The Melting Pot of Diasporas

March 26, 2009 § 2 Comments

So, with PhD in hand, I have begun to think about new research projects.  One in particular that I am interested in is the plight of diasporas in large, multi-ethnic urban centres in North America.  This one came to me in the Mile End of Montréal, today the home of hipsters, artists, and musicians.  Indeed, damn near every Montréal band of recent vintage hails from the Mile End: The Arcade Fire, Stars, Patrick Watson, and so on and so forth.  Anyway, we were in St. Viateur Bagels, buying bagels, then we planned to head over to Open Da’ Night, the legendary local Italian café, for the best caffé latté in North America.  As we made our way along the street, we passed a Greek restaurant, whilst all around the hipsters and pretentiarati, Hasidic Jews made their way to and from synagogue and business.  Me, I’m an Irish-Canadian.  And, yeah, so, big deal.  That’s urban life.  But it’s more than that, it’s urban space, it’s identity, and it’s place.  How do diasporas mix in the city in North America?  How do Hasidic Jews in Montréal maintain their distinct, separate identity in the midst of this urban chaos?  What has become of the old Portuguese, Greek, and Italian immigrants of the Mile End?  What does it mean to speak the English language in Montréal?  Charles Boberg, a linguist at McGill, has postulated that we speak a distinct idiom of English here, influenced as it is by the obvious source: French, but also by words and diction from the diasporic peoples of the city, especially Greeks and Italians.  Me, I think about accents in the city, about the different French accents (they vary according to class, location in the city, location in Québec), how the Irish of Verdun speak so differently from the Anglos of Westmount, and the variations of Italian-, Greek-, Portuguese- Montrealers.  And what about the cultures?  Montréal is famous for, amongst other things, smoked meat, bagels, and poutine.  The first two are Jewish delicacies, the last, québécois.

What about music?  First there’s the case of the legendary québécois chanteuse, La Bolduc.  La Bolduc was born Mary Travers in the Gaspésie in 1894, the daughter of an Irishman and québécois mother.  Her music was largely comprised of traditional Irish jigs and reels, over which she sang in québécois French.  Today, one of the most popular québécois bands is Les Cowboys Fringants, who play an acoustic, traditional-based rock, and by traditional, I mean québécois.  And yet, many of the jigs and reels of the Fringnants’ music are Irish-based.

Indeed, so Irish are Les Cowboys that every time I listen to them, I sometimes forget that they’re québécois, they sound like an acoustic version of the Irish-American “punk” band, Flogging Molly.  “Punk” is in quotations because Flogging Molly are more Irish than punk, their punk energy comes from the fast-paced nature of their Irish ditties.  Indeed, they’re not unlike Les Cowboys in that sense.  At any rate, Flogging Molly originated in Los Angeles, a city not particularly well-known for its Irish diaspora, but very well known for its punk rock.

All of this is still in its infancy, but it is something that I think about as I make my way to and from work, as I interact with my students, and listen to the conversations of the city.  As I develop these ideas, watch this space, and the Complex Terrain Laboratory.

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§ 2 Responses to The Melting Pot of Diasporas

  • Funniest comedy routine I ever saw, at Comedy Works, had a spiel on the wonderfully rich swirl of diaspora English dialects. It focused specifically on the juxtaposition of personal pronouns, as in “Me, I think that…”, or “You, you don’t know…”. The more heated the discussion, the more pronouns: “Me, me, I wanna know why etc etc….”. So when you write “Me, I think about accents in the city…”, I couldn’t help but think of that routine. Probably not just a Montreal phenomenon, but anyway.

    “Pretentiarati” – love it.

  • ransacktheelder says:

    yeah, the ‘me i think’ thing, it comes from québécois french, “moi, je pense que…”, but i have also heard variations of this in ireland, especially in the north and in co. donegal. but that doesn’t make it curious in montréal, given where it comes from.

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