HOME HEARTSTRING 24: XENOPHOBIA

Of the 36 Heartstrings, this is definitely the one that’s the most controversial and talked about. And as our political leaders would say, it’s also the touchiest.

Joe Tremblay shares his thoughts on the subject:


“Our youngest daughter showed up with a Polish boy one night. He might’ve been Jewish. They appeared to be head-over-heels in love. He was a good-looking guy. And real polite, too. Remember how he’d stand up straighter than an arrow every time you walked by him, Fernande? He couldn’t speak a word of French, though. I told our daughter it was all fine and good if she was seeing him to get her hands on some perfume or to learn how to speak English, but that she really couldn’t get serious about him. Think about it, I said. Your mother can barely speak a word of English and your grandmother is afraid of strangers.”


Fueled by the Love one another virtue, this Heartstring is more influenced by Roman Catholicism or an older version of French Canadian Catholicism than by today’s Catholic ideology.

The fact that we’re Anglophobes is somewhat understandable, but our Francophobia, which is made clear in our use of choice expressions like those French bastards, is harder to explain. I guess we’re just equal-opportunity xenophobes. It takes a lot of smooth talking and diplomacy for a French national to break into our intellectual and artistic circles since they’re so exclusive and somewhat pickier than others. There’s a good chance that any FB who made it big in Quebec got tangled up in Heartstrings 7, 9, 18, 19 and 31 before ending up hung out high and dry by Heartstring 24. Any attempt at getting free would have involved Houdini-like escape skills and, with any luck, a little help from Heartstring 28.

French people make bad immigrants is a statement we often make. Their glibness, arrogance (which is often just a front) and sharp tongues tend to rub Quebecers the wrong way since we’re not as well-versed in the fine art of repartee.

But the French, those free thinkers who fell victim to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, can take some comfort in the fact that other foreign Catholics also end up being put through the Heartstring 24 wringer. Take the Irish Catholics, for example. French Canadians haven’t always been on the best of terms with these fellow Christians, openly accusing them of being Anglos before Catholics and of using religion to lure us to the dark side...that is the English language. In 1958, the pastor of a Huguenot church in Montreal said that, “Being French in Quebec is still acceptable. But being a French Protestant, that’s a different story.”

And we didn’t spare the Italians either, even though they share our Latin, Catholic and Earth Roots. As soon as Second World War hostilities started, a conflict erupted between the priest of my parish and another one from a small Italian church on St-André Street (which had already become a house of worship in French) for the simple reason that the padre had a picture of Mussolini on display between Saint Anthony of Padua and Sainte-Bernadette-Soubirous. One might believe it was just an icon imagery issue.

But post-Quiet Revolution Quebecers no longer seem able to assimilate Italian immigrants although they’re an almost natural extension of our own people. And only a handful of our other Latin cousins, the Spanish and the Portuguese, have shown any interest in blending in with us.

When the English first took over and pretty much stripped them of their pride, our mothers, like praying mantises, devoured an impressive number of Scottish and Irish soldiers with names like O’Neill, Ryan, Johnson, McKay and Burns, as well as pure Englishmen of the Talbot and Harvey clans. The resulting offspring no longer had any kind of loyalty to the Queen of England (quite the contrary), and the men were roped in by Heartstring 11 without putting up much of a fight. The opposite scenario also took place, with French Canadian men marrying Anglophone women, despite being threatened with excommunication. As my grandfather Émile used to say, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich woman as a poor one.”

When he ruled over us, Louis XIV was very clear about not letting any Jews, Huguenots or other non-Roman Catholics into the country, which is most probably where our Xenophobia and bigotry come from. But once the English took over, they opened the doors to all types of strangers, and that’s how businessman Aaron Hart ended up becoming one of the first Jews to settle in Canada, making Trois-Rivières his home in 1760.

Hart’s arrival paved the way for Quebecers and Jews to establish a bond between our two minorities. Even though both sides openly slung pretty harsh insults at each other, the Yids and the Pepsis did their best not to get in each other’s way. Ever since Ezekiel Hart became the first Jewish MP (he was elected in Trois-Rivières at the end of the 19th Century), we’ve almost always sent one of those strange bilingual fellows to represent us in Quebec City or Ottawa. Paul Unterberg, Esq. could’ve easily been part of the René Lévesque administration.

The Jews preferred our xenophobic Quebec to flat-out racist Ontario. But their tendency to have large families and a continuous stream of immigrants coming to Canada until the end of the Second World War had our most vigilant watchdogs keeping a close eye on how fast their population was growing. While commenting on the Jewish migration in the 1939 issue of Les Cahiers des Dix, Quebec historian Gérard Malchelosse served up a typical Quebec warning: “We must always be wary of intolerance, this is true, but we must also remember to show caution where these people are concerned.”

