Breizh Amerika is a "volunteer only led" non-profit organization building bridges between the USA and Brittany, France. Over the last six years we have organized events in over 20 American cities. During these events we have exchanged with many Breton expats that have fallen in love with American life but still have nostalgia for home. Many Breton expats feel torn between both places they love but work, family, and life sometimes takes precedence. Some only come back to Brittany for summer holidays and others make the big jump at one point to live again in place of their birth.
If you follow our blog or newsletter, you know that we share many Breton diaspora stories. The post below is a NY Times article from 1981 telling the fascinating story of Bretons of NY coming home to central Brittany.
Bretons of NY who move back to Bretagne
Two elderly ladies met recently on the main street of this tiny village in a remote corner of Brittany. ''That is a lovely coat,'' one said. ''It's like one I bought in Bloomingdale's years ago.''
''Thank you,'' the second woman replied. ''I got it at Lord & Taylor's just before Christmas.''
Not typical French country village gossip - except perhaps here in Roudouallec (pronounced rood-WALLECK), where more than half the residents once lived and worked in the United States.
''I loved the United States,'' said Henri Cadic, owner of the Renault agency and garage in the center of town, ''but after all I am French.''
Mr. Cadic, who earned the cost of his garage toiling as a Volkswagen mechanic in New Jersey, is typical of Roudouallec's French-Americans. He left this beautiful but poor country not to find a new life but to be able one day to make a good life for himself and his family here.
Roudouallec is a typical Breton village. That is to say, it looks very Irish. The whitewashed cottages with their high-peaked black roofs run like stone fences along the narrow streets, their walls bright in the soft rain that drives in from the sea. Like the vegetation in this empty, windswept land, the churches hug the earth and, all gray stone and moss, seem rather to have sprung from it than been placed there 500 years ago.
'It's Very Quiet'
''It's very quiet,'' acknowledges Jean Lescras, who until two years ago lived on East 77th Street in Manhattan. Mr. Lescras and his wife, Lilyane, operate the Bienvenue Restaurant on the main street of town. One day recently, three tractor-trailers, four smaller trucks and a handful of salesmen's cars were parked in his lot while their drivers tucked into his delicious, all-inclusive $6 lunch.
None of these clients had any idea that, before returning to France, Mr. Lescras was head chef at one of New York's elegant French restaurants, Raphael, on East 54th Street. Both he and his wife worked in various restaurants in New York in the two decades they lived there.
'We worked like dogs,'' Mrs. Lescras said. ''At least we don't have to do that here.''
The Lescras, like many of their neighbors here, never fully severed their ties with Brittany. They bought a piece of land more than a decade ago and eventually built a home on it. Every spare cent they could save went toward their eventual return. Now, they, too, have misgivings. ''We'll get used to it,'' she said, ''but you know, we left a lot of good friends in New York. We had a lot of good times there, too.''
Like southern Italy and the rural south of the United States, Brittany has always been a poor region whose principal export was its hard-working yeomanry. But it has always lured its sons and daughters home. Mrs. Lescras was following a family tradition when, at the age of 18, she went off to New York by herself to find a job and a husband. ''My father first went to the states in 1929,'' she said. ''He came back in 1934 and never returned.''
Both Jean and Lilyane Lescras speak English with the Celtic accent of Brittany. Not so their daughter, Michelle, who switches handily from French to pure Queens English - the borough, not the sovereign. Since she was a child, Michelle, now 20, has been spending all her summers with relatives here. Now happily married to a local man with a good wholesale produce business, she has no desire to go back to the United States, except for visits.
''Do you know Lefferts Boulevard?,'' says Louis Le Bris, speaking in French. Mr. Le Bris, who speaks Breton, too, but no English, was Roudouallec's Mayor for 23 years until he retired last spring.
''My brother lives on Lefferts Boulevard,'' he said. ''My sister lives near him and my nephew works for Grumman. He came here last year to sell radar for airplanes. Quite a fellow.''
Some of the younger people such as the Cadics and the Lescras, more attuned to the hectic American pace than they suspected and more irritated by pettifogging French bureaucracy than they thought they would be, are troubled at times by their return. Not so the Colin's.
A Golden Anniversary
When Celine Colin was 20, in 1929, she too left Brittany for America, hoping to find a job and marriage. She met Andre the second day at sea. He was a French Line steward. Last year they celebrated their 50th anniversary. They ended their careers together as the prosperous owners of Cafe Argenteuil, one of New York's well-known French restaurants.
They owned a home in Queens, like so many other French restaurant people, and a converted 200-year-old barn in Long Valley, N.J. Their home here, with its huge American kitchen and outsized garage, is one of the largest in Roudouallec.
The Colins spend six months here in France and six months in the United States. They sold their barn in New Jersey last year but plan to divide their time between New York - where a niece has fixed up a room for them in her apartment and where Mrs. Colin can scout Lord & Taylor's - and Florida. There, their nephew and former chef, Maxim Ribera, has opened a successor to the Cafe Argenteuil and has also fixed up an apartment for them.
''We have the best of both worlds,'' said Andre Colin, pulling fat leeks from a garden that grows year-round in the mild Breton climate. ''We have friends here - two of my old captains live nearby -and we have family in the states.
''We miss the view from our barn in Long Valley,'' Celine Colin said, ''and we miss the restaurant business and all the people we knew then, but for our age we have to say that we're happy.''
This article appeared in print on NY Times, April 22, 1981
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