Suitcase and etiquette

February 13th, 2009

I came to a realization this week, or rather, I came to an analogy.  My thesis is like a suitcase.  An overstuffed suitcase.  In fact, I think there’s even a kitchen sink stuffed into this suitcase, so overstuffed is it.  I’ve been writing my second chapter, in which I examine the development of Quebec national identity over the years.  After slugging through an entire (mental health) day with this section, I found that I couldn’t say everything I wanted to in 12 pages.  Twelve.  And I wanted to say more.  And this is a background chapter – not the meat of the thesis!  Oy.  I never thought I’d be able to be accused of wordiness/verbosity.  Seriously.  On the positive side, I think I did an okay job at stuffing every bit of pertinent information into the prose, while also making it understandable.  (That can be verified in a few days when I go back to make Round One of revisions…)  But, like I said, it made me think of the paper like a suitcase which I’m trying to cram full and still get it checked on the airplane, without going over the poundage limits, for free, both of which seem impossible in today’s day and age.

While I was writing this suitcase, I got really frustrated with the authors in the field.  Now, I know that I know what I’m talking about.  I started the work on my thesis topic two years ago, after freshman year.  (Yes that makes sense if you’re me.)  I’ve read tons of literature on this stuff, taken two courses that are near or direct hits on my topic (“French Canada” and “Intro to Caribbean History”), done an independent study on Canadian history (thanks, Dr. Blouet) and lived in Montreal.  But when footnoting the background information to my actual project becomes a problem, there’s something wrong with the existing literature.  Everyone had something different to say about how Quebec has evolved – diverging so far as to say that the Catholic Church did and at the same time did not have a heavy hand in influencing early nationalism.  So far as to say that French Canada (Quebec, really) did and at the same time did not urbanize, modernize, and industrialize at the beginning of the twentieth century.  So far as to say that Maurice Duplessis, the leader of a very conservative nationalist party that controlled Quebec government directly before and directly after the second world war, was at the same time well-intentioned and an evil backward person.  Um…  I don’t think that interpretations are supposed to get that diverse, even in a field where modern political/ideological biases heavily affect the way authors look at the earlier time period.  Some wise wisdom was bequeathed to me: Pull out what you find to be constants, and, for the rest, make your best judgement.  If things get really rough, make a note of the dissonance and move on.  Moving on…

So, I finished Chapter Two, and made a considerable effort today on Chapter Three.  By that I mean, I wrote the chapter from my head and will, perhaps tomorrow evening at work, start going through it intensely and footnoting.  I have one major goal for the chapter:  I have to cite Carolyn Fick.  There’s no real reason I should, since she writes about Revolution-era Haiti and admitted herself that she wouldn’t be any help to me.  But I met her in Montreal, and she took me under her wing, and for that I am very grateful.  (She met with me, accompanied me at a conference at McGill, introduced me to fabulous people, and checked in on me throughout the month… Above and beyond what any random acquaintance should do, especially a busy woman like her.)  So I want to cite her.  I guess I actually have two goals for the chapter, the second one being more academic and goal-oriented.  I want to be able to explain to the reader with authority why Quebec identity evolved the way it did, compared to how Haitian identity evolved. …

Alright, let me try to clarify.  In Quebec, there haven’t been any “real” instances where the French Canadian population was repressed.  I’ll concede that the early period, from Conquest (1760) to Confederation (1867) was a little rocky.  I mean, there was the whole Acadian expulsion thing… but then there was the whole Rebellion thing too…  For the most part, Britain adopted an accommodationist approach to the French habitants.  Accommodationist meaning the British accepted and enabled the French to continue practising Catholicism, speaking French, and also using their own civil code.  It wasn’t until after Confederation that the English Canadians started to completely ignore the French Canadians’ wishes (although I’m quite sure people would disagree with my statement).  And even then, “repression” is too strong a word – the English Canadians were seeking the same national unity that the French Canadians in Quebec were, just oriented to a higher political structure: the entire country (not the province).  So Quebec national identity has really grown up in relative wealth – there haven’t been many oppressive measures taken against them.  They were allowed to assert their independence in a calm, orderly fashion by taking greater control of their economy, immigration policy and language policy in the mid-twentieth century.

