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Assimilation
Striking a balance
08/20/16

I never heard of Acadians until I met one called Jacques. He taught me to catch and eat periwinkles. While munching the tasty little snails, Jacques told me how Acadians had arrived as French colonists to the area around what is today New Brunswick. They farmed, fished, and lived happily for almost a hundred years, at peace with the Mikmaq Indians around them.

Then the struggle between empires burst in on their bucolic world. The French lost one of their tussles with the British and ceded over the land of the Acadians. The Acadians didn't much care, having spent generations in Acadia developing their own identity.

Perhaps because the Acadians spoke French, the British were suspicious and presented them with a loyalty oath. Sign it and they can stay.

The Acadians were a proud people, with traditions, towns, and prosperity. They refused, assuming the British would just leave them alone and go back to scrapping with the French.

The Great Expulsion began during the late summer harvest of 1755. Almost 12,000 Acadians were rounded up, their property seized. They were put on boats to destinations unknown. Put in current perspective, that would be like deporting everyone in New York State.

The ships sailed south, and some Acadians settled in other British colonies, but many were refused entry as a disloyal bunch. Some eventually made their way to France, a country they had never seen. A great many were accepted by the Spaniards in charge of New Orleans, where Acadian was mispronounced into Cajun.

Jacques told a sad tale of many Acadians dying of disease or drowning, wandering homeless with even the French calling them outsiders.

Some eventually drifted back to Canada's maritime provinces, nowadays having few problems becoming citizens with an allegiance to Canada.

"What was that all about," I asked Jacques. "I would have signed that silly loyalty oath in a heartbeat and gone back to my farming.

"You don't understand," he said. "You were never a stranger suddenly in a strange country with your own roots, your own history, your own identity -- all to be thrown in the trash."

I was about to agree when I realized that I had been there. As Hungarian refugees, we were every bit Acadians at one point, but with a big difference in outlook. We couldn't wait to sign American loyalty oaths, indeed we were super patriots.

Many of us Americanized our names and worked hard to lose our accents, I included, to make sure we belonged. We wanted to be "us", not "them", and we were willing to leave our Hungarian heritage as moldy baggage on the docks.

Only in my latter years have I awakened my roots, relearning my mother tongue and eager for news, music, history, and food from the Old Country. Perhaps we humans have a propensity to act like pendulums, swinging to the tribalism of Acadians or to the submission of Hungarian refugees. All the while, there is a place of equilibrium in between, a quiet place where we don't loose one of our legacies but become a mutt of both.

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Kayak into the unknown

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And the rhythmic blare of the fog horn

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Countless waterfalls

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The pharaoh looks out to sea

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Covered bridges were a tight fit

For more pictures of New Brunswick, click here.


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