Conversation Café: Welcoming the city’s French-speaking immigrants

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A recent Conversation Cafe was held to bring together French-speakers from all cultures, and to promote Manchester’s historic Franco-American roots. Photo/Alec Biron

MANCHESTER, NH — Earlier this month, Welcoming Manchester hosted “Bienvenue aux Francophones,” their first Conversation Café for the city’s French-speaking immigrants. This event was one of many for Welcoming Manchester, a group dedicated to helping new immigrants in the city with the ability to find advancement opportunities and to promote a greater sense of mutual understanding and a welcoming atmosphere.

Members of the Franco-American Centre were also present to make connections with our city’s newer and older francophone citizens alike.

James Normand, president of the Franco-American Center, talked about the history of the center, and its current role in Manchester:

“The Franco American Centre was started in 1990 and we were housed at the ACA building on Concord Street. We since have sold that building and we are affiliated with Saint Anselm College to the extent that a lot of our material is in their library. We have a lot of ancient books that go back even before the Revolutionary War that are written in French, and other artifacts as well,” Normand said.

“Our role is to promote the French language, to promote the respect for all cultures, to promote art, and to promote the folks that are coming to America today who speak French, that need to be acclimated and get involved. So we have all kinds of activities to speak French and to have fun,” Normand said.

The Converstion Café, which was held at the First Congressional Church, had a diverse range of francophones from Québec, Haiti, the Congo, and even local students who learned French as a second language. 

Abby Snarski, former intern at the Franco-American Centre, was present to catch up with the organization and continue practicing her French. Snarski first began interning in June of 2015 as a French major at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, VT. Snarski had the opportunity to work with the Kids Camp de Jeune — a summer program offering the chance for American children to learn French here in Manchester. She has returned every summer since that time and, more recently, aided in the creation of Camp Bienvenue to help teach English to French-speaking immigrants in the city.

“One of the most rewarding aspects has been to watch the Franco-American Centre grow. When I joined in the summer of 2015 it was pretty small. We were doing events like National Acadian Day and the Kids Camp de Jeune for the first time — even before the launch of the Poutine Fest. It’s really great to join a small organization of francophone speakers and see it grow and reach a larger audience,” Snarski said.

Snarski hopes to be able to continue working toward the growth of the Franco American Centre. She had the opportunity in college to travel abroad to France and work as a teaching assistant Teaching Assistant Program in France. She said she’s incredibly happy to be able to return home with the experience she gained abroad.

The evening at the Conversation Café continued with a lighting of the menorah in celebration of the fourth night of Hanukkah, traditional French Christmas carols, and a round of “get to know each other bingo” in French.

For more information on upcoming events and efforts being promoted by each of the participating non-profit organizations, visit Welcoming Manchester  and The Franco-American Centre.