Haiti’s case is different.  Slaves, in the modern sense, are not allowed to assert their cultural diversity and develop sub-societies of their own – that is seen to detract from productivity.  Haitian religion, language, and even political mannerisms are all bastardizations of French colonial imports.  Vaudou, the “national religion” (most practised), combines several types of African belief systems and gods with certain Catholic motions.  [[Check out Maya Deren’s “Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti”, an early documentary complete with the beheading of chickens and I think goats…]]  Kreyol, the “national language” (most understood), adopts French terminology in an African grammar structure.  (Seriously, if you know French well enough, you can sit through a Kreyol Catholic mass and understand everything; reading is somewhat easy after a while; you just can’t necessarily respond in Kreyol.)  There was real repression in the case of Haiti’s national identity development, not just “unfairness” like in Quebec’s case.  And, once Haitian slaves got control of their own government, more repression helped create the rest of their identity.  Corrupt, patronage-led governments encouraged Haitians to rely on family and friend rather than official programs, because these blood linkages were more constant than the regimes were.  (Seriously.  Haiti has averaged a coup/insurrection/military or peasant uprising once a year since 1804, just about.)  And inconsistency in which language and religion were the “official” one of Haiti allowed them to keep practising vaudou and speaking Kreyol, while the elite could also be Catholic and speak French.  It kept changing so much that there was no way to fully habituate Haitians into one or the other.

So, I don’t know if there’s space to say all that, but I think it’s something worthwhile.  Now you know.

Finally I want to leave you with an etiquette lesson.  This week I presented my thesis to an audience for the Honors colloquium.  I was the second person of a two-person panel.  After sitting through an incomprehensible and very abstract (and overly long) presentation, about two-thirds of the audience left, the first speaker and his advisor included.  Now, I know this might be a common occurrence in professional conferences and in non-professional settings.  But it is still rude.  Just like you don’t clap between movements of an orchestrated work in concert, you don’t leave the room until the entire session is done, whether or not you’re interested.

So, for the weekend: Footnote Chapter 3.

For Monday/Tuesday: Elaborate and footnote Chapter 1.

By Wednesday: Send to unsuspecting victims for disapproval.  Cope with criticism.

Hidden meanings

January 27th, 2009

Chapter Four came back surprisingly quickly, since it sucked… Well, to be fair, the prose itself wasn’t all that bad, but it needs a good sit-down and comb-through before it’ll be up to snuff. The comments I got back on the first three pages of it (all my advisor would read, at first) smarted. I fully admit I have trouble taking criticism well when not expecting it. However, the comments were quite helpful; I’ll fully admit this, too. Another professor and I were talking about it, and the problem I had was apparently a “conceptual” issue: I didn’t know what the heck I was saying, when I was saying it, and where it all fit into the Big Picture. Chapter Four – the immigration history chapter – seems to be a sort of transition point in the larger narrative. Before it, I’ll have to talk about theories and concepts and abstracts, approached from a Canada-Quebec perspective in order to really draw out the distinctions that made Quebec national identity what it is today. After it, I’ll have to talk about the real people, their stories and lives and experience in Montreal during the last few decades. So with the immigration chapter I have to transition both a prose style (dry and boring technical stuff, dates and “important people”, to exciting vibrant lives with statistics thrown around for good measure) and a geographical orientation (Canada-Quebec to Montreal). I had no idea this part was so crucial to the narrative.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to pick Chapter Four to write over the break; I wanted to do something else that I can’t remember – probably the earlier sections so I could just get them over with. But I’m glad I did. Combing through all of my notes, jotting down some new ones, and getting a couple of “aha” moments helped me place the material into their appropriate chapters. It’s still shaky, but I think I have a better idea of when I’m going to reveal certain things in the narrative to make it interesting and follow-able.  And having done that, the Big Picture is more clear than before.  It seems that all the chapter really needs (aside from gap-filling) is re-organization.

