LEWISTON, Maine — French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. In Maine, it's the second most spoken language.
"It's part of the Maine heritage. French is the second most spoken language in Maine, so it's really important that people recognize how alive French is in Maine," Régine Whittlesey, president of L'Alliance Française du Maine, said.
Five percent of Maine residents are French-speaking, including many new French-speakers who call Maine home.
The University of Southern Maine in Lewiston and L'Alliance Française du Maine partnered and held an event for French-speaking Mainers or those who have French roots to connect and create community.
"Maine has a very, very special place in the USA. We have people who are originally from Quebec, from Acadia, from Europe, from francophone Africa," Whittlesey expressed.
Whittlesey said the use of French is unfortunately dwindling in Maine with each generation, and she said she hopes Mainers who do not speak French realize the importance of knowing and speaking more than one language and to encourage their kids to learn another language when young.
"French is my life," Whittlesey said.
Cecile Thornton is the treasurer for the Franco-American Collection. She spearheaded the event and said keeping French traditions alive in Maine is important to many organizations, including hers.
The event consisted of five panelists from different countries, all speaking about their background, upbringing in French-speaking countries, and their experiences living in Maine as a French-speaker.
"Ici à Lewiston, nous avons une large communauté franco-américaine qui sont en train de... il paraît qu'ils sont en train de perdre la langue français, donc il faut vraiment un peu resusciter cette culture franco-américaine qui existait à Maine auparavant." - Mohamed Ibrahim from Djubouti
Translation: "Here in Lewiston, we have a large Franco-American community that is.. it seems like they're losing the French language, so we have to revive this culture that existed in Maine previously," Mohamed Ibrahim from Djubouti said.
Panel speakers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, France, Québec and Rwanda discussed the role of the French language in their lives in Maine.
"It's a wonderful thing that we have all of these French-speaking immigrants here in the state and in Lewiston, and I hope that people will take away from this event the richness that we have here and want to participate and become friends with these communities," Thornton said.
"My hope for the future is that Maine will have French recognized as one of its languages, and it could be used in economic transactions, street signs in French," Whittlesey said.
"I always saw the advantage of being able to communicate with people because I had two languages and that gave me more opportunities," another panelist, representing Canada, said.
Click here to learn more about L'Alliance Française du Maine.
Click here to learn more about the Franco-American collection at USM.