Celebrate and Recognize Diversity
July 2021 DEI Article
“Full of Reasons to Celebrate and Recognize Diversity”
Written by Peonca S. Grier, CP, FRP, SHRM-CP
July is not only a time to celebrate America’s independence, but it also a month where we celebrate National French-American Heritage Month in the United States. During this month, we recognize the important contributions made by Americans of French descent. According to Texas A&M University, approximately 11.8 million U.S. residents are of French or French Canadian decent, and about 2 million speak French at home.
According to everyculture.com, many of the earliest French settlements in North America were mainly intended as trading outposts. Jean Ribault, a French Huguenot sailor, established two of the first French colonies near Beaufort, South Carolina, and Jacksonville, Florida, in the 1550s. He settled in these locations to compete with the Spanish for control of trade in the Caribbean region. In 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier became the first to travel the length of the St. Lawrence River. Although he failed to find the gold he was seeking, by 1542, he did reach the area that would become Quebec – including Montreal – in Canada. After forming an alliance with the powerful Algonquin Indians, Samuel de Champlain founded the first permanent French settlement in Quebec in 1608.
Originally, French colonial policy allowed only Catholics to emigrate, but most French Catholics were reluctant to leave their homes. As a result, the few people who came to North America from France were mostly explorers, traders, or Jesuit missionaries seeking to convert the Indians. These individuals tended to spread out and travel far into the wilderness. In fact, by the time the Pilgrims arrived in New England in 1620, the French had already discovered three of the Great Lakes. This migration to the Midwest later led to French bases in Detroit and St. Louis. René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle traveled the length of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico in 1682, and upon completion of his journey, founded Louisiana by claiming the entire Mississippi Basin in the name of King Louis XIV of France. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville followed by forming a successful French colony in New Orleans in 1717.
The California Gold Rush, which began in 1848, convinced a record number of French immigrants to make their way to the United States. About 30,000 people arrived between 1849 and 1851, with an all-time high of 20,000 coming in 1851 alone. Unfortunately, few of these immigrants ever found the riches they were seeking.
French-American settlement patterns reflect the fact that French immigrants typically came to the United States as individuals or families seeking economic opportunity. Rather than joining groups of previous French settlers or establishing French-American communities, these immigrants most often scattered to the areas where new opportunities seemed likely to be found. For example, the number of ethnic French living in Louisiana dropped from 15,000 in 1860 to half that number by 1930, as the prosperity of the South declined. In the meantime, the French population of California rose from 8,000 in 1860 to 22,000 by 1870, as immigrants pursued new opportunities in the West.
The fast assimilation of French immigrants into American society ensured that few traditional customs were carried over and practiced by French-Americans. Americans studied and emulated French culture, manners, cuisine, fashion, art, and literature. French-Americans mainly disseminated information and acted as role models. French chefs and restaurants bolstered the popularity of French cuisine, while the influence of French impressionists on American art became apparent. Even U.S. presidents ordered French furniture and silverware for use at the White House.
Pierre Charles L’Enfant (1754-1825), a civil engineer by training, fought with Lafayette during the American Revolution. He later became the architect of the United States capital city in Washington, D.C. His designs of majestic buildings and tree-lined squares were considered visionary. French artist Régis François Gignoux came to the United States in 1844. Édouard Séguin (1812-1880) was responsible for significant developments in the education of mentally challenged individuals. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851) founded the first American school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1817. Octave Chanute came to the United States from France at the age of six and created the wing design that became the basis for the Wright Brothers’ successful airplane.
Without these contributions, there is no way to tell where we would be today. That is why we celebrate diversity every chance we get. It is not the contribution of one – but the contributions of many – which have shaped our society and the way we live. Whether in a small or large way, we are all impacted by these contributions and should recognize them often. Read more about the impact of French-Americans by clicking here.
In July, we also celebrate:
- World Populace Day observed on July 11th. This day raises awareness to the urgency and importance of global population issues.
- International Nelson Mandela Day observed on July 18th celebrates the birthday and revolutionary contributions of Mr. Mandela on a national level. This day was declared by the United Nations in November 2009.
- Eid al-Adha falls on the 10th day in the final month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar. This year Eid al-Adha will be celebrated on the sunset of July 19th. Depending on the county, the celebrations can last from two to four days. It is a celebration of the commemoration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything for Allah.
- Pioneer Day is an official holiday celebrated on July 24th in the state of Utah and surrounding regions originally settled by Mormon pioneers. It commemorates the arrival of Brigham Young and the first Mormon settlers to Salt Lake Valley, where the Latter-day Saints settled after leaving Illinois. Under Brigham Young’s direction, over 360 settlements were established by the Mormon pioneers throughout Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, and California.
- National Disability Independence Day is celebrated on July 26th. This day commemorates the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990. The ADA provides protection from employment discrimination as well as better access to goods, services, and communications for people with disabilities. To read more about this observance, please click here.