What is the Alliance Française?

The Alliance Française is a non-profit language and cultural organisation that is affiliated with the Paris-based Federation of Alliances Françaises USA and Fondation Alliance Française , whose origins date back to 1883. The Alliance Française is an important part of French language learning and cultural exchange around the world. There are more than 100 Alliance Française centers in the U.S., with more than 24,000 students involved. In encouraging the development of French language skills and knowledge and culture of the Francophone world, the AF aspires to help students with reconnecting not only with their own heritage but also with a vibrant and growing global culture.

What is the Alliance Française du Maine?

The Alliance Française du Maine is supported by the French Consulate in Boston, the French Embassy in Washington, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All the efforts of Alliance Française du Maine to tighten the links between all of Maine Francophonies are also bearing fruit. We are now in close contact with many partners and friends such as the Immigration Welcome Center in Portland, the Franco Center in Lewiston, The L.A Museum Collection in Lewiston, the Delegation of Quebec, and many African  communities in Maine.

Situated in a superb space in the heart of the city of beautiful Portland, the Alliance Française du Maine is proud to share its location with the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center which serves as a hub of collaboration that strengthens the immigrant community through language acquisition, economic integration, and civic engagement. This is the perfect fit for AFdu ME, which thrives to preserve Franco-American heritage while welcoming the heritage and cultures of our neighbors. The Alliance Française du Maine (AFduME) offers programs that include French language classes suitable for children as well as adults: French conversation classes, Art in French, Yoga and Cooking in French, a bilingual summer camp, a French library, celebrations of Francophone holidays, as well as films and epicurean events.  Whether one is a native speaker or a novice, we welcome everyone. Members receive regular notices about cultural events throughout the region via a newsletter, and updates of current schedules and news through various media. 

Alliance Française du Maine means to be here for all, francophone and francophile friends, regardless of one’s origins. The common language creates unwavering links between people who might otherwise never talk to each other or interact. Francophones from Africa connect with Francophones from Europe, Canada, and the Caribbean. 

Regine Whittlesey, President of the AFduME, commented: “All this reminds us we can be proud of the French diversity in Maine! I think that there are very few states in the USA that can claim this rich diversity that helps create various webs of support and mutual appreciation. We are committed to the promotion and appreciation of the Francophone and Francophile community of Maine. We celebrate the fact that the French language has been part of Maine’s cultural fabric for more than 400 years!”

French is spoken in Maine?

In the past few years, Maine has welcomed numerous Francophone African immigrants who are greatly contributing to revitalize the French language in Maine. Since 2010, Africans from French-speaking countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Togo, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, and Djibouti have arrived and settled in Maine, either as refugees, immigrants, or asylum-seekers. These African immigrants who have sought refuge in the Portland region have been at the source of a French-speaking renaissance here in our own state. Most have travelled to Maine with young families, and they wish for their children to continue speaking and reading French, and for themselves to preserve their language skills. When they moved to the U.S., many were concerned they and other Africans might lose the French language. These hundreds of Francophone Africans did not know that they would settle in a state with almost two centuries of French heritage !

French has indeed been spoken in Maine since the late 19th century, when waves of French Canadians immigrated to work in New England mill towns like Lewiston, Biddeford, and Waterville.  They created « Petits Canadas » where the whole life was in French: schools, churches, shops, and newspapers. According to a 2012 legislative task force report, roughly 24 percent of Maine’s population self-identifies as Franco-American, making it the largest ethnic group in the state. The spoken French language had  declined with forced American immersion/integration, and now, thanks to this recent influx of Francophone African immigrants, the French language is again heard all around Maine. This new migration is a gift to the State of Maine and its whole Maine Francophone community. Many people have reconnected with their French heritage, thanks to new friendships, and due to their common language.

What is la Francophonie?

La Francophonie was born out of the understanding and appreciation that the French language is spoken by 300 million people on 5 continents, 96 million of whom live in Africa. There are 33 million Francophones and Francophiles in the Americas, who have unique cultures and histories! Do you know which city has the most French speakers? No, it’s not Paris or Montreal. It’s Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo!  La Francophonie is a celebration of linguistic and cultural diversity, promoting democracy, human rights, and peace.

Over the past few years, AFduME has hosted  many events to celebrate la  Francophonie together. On  Saturday, March 19, (the day before International Francophonie day!), we had the great pleasure of hosting our first live event since the beginning of the pandemic. We showed « Le Carrefour », a beautiful documentary directed by Jessamine Irwin and Daniel Quintanilla. The actors Cécile Thornton and Trésor  Mukendi play who they are in real life,  and touch our hearts with their story of friendship : “Cecile reconnects with the French of her childhood thanks to recently arrived Franco-African immigrants, like Trésor, seeking asylum in Cecile’s hometown of Lewiston, Maine. Cecile’s Franco roots tie her to the thousands of French-Canadians who came before her to power the local mills, and who suffered from decades of discrimination and oppression. As history repeats itself, Cecile and Trésor develop a close friendship that helps Cecile finally find her pride in being Franco-American.”

For the last 2 years, our classes have been held on Zoom and will continue again this Spring. May you choose to take a language class at your own level, or a conversation class based on a specific theme, such as art, cinema, cooking or yoga, you will be able to use and expand this language that you love and that we share. For sure our accents are different, and sometimes vocabulary can radically differ according to different Francophone regions! But the base is the same, whether you speak French in Senegal, Belgium, Burkina Faso, France, or Quebec. 

We invite you to go to our website http://www.afdume.org and choose among the numerous Spring courses that will start during the week of April 4. 

Regine Whittlesey, President of the AFduME,  added: “Finally, I would like to mention one class in particular which is unique. It’s called French Heritage Class, for high school students who speak French at home and don’t want to lose the language they grew up with. It will meet on Thursday afternoons and be taught by a native Congolese who teaches French at Deering HS. So please pass the word and let friends and family members know that we have this great French Heritage Class which is FREE.”

We will be happy to welcome you to our community!