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Levesque returns with folksy column in mix of French, English

A popular column written in a mix of French and English has returned to the St. John Valley. Journalist Don Levesque has returned from retirement along with his column, Mon 5¢, which ran in the St. John Valley Times for more than 20 years until five years ago.

“My hope is that people of a certain age who still speak French and who were raised around here will see themselves as I see myself reflected in the column,” Levesque said during a recent interview. “I believe people should see themselves in their weekly paper.”

The column, as before, will be written in a folksy style familiar to many Valley residents.

“It will be pretty much like the way we talk and switch from French to English in the middle of a sentence,” he said.

Levesque is a proud Acadian who embraces his French heritage.

“For a long time I wore a lapel button anywhere I went that said ‘Je parle Francais.’ I wore it everywhere, yet hardly anyone ever spoke to me in French. I thought that was very strange because, according to a government study, one third of the state is French speaking,” he said.

He added that people of the St. John Valley are often criticized for speaking French incorrectly.

“I don’t speak Parisian French for the same reason nobody else speaks London English” he said.  “I’m Franco American.”

He added that he would continue to write his column about “pretty much what it has been for more than 20 years: It’ll be about us. By “us” I mean the people of the St. John Valley. That’s who I’ll be speaking with. … It will be about our our culture, our language, our heritage. Not an American, Acadian, French-Canadian or Cadien culture but one that is our unique mixture of all those.”

Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, said she is delighted Levesque’s column has returned.

“Don’s Valley French musings do many things,” she said. “They allow people to reconnect with their first language, a language they share with 90 percent of the Valley. It validates our language. Seeing it in print lets people know it is a valuable tool of communication. It encourages people to use their French. Everywhere.”

Pelletier hopes the column will play a role in helping to keep the French language alive in the St. John Valley.

“Our French language is part of our cultural heritage that has been neglected for too long,” she said. “Since it is no longer offered, except sporadically, in the elementary schools of the Valley, it has declined at a very rapid pace. We will lose it if we do not take measures to halt its erosion.”

Mon 5¢ will be featured monthly on the Fiddlehead Focus website and in the St. John Valley Times.

Levesque is a Grand Isle native who worked in community journalism for almost 35 years, including as publisher and editor of the St. John Valley Times.

He has been inducted into the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame and the Maine Franco-American Hall of Fame.

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