pour l’amour des traits d’union

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Les traits d’union are less the rage in Québec than they once were. But there was a time, somewhere between 1981 and 1994, where more than one in every five children born in the land of je me souviens had their parental namesakes forever linked through that tiny little line.

That number actually seems low to me. I could’ve sworn that my classes were comprised of nothing but kids with unique snowflakes of names. Much to our chagrin, really. Long, bulky, never quite fit for forms and typically tripping the tongues of classmates and teachers alike.

I often dismissed, and maybe sometimes still do, the Murphy half of my roots. This wasn’t so much out of a dislike for my Irish Atlantic-Canadian heritage, but more about camouflage. The truth is, it’s easier to get by in Québec with a name like Perron than one like Murphy. And that p’tit hyphen kept me linked to the Anglo side I was ever too eager to hide.

Of course, it never quite worked. I could never be French enough. I would never be pure laine. To my French family and networks, I was a forever bloke. Name masking, ponytails and excessive facial hair fooled no one. My oft-changing and generally unplacable accent would always other me.

On the flip side, I remain the go-to French guy for Anglo friends inside and outside Québec. A role I’ve fondly accepted, despite relentless teasing over my inability to say three.

Almost fitting into both worlds is nice, sure, and honestly, it’s likely been wildly advantageous, but some days it would have been swell to simply feel wholly accepted by either.

We’re often talking about les deux solitudes within Québec. Les Anglais and the French. This narrative obviously omits Indigenous peoples and many racialised allophone communities. What of those that live ephemerally and interchangeably between both, or outside entirely? Where do they belong? How to transition from solitudes to solidarity?

This past Friday, Québec Solidaire candidate in Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne Molly Alexander wrote on the seeming oxymoron that is a sovereignist Anglophone. She writes, “If we don’t take our future into our own hands, others will: the oil industry, financial elite, media moguls — take your pick. Instead, let’s have the debate — Anglophones, Francophones and Allophones together — and build something that we can all be proud to call our own.”

The corporate, political and media oligarchy loves to keep us divided, fearful and at each other’s throats. There’s an army of Angryphones out there ready to speak of their “oppression” despite it being substantially easier to be an Anglophone in Québec than a Francophone in the RoC, the infamous xenophobic PQ charter of “values” has sparked disturbing increases in violence against Muslim women, and it seems every day inspires a new quasi-apocalyptic linguistic or cultural scandal.

This hypertense political landscape leaves many feeling alone, unwanted and at times genuinely fearful for their physical safety. Sure, much of this may be projections of personal insecurities, amplifications of media sensationalism, or uneasiness rooted from isolated incidents of nasty bigotry, but whatever the causes, it’s there, and it pushes many people away from a home they otherwise quite like.

The nasty cyclical tug-of-war between those screaming evil separatists and those screaming evil federalists keeps us socially stagnant. The only two parties to have shared power over the last four decades know full well that they can rely on these tired simplistic fights to drum up their base in the proverbial march towards a majority. During any given election campaign, it would appear that voters are more concerned by whether a party is #TeamCanada or #ÉquipeQuébec than by the erosion of our social services, precarious labour markets, urban decay, rural flight, or a platitude of other urgent social and environmental issues that requires the rejection of failed neoliberal policies and a drastic reimagining of how our political affairs are handled. Unless voters shift their votes (and expand their definition of civic engagement) towards these issues instead of that of the maligned or revered Referendum, we’ll be stuck with more of the same humdrum lot that profits off of the divisive poison they inject into our collective consciousness.

I reject the notion that people can only be one thing. A plurality of identities layered within us guide us through our daily actions and affirmations. The Québécois identity, including the notion of Québec as a sovereign state, is not reserved to a single demographic. Québec Solidaire understands that, and I believe that’s why we are witnessing an increase of Anglophones and Allophones supporting the party after decades of rejection and exploitation from the PQ and the Liberals.

Hyphens strengthen. They forge links. They acknowledge that identities intersect and build upon one another. There is beauty and power within them. I will no longer reject the ties that made me. Hyphens are unions. And l’union fait la force.