Posts Tagged ‘minorities’

Postcard from Paris

Bastille Day — July 14, 2013

Spending a bit of time in Paris turns your correspondent’s thoughts to America. (It’s an occupational preoccupation). I was particularly struck by these posters in the Metro:



The first reads, roughly, “Our ancestors were not all Gauls”; the second, “One French person in four derives from immigration.” Yet another placard shows a 19th-century bricklayer at work overlain with the legend, “Your grandfather in a museum.” The posters are part of a public relations campaign just launched by the French Museum of Immigration History to press the notion that “the history of immigration is every [French person’s] history.” More broadly, these posters appear to be part of  French elites’ larger effort to diffuse severe tensions around current third-world immigration by normalizing it, by casting today’s newcomers as just more of what came before. This is an historical stretch and the campaign has already ticked off the xenophobic right which focuses attention on crimes by Arab- and Sub-Saharan African immigrants against “real” Europeans.

That France seems in need of a campaign to instill there what has here been a long accepted cliché, endorsed by both left and right, that we are a “nation of immigrants,”says a lot about the difference between America and Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And it says something else about that difference today.


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