There are two ways I can re-work the immigration chapter to make it flow/fit better.  (The first one is my advisor’s idea; the second is mine.)  1: Integrate the material that would go into this chapter into Chapter Two, where I explore the Quebec national identity and the conflicts that arise from nationalism.  Because immigration was part of the way the government of Quebec modernized and eventually “French-i-fied” the province, it makes sense that I could attach it to the end that chapter.  It would also provide a way for me to transition to a discussion of Haitian national identity.  Something like “Though the government saw immigrants as part of the improvement process, they might not have jumped on board as quickly as the nationalists would have liked.  Haitians, for example, had their own national history and identity.” The chapter on Haitian national identity would then transition into exploring Haitians’ experience in Montreal…  2: Split the immigration chapter into two sections, rather than disperse it.  The first half would talk about immigration policy and history from the dry-boring part, keeping the Quebec-Canada orientation.  The second half would transition to a Montreal orientation and develop the more personal tone, where I would talk about different immigrant experiences and end with the Haitian’s patterns of migration to Quebec.  This would transition well to the next chapters, which discuss the experience of Haitians in Montreal using culture and political participation as major examples to illustrate my points about their embeddedness in Quebec society.

This week, then, I really have to work on two things.  The first, of course, being the revision of this chapter.  The second is getting my sense of history (Quebec identity, Haitian identity) settled, and notes wrapped up to the best of my ability.  I won’t go so far as to say I’m ‘down to the wire’, but I certainly cannot dally about this semester.  The thesis really is due in a few months, whether or not I’m ready.  Five more chapters to go …

Power cord woes

January 6th, 2009

So, just before Christmas, when I began writing my second chapter (actually, Chapter Four), the power cord to my old G4 Mac laptop died.  Not the computer, just the cord.  You’d think it’d be easy to fix, but about two weeks later the replacement I bought has not yet arrived from Hong Kong.  Grr.

In spite of the power cord woes, I’ve tried to keep up with my schedule for Winter Break work.  Chapter Four got written in a very rough format (since I didn’t have notes, only memories to go by) on someone else’s computer, thanks to a flash drive which I’ve managed to keep track of since I last lost it mid-semester.  And I’ve been doing my best to get through the large, daunting and heavy reading on the development of Haiti as its own nation.  The book I’m using – Written in Blood – will be the base for the chapter on the Haitian national identity, since it provides a continuous narrative of Haiti’s development since 1492.   There are other texts – mostly articles, and one book – that I will use to round out the chapter and support some of my arguments.  For instance, I can’t just say that Haitian identity is grounded in a confusion of cultural identities – French/European, African, native, and foremost Creole – without providing some sort of facts.  WiB shows the reader what a fine mess the young nation was in when, between 1791 and 1804, France, Spain, Britain and some slave groups were all fighting for control of the Western half of Hispaniola (aka Saint Domingue, Kiskeya, or Haiti).  But modern situations, like the class difference between light-skinned and dark-skinned Haitians or the language barriers between the masses (who speak Kreyol) and the elite (who speak French), reinforce the same class distinctions that distinguished the first Haitians who supported, say, the French from those who supported other factions.  Bringing in multiple sources will definitely improve the Chapter’s quality and believability.

