexts in Canada: New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, and BC. Sall is the lead researcher in New Brunswick. He noted that last year, only 22 per cent of immigrants to New Brunswick were francophone.
Sall explained that Acadie’s linguistic minority community has managed to survive because of the Official Languages Act from 1988 and continued activism on the part of these communities.
The 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act guaranteed the right to protect language groups in minority situations. The logic is a demographic one because as the local population is largely anglophone so there needs to be a maintaining of the percentage of the population that is francophone.
According to Sall, the “emergence of a New Society” with francophone immigration has been happening for approximately the last 20 years but, despite this, there is only three per cent of francophones who are immigrants in the province.
Activist groups, like the Société Nationale de l’Acadie (SNA), advocate for more francophone immigration, since immigrants are seen as a “panacea.” There is an economic need to replace what Sall calls “les vieilles mains” (the old hands)—the retiring workers in seafood transformation factories on the Northumberland coast, for example. This quaint term emerged during Sall’s research studies.
Previously to the more recent immigration in francophone language minority areas, there was a semblance of a cohesive ethnic identity: a cultural and social cohesion that came from the largely European immigration and the history. Social frontiers were well established and, through this, areas like Acadie managed to escape assimilation into the larger anglophone culture.
Sall’s main area of interest is if the French language is enough to create a cohesive society. There are many practical issues to immigration that could be solved easily if the government was willing to release some funds: housing, transportation, etc.
However, the larger issue is social cohesion. In order for this to happen, there needs to be social integration, and in institutions, there must be diversity.
The African continent is the largest repository of French speakers in the world. It is the place where the government can look, but there is resistance to this immigration.
For Sall, the racial dimension is a huge issue. This is a conundrum that society needs to resolve, if possible. The social cohesion that existed in the past needs to be demolished to reconstruct one that includes diversity, while keeping its uniqueness.
Sall has looked to other places for examples of how social cohesion is established: assimilation (France), melting pot (U.S.), multiculturalism (Canada), interculturalism (Québec) and social pluralism (Belgium). Because multiculturalism is the law in Canada, there is the (founded) fear that francophone immigrants will go towards anglophone culture because it is seen as more valuable.
Despite this, Sall sees hope for social cohesion in minority language spaces.
Acadie has previously had nationalism around identity but this is becoming a civic nationalism, around French as a commonality.
For example, there is a progressive discourse on Francophone immigration; organizations like the Societé de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick (SANB) have changed their names, for example to be less exclusionary of Francophone immigrants. The SANB was formerly the Société des Acadiens du Nouveau-Brunswick. There are also more and more international students at the Université de Moncton. Certain satellite campuses and faculties, like business administration, now have 50 per cent international students.
However, bilingualism is asymmetric in the province; the use of English remains essential. In some workspaces, there is no interaction and social mixing. These findings in all the minority language situations. There is what Sall calls a “reticular ghetto” (net-like ghetto) amongst immigrants; they look to each other and frequent one another, as if there were boundaries between the social groups.
Significantly, Sall’s interviews of francophone immigrants also found racial discrimination in the areas of education and health.
For example, immigrants from Africa are hired only in English school boards. It is thought that they will not be able to teach the cultural aspects of Acadie in French-language schools. Sall said that there is the perception that “if one is not Acadian, it is not possible to become Acadian.” The Faculty of Education at Université de Moncton is the most racially homogeneous faculty and this is the place where future teachers are being taught.
On the health topic, Sall interviewed students in the Faculty of Nursing at Université de Moncton. Often, racialized students were accused of inappropriate actions during their practicums while Caucasian students were not. However, because of the province’s healthcare crisis, there has been an opening up of opportunities for employment in the health care sector.
Sall says that another problem is that immigrants now have lifestyles that are transnational because of social media, facilitated by modern technologies. Immigrants spend a lot of time in communication with their home countries, often to the detriment of non-mediated social interactions with others in the larger community.
Many immigrants also spend time in places where identity is not an issue like malls or supermarkets, rather than places that are clearly marked by identity, such as a community centre.
As a consequence, francophone culture in Acadie is layered with different immigrant communities having their own activities, like a Neapolitan layer cake, as one of Sall’s subjects called it.
There are some niches for francophone immigrant employment, both conjunctural and structural. For example, banks have become very diversified as employers realized the benefits for business of recruiting immigrant employees. In other cases, like call centres, there is a structural need for francophone employees.
Sall examined social organizations for ways that they want to work towards social cohesion. For example, at the SANB, he saw that the organization suggested being open, but the organization’s suggestions don’t impact the systemic racism that remains. Sall declared: “Struggles against racial discrimination are non-existent in Acadie.”
Sall believes that it’s important to “sell” French to immigrants as a “utilitarian language” to succeed in a bilingual country. For him, it will also be necessary to “de-ethnicize” Acadian identity.
The talk was hosted by the the Canada Research Chair in Global and Transnational Studies, the new Centre de Resources Francophones (Francophone Resource Centre) at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, St. Thomas University’s Department of Romance Languages, and the University of New Brunswick’s Department of French.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes about arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op and is a member of the NB Media Co-op’s editorial board.