A Cree Indian fishing guide from Lake Mistassini confided in me that he’s still considered a stranger in Chibougamau where he’s been grocery shopping twice a week for the last 30 years.

The 25,000 Haitians in Quebec who share our Earth, French and Catholic Roots have more than just our Xenophobia (if not racism) to contend with and overcome. Their relationships with black Anglos from Jamaica and other parts of the world are also far from friendly, making the double dose of black solitude at play in Montreal another appalling manifestation of our Minority and Catholic Roots.

You’d think that believing I have more in common with the latest influx of French Vietnamese, the 3000 Lebanese immigrants from Beirut (with very commendable qualities) and 1500 of president Salvador Allende’s Chileans would make it easier for me to accept them than, let’s say, the 8000 Ugandans of Indian descent who’ve already been in Quebec for five years. But tolerance is influenced by many different things, including some random incident taking place on a trip. I was in Entebbe on that fateful day when President Idi Amin Dada ordered the expulsion of Ugandan Asians (most of Indian descent). And I saw the fear and panic in their eyes as they ran for the airport while soldiers mercilessly ransacked their shops.

My experience in Entebbe made me sympathetic to the situation of all Ugandans in Quebec. But Joe wasn’t there with me…


“When we got to the terminal in Montreal we took a cab to go see my nephew at Sainte-Justine Hospital. The driver didn’t understand a single thing we said, and he had no idea where he was going. He was black and I don’t think he spoke French or English. It cost us 10 bucks to get to our destination because he had to drive around the whole city to find it. How ridiculous is that?! Don’t try to tell me Premier Bourassa can create 100,000 jobs for us with all these other people floating around.”


Over 25 years ago, a very wise journalist by the name of Camille L’Heureux wrote the following in Le Droit:


“It pains me to say this, but we need to realize that some of the attitudes that French Canadians exhibit towards strangers (i.e. foreigners) are fueled by more than just indifference. It seems the main underlying sentiment in these behaviours is outright hostility. We must have written hundreds of articles on the subject. We need to create an independent body responsible for attracting the exact number of immigrants our province can handle at economic and spiritual levels established each year based on data gathered by the proper authorities in Quebec City and Ottawa.”


In the article, economic and spiritual levels is underlined.

L’Heureux questioned our selection criteria for choosing immigrants, who we prefer to be white, married and practicing Catholics from rural communities who don’t require social assistance. A rare breed indeed.

A recent conference on multiculturalism in Canada – where it was concluded that Quebec Francophones do not welcome immigrants with open arms – left journalist Guy Cormier perplexed.


“If the explosion of mass media, the free flow of information, a booming tourism industry, a World Expo and Olympic Games couldn’t cure us of what we scientifically call ethnocentrism (not to say patriotism, which is considered obsolete and absurd), or chauvinism, in layman’s terms, then what is the antidote to our compulsive introspection, which is the scientific term for our collective narcissism? Isolation is our defence against what we consider to be unbearable competition. The Canadian elite builds barriers to stop foreign influences from filtering in. And the new trend among Toronto intellectuals of expressing skepticism regarding Time Magazine and any other form of American pop culture is reminiscent of the defence tactics used by Quebec lobbyists working hard to close off their market to outsider competition.”


Fearful of better educated and harder working foreigners, Quebecers have a wide range of nuanced Xenophobias (like Nationalisms) based on whether outsiders are from Westmount, Toronto or Vancouver, whether they’re Jewish, black or European, and how big a threat they are.

Demographers agree the No. 1 cause of the anticipated Quebec population slump in the year 2000 will be the slowdown of immigration rather than emigration or a lower birth rate (which is another phenomenon we need to worry about).

Asked to share his opinion on immigration policies, a listener tuned in to a call-in show on CKVL had the following to say: “Just listen to Edith Butler sing. She sounds like a real Quebecer! We should let all the New Brunswick Acadians, Franco-Ontarians and Franco-Americans immigrate here. We’d be 3 million stronger in no time!”

But there is no easy way. There is only Xenophobia.

A survey conducted by the Régie de la langue française (French language control board) revealed that Quebecers can tell the difference between translated TV commercials and those created by Quebec advertisers. Do these advertising strangers seriously think they can get away with interrupting our television viewing without feeling our wrath? No, they can’t. Our fear of strangers always rears its ugly head and translated advertising never sells well.

Anyone wanting to communicate in Quebec must learn the symbolic importance that lies behind the word stranger in our province. It’s an insidious term that carries as much weight today as it did in the 1940s when our leader’s slogan (which he came up with himself) reminded us that, Duplessis gives to his province, Liberals give to strangers.

Some say this Heartstring calls the very survival of Quebecers into question. We certainly won’t end this book without discussing that issue in more detail.

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.