I’d hoped to be working on the other major section of my thesis, Chapter Five on the cultural production of Haitian Montrealers, but a good portion of that work was done in Montreal.  The notes for the books I read and other comments I made are on my laptop hard drive.  And what I could be doing either requires me to go to Swem, which I’ve avoided since it’s a long walk in the cold wet weather for a girl trying not to get sicker, or is cultural stuff that takes place after 1995 – the key date, the last referendum on independence in Quebec.  So I’ll do more background stuff.  Even though the plan got changed, I can still make things work.  And if I get antsy to write things up, I will just start pulling out the old papers I wrote for an independent study and – with the wave of my magic wand – transform them into Chapter Two on the development of Quebec national identity/problems therein.  [[Sounds like a plan for later in the week…]]

Other than that, I’m trying to audit a German language class so I can jump ahead on grad school language requirements (and amuse myself), lining up job interviews so I can maybe stay afloat this semester, and enjoying the break.  Except the part where I have to do dishes all the time.   I’m not particularly looking forward to my last semester at WM (unless I can get into the German class which has about thirteen open slots).  So the longer this break lasts and the more I can accomplish without the hindrance of taking classes and writing papers, the better.

On a personal note, I was in a bookstore near my house today (the Book Exchange on Jamestown Rd, next to Fresh Market) and spotted a James Michener book I might like to read, Caribbean.  As I’ve been going through WiB I was disappointed at how much it seemed to miss.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic textbook for someone taking a Haitian history course, a good refresher (if long) for someone like me, and it aligns quite well with the conventions of the field of Haitian/Caribbean history.  The authors clearly state that their starting point was picked because of the lack of records due to sanctioned burning of official documents over the years.  But I think Michener’s book could at least satisfy my urge to know more about Haiti as it was before European involvement; most of the Caribbean histories are written as if European discovery was the only thing that made the islands worth talking about.  *shrug*  That’s my two cents for the day, I guess.

It’s creepy to think that at the end of this semester, I will have graduated with two Bachelor degrees and will need to prepare a manuscript to send to publishers who requested copies of my finished thesis…  Just creepy.

Now, it starts.

October 15th, 2008

So, I made a decent amount of progress on last week’s goals even though I can’t cross them out as completed.  First, I discovered that I could draw out a lot of interview data from handwritten notes, isolating less than four hours of recordings to listen to rather than eight.  There’s a long car ride this weekend that I can spend doing the rest.  Good.  And I spent two hours with Stu last Friday learning how to use the GIS program to get maps made.  I plan to spend a couple hours tomorrow before class in the computer lab playing with that.  He says that the hard part is done, since most of the data I need is already in.  I know how to put more in, should I need it (I probably will).  Good good.  I’ve isolated a few chunks of primary research that I want to hit in the chapter I’m working on, but haven’t had the time yet to actually draw conclusions from it.  And, in spite of having a lot of research done, I have only a vague idea at this moment of what secondary research I will use to back up my ideas.  But no worries.  Likely that vagueness is just because I don’t have the research list in front of my face.

At this point, I know that (in spite of what some people said in interviews) immigrants had a definite impact on the last Quebec referendum on independence.  I am curious to know how strong that correlation is.  [[The answer is .725/-.725 for the influence of immigrant population on the Non/Oui votes.  Ridiculously correlated!  As for Haitians, not so much… .081/-.081.]]  Lucky me, we’re doing statistics tomorrow in class! [[Check that off the list.]]  Also, I know that Haitians from the earlier waves of migration had a more pleasant experience and a generally more positive view of their integration into society.  Later waves were less impressed, due in part to racism, recession, and issues of Quebec national identity that caused Quebeckers to lash out.  Part of this divide in how Haitians perceive their time in Montreal is due to the type of job and language skills that they arrived with.  Regardless, it seems that Haitians are able to participate politically and many choose to do so.  There are a number of  “activists”, a decent group of government workers, and still another set of actual political representatives for a variety of parties and at every level of government (local, provincial, federal, and suprafederal*).  It will be interesting to see how I force myself to draw a distinct, solid conclusion from the data.  I have an idea, but I can’t phrase it yet.  Oh well, I have a week…

So, goals: 1) make maps [[I think this is mostly done, for now, but I can’t bring myself to cross it off the list]]; 2) code interviews [[Pretty much done!  Enough to know what I’m talking about]]; 3) brush up on bios of political candidates/reps; 4) review primary sources; 5) write chapter six!

