Tag Archives: immigration

From Tunisia to Europe

Recently we have heard of clashes between Tunisian migrants and locals/police forces in Lampedusa. Here is a video about how these migrants travel to Europe across the Mediterranean.


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Decolonisation in school books

In relation to my post about Paris’ Museum for Immigration, I would like to mention a young comedian I discovered last weekend on a French comedy show. “Rire Contre le Racisme” (Laughing Against Racism) is a stand-up show with various comedians supposed to make people aware of racism and fight against it. Most of the comedians were boring – if not racist themselves – but fourteen year-old Stephane Bak stuck out and made some smart points about contemporary problems that young people from migrant backgrounds are sometimes faced with; for example he pointed out that the teenage black boy he is could not relate to his school history books as he could not find his own history inside them. I quote him: “the only time I see a black person he is wearing underpants and is being whipped!”. History books would therefore only depict the indigenous populations of the former colonies as “Exotic” figures subjected to the Frenchman.

This reminded me of how French school books are very backwards in how they explain colonisation and decolonisation. I myself remember studying decolonisation as a list: 1956 independence of Tunisia and Morocco, 1958 independence of Guinea etc. Algeria got a little more attention but only because the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale, the Algerian independence movement) was deemed violent enough to be mentioned as it led a series of attacks in France. No mention was made of what France did to Algerians and of its illegitimate presence in Algeria. This approach to France’s recent history goes back to 2005 (43 years after the independence of Algeria!) and I doubt the contents of school books have changed much today…

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Immigration in a museum

This time, no Louvre, no Notre-Dame. I’ve heard of the Museum for Immigration (Cité de l’Immigration) and I want to see it. I can’t quite recall how I found out about it but during a recent stay in Paris I knew I would feel disappointed if I left without visiting. Being of Mauritian-Indian descent and having studied migration to the UK for more than a year for my dissertation, I felt curious about how migration would be presented in a French museum. The museum is relatively new, from 2007; it is also far-off – you have to change a good number of lines to get there – though it is easy to find. I expected to find information about the different waves of migration to France, the Poles, Portuguese, Italians, North Africans, how they arrived and worked and maybe, integrated. I did not know what else I would see, and hoped the museum would surprise me with an interesting take on multiculturalism or racism for instance.

To my disappointment, I found only what I had expected. The museum is divided into three parts (as explained by the guide provided inside): the first deals with migration in itself, the countries from which people left and how they arrived in France. The second explains how migrants found work, went to school and depicts their every day life in French society including sports. The third part is dedicated to objects and words from other countries, some of which have now been adopted by French culture and language.

What struck me was that the museum dealt with all these themes quite superficially, and in a very neutral manner. The link between North Africans/ Africans and France through the former empire is only mentioned in passing when I believe that more context should be given to better understand the ties that exist between France and those countries today. Discrimination was depicted in old posters and caricatures but nearly only there. It was interesting to read about the evolution of laws with regards to migrants but it would have been nice to find more information about far-right movements and anti-racism organisations (such as SOS Racisme). Also, the themes of integration and mixing lacked body and needed to be dealt with more extensively.

What about the National Front? What about neo-colonialism *inside* France? What about food? Why not say out loud and clear that France is still a discriminatory state with right-wing parties while couscous is now part of French cuisine?

Practically speaking, the museum also lacked a few basics such as couches in front of the tv screens instead of just the one stool.

Despite these drawbacks, the museum is still a great initiative and the website is a good introduction to anything to do with immigration in France. The staff was also very helpful and friendly so the museum has a lot of potential on top of being modern. I did not visit it myself but I heard their library was good.

In any case, any initiative to contribute to better understanding other cultures is not to be undermined and this is certainly not my purpose here. I rather like to think that we should endeavour to develop them and make them better. Immigration cannot be dealt with superficially in terms of figures and maps. We have to be more open about it and make sure that all the issues it encompasses are not taboo!

[The papers read: “work permit”, “residence permit”, “identity card”, “passport”, “orange card” (transport card) and “breathing authorization”.]

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