Last week Public Radio International’s “The World” featured Canadian Comedian Sugar Sammy. Sugar Sammy has found a way to poke fun at the hot issues surrounding the French and English language conflict in Montreal and other regions in Quebec, from the perspective of an Indo-Canadian living in French Canada.
Francophone – Anglophone tensions are up in Quebec right now (the only Canadian province where French is the sole official language – English speakers represent the minority) and have been highlighted with the latest news frenzy over an incident dubbed ”Pasta-gate.” The international news has targeted the region’s well-funded language law enforcement that cited a restaurant for using the Italian/English word “pasta” instead of its French equivalent and tried to ban it. (Click here for a good article about the incident from The Guardian.) Last time in Quebec, when exasperated that I couldn’t find someone who spoke English (It’s still hard for me to get used to a French-speaking region a short drive from our U.S. borders), I was quickly reprimanded for the belief that they should speak English. Why shouldn’t I speak French? Point taken. Resistance to the global move towards English language supremacy is nothing new. And there is a long history involved with the Quebec conflict, much more complex than language alone.
The Quebec-born son of Indian immigrants, Samir Khullar – or Sugar Sammy as he goes by – has found a way to get the dueling French and English speakers of that region laughing at each other and themselves - at least during his shows. I think it’s brilliant – it may not change policy today, but laughter is always a good icebreaker and I believe begins the process of compassion and understanding.
Sugar Sammy believes in a demographic in Montreal that live in French and English on a daily basis. After years of doing separate French and English shows, he has started to do bilingual stand-up comedy shows – something he was told would never work – to French and English-speaking audiences. He has experienced much success, with sell-out shows. He even has the politicians playing along.
Sugar Sammy can make you laugh in four languages – English, French, Punjabi and Hindi . He now does four separate shows: in French (En français, svp!), in English (Illegal English Edition), the bilingual show (You’re Gonna rire) and a new show aimed at Quebec’s Indian immigrants and their offspring (Indian Edition). As a half Mexican/half German with a French first name, I’m intrigued. I’m crossing my fingers that our summer trip may coincide with an Illegal English Edition show because, sadly, we don’t know French. Yet.
I remain convinced that bilingualism is a true gift – I send my kids to full Spanish immersion public school in California. I just hope we can all get along and appreciate our capacity for speaking different languages. In a place like Quebec it might be a long shot. But Sugar Sammy might just make it a little easier and a lot more fun.
Photo credit: CBC
You can learn more about Sugar Sammy here.