*Btw:  I made up the word suprafederal to designate Michaelle Jean; she’s the Governor-General, an appointed representative of all of Canada with no formal place in the legislative, judicial or active executive body.  Historically, her position is to mediate relations between the Crown and the Colony (I think).  Now, …  I’ll have to look that up.

Umm… oops?

September 19th, 2008

So after my interviews and literature review, I was under the distinct impression that ethnicity did not play a major role in voting patterns, especially in the case of Haitians.  There was a lot of backlash from the community when Jacques Parizeau, then leader of Quebec and  the Parti Québécois, stated infamously that it was “money and the ethnic vote” that lost Quebec its independence.  But now, with my initial data sets compiled regarding 1) general election voting results; 2) referendum voting results; and 3) ethnic composition by voting district, I have to revise my beliefs.

I think, now, that immigrants indeed affected the yes: no ratio in a district in the 1995 referendum on Quebec’s independence.  Whether or not Haitians are complicit in this has yet to be determined.  The data are not clear enough for an initial glance to suffice: voting results are not broken down specifically by one’s ethnicity.  I’m still not sure how to tackle this murkiness.  I have a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with Stu Hamilton [[Thanks, Matt!]] to talk about map-making using my data sets.  Hopefully this will help me organize my thoughts.

Again with the Thursdays!

September 18th, 2008

Last time I met with my advisor I got assigned the revision of my thesis, as in the revision of the major claim to be supported in the up-to-100-pages of the eventual paper thesis. For this I had to read two articles. The first, the Rouse article, takes my topic from a comparative perspective, since it focuses on Mexican immigrants in the US. Rouse wrote of a “bifocality” that guides these migrants’ decisions, effectively placing them between two worlds, Mexico and the US. [[Btw, Between Two Worlds is the anthology in which Rouse’s article is found. Go figure!]] In a similar fashion I have found that Haitians in Montreal are placed between two worlds, Haiti and Canada. Rouse argues that migration should not be considered as “principally … a circular process in which people remain oriented to the places from which they have come” (1991: 251) since this ignores their presence in, contribution to and integration into the place to which they have gone. In describing the Mexican workers, he also says that “their proximity has produced neither homogenization nor synthesis” but rather a “maintenance of two quite distinct ways of life” (1991: 254). The same can be said for Haitians in Montreal, with some modification.

The second article, a chapter in the latest Migration Theory edition by Brettell and Hollifield, outlines somewhat the historiography of immigration history for those who concentrate on the U.S. Hasia R. Diner points out something I hadn’t thought of before: for immigrants of the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, “back home” is a lot closer than for immigrants of China, Europe and Africa (2008: 39). Thus the circular route of Rouse is a lot smaller, and Mexican (or Haitian) immigrants are more able to co-exist between their two homes than are Chinese or Jewish immigrants. I think this has much more merit, in my study, for the Haitians living in Miami than for those living in Montreal, or even in New York City. Climatological differences, for one thing, emphasize the fact that Montreal’s Haitians are definitely not “home” anymore. The geographical barrier of the United States presents a second major challenge to ease of return, if not in real terms then in perceptions.

So what is my thesis, now? Same as before. Haitians in Montreal represent a new kind of Quebecker. The old models of transnationalism are not sufficient to describe their place in Quebec culture and society, since they imply that Haitians are more concerned with returning to Haiti than with settling and integrating into their new home.

After having read the article by Diner in Migration Theory, I realize that my ultimate goal is to do just what hasn’t been done in immigration history thus far: model it. Diner writes that “Concern for the particular has far outweighed the interest in creating typologies, categories or models” in immigration history, in spite of frequent reference to the benefits that such typification would provide for future study and teaching. What I want to do is examine a cross-cultural set of data on immigrants in nationalism to see if there are patterns of integration that help or harm the full acceptance of an immigrant group into their new society. I guess there’s a place for me after all.

