Resisting the Melting Pot: the Long Term Impact of Maintaining Identity for Franco-Americans in New England
The scale of the persistent, concentrated immigration from Mexico is a source of concern to many in the United States. The perception is that Mexicans are not assimilating into mainstream America as previous generations of immigrants did. In this paper we look at the emigration of approximately 1 million French-Canadians who moved to the United States, with the bulk of the migration occurring between the end of the Civil War and 1930 and with most settling in neighboring New England. What makes this episode particularly interesting is the fact that the French-Canadian immigrants exerted considerable efforts to maintain their language and to replicate their home country institutions, most notably the schooling system, in their new country. This explicit resistance to assimilation generated considerable attention and concern in the U.S. over many years. The concerns are strikingly similar to those often invoked today in discussions of policy regarding immigration from hispanic countries, notably Mexico. We look at the convergence in the educational attainment of French Canadian immigrants across generations relative to native English-speaking New Englanders and to other immigrants. The educational attainment of Franco-Americans lagged that of their fellow citizens over a long period of time. Yet, by the time of the 2000 Census, they eventually, if belatedly, appeared to have largely achieved parity. Additionally, we show that military service was a very important factor contributing to the assimilation process through a variety of related channels, namely educational attainment, language assimilation, marrying outside the ethnic group, and moving out of New England. Finally, when we compare Franco-Americans to French-speaking Canadians of the same generations, it is clear that Franco-Americans substantially upgraded their educational attainment relative to what it would have been if they had not emigrated. This suggests that the "pull" factor eventually exerted a dominating influence.
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