This week’s goals: 1) Get through Georges Woke Up Laughing (Schiller and Fouron, 2001) to have at least one “comparative” thing to discuss in my thesis paper. 2) Compile data on the number of Haitians in each voting district for the early 1990s, 2001 and 2006, so I can be prepared to bring Prof. Hamilton the numbers I want to use for making a map – meeting on Tuesday afternoon. [[Done! I hope to find data from the 1991 census, but I have ’96,’01, and ’06 data.]] 3) Send Cindy a revised thesis statement and notes about supporting arguments for Wednesday’s meeting [[Done!]]. I guess this week is ambitious, but only because I know I’ll be sitting at work doing “football parking” outside Blow Hall for five hours, more or less alone. I can definitely bring a book for that.

Random inspiration

September 9th, 2008

I realized today in the middle of doing some other class’s reading that it would be really easy to argue that Haitian Montrealers/Haitians in Montreal/haïtiano-québécois have a distinct nationalism that has developed out of their experiences as Haitians and as Montrealers without leaning one way or the other. Admittedly, I need a better, deeper look at the mass of literature that theorizes about nationalism, but the basics for a nationalism are met by the group I am studying. They have their own language, or actually languages – bilingualism is almost a rite of passage for Haitians in Montreal who need to know both Krèyol and French. They have their own literature, as witnessed by the massive output of poets and scholars ranging from basic fiction (Dany Laferrière) to poetry (Robert Berrouët-Oriol) to literary and political commentary (Joël Des Rosiers). They have their own history, which straddles that of Haiti and Quebec as well as combines the two in a history of Haitiano-Quebec relations, outlined especially in Lyonel Icart’s “Haïti-en-Québec: Notes pour une histoire”. (He’s a Haitian Montreal, too.) They also have their own religious practice, both vaudou (I learned not to call it voodoo, thanks to Prof. Le Glaunec) and Roman Catholicism – again, straddling and combining the two places. Common social sense, myths about Haiti and Quebec, an economy, political representation and most importantly radio broadcast representation* further solidifies Haitians in Montreal as their own particular “nation” within a nation within a state.

[*Radio is the primary form of media communication in Haiti proper, in part due to the high rates of illiteracy and the ease of device sharing among the high numbers of lower-class citizens. Thus radio representation in Montreal is a distinctly Haitian concern, but within the context of CBC/Quebec radio becomes transformed.]

The problem I see with this theory is that it is almost too easy. I also don’t think I want to categorize the group as its own subset. To do so would imply that they haven’t truly integrated into Quebec society, when for the most part they have. Just because you remember your roots doesn’t mean you love them or respect them or believe in them more than you do your current home. Perhaps even more importantly, I don’t think I could solidly justify this theory within the limit of a hundred pages, especially when I first have to give the background of my research question and then go into details comparing the two places (Haiti and Montreal/Quebec).

At least this is worth thinking about, and might spark some debate within my own paper.

Am I asleep?

August 22nd, 2008

Seriously, it’s not good to procrastinate, even if it’s unintentional.  Sometimes time can pretend to be stretchier than it truly is, leaving people like me caught at the edge of a cliff when they should have already built the bridge to walk across.  I’ve got research on the SNP – several notes files exist in a folder on my computer.  I’ve got the means to analyze the SNP website, and I’ve already done it once.  I’ve got some time and I’ve got the means to sit down and write the paper.  What I don’t have is the motivation.

 My topic for this project is the SNP’s role in maintaining the independence movement in Scotland.  They do it just about how every other political party does it:  history (we’ve been here fighting for this forever, we’ve been suppressed since Jesus died etc etc); a common identity, in this case related to Scottish health, law and education; language, in this case a misguided and admittedly feeble attempt to revive Gaelic (spoken by 3% of the population) but largely ignoring Highland Scots (which maybe 10-20% understand), both simply because they want to resent the English even more; and money.  I’ve already talked about the money aspect a bit, where the SNP toots the oil tugboat’s horn loud and proud.

So, see?  I have a paper.  But God help me if I will actually sit down to write it.  (And I need to, since I’ve been ignoring my honours thesis in favour of this more pressing matter… due 5th September.)