Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sorry this isn't a happy post filled with photos

This past week was the anniversary of the riots that happened in suburbs all over France last year. I don’t think it’s surprising that nothing has changed since then. The minorities and poor whites living in these banlieues are still marginalized and disrespected by the government and the majority of French citizens. (This situation seems strange to Americans because the cities are where most of our immigrant and impoverished populations live, while the middle and upper classes live outside of the city in nice subdivisions and have to drive at least 10 minutes to work. In France, the people with money live in the center of the city surrounded by the opera, designer clothing shops, and efficient public transportation.)
The people living a half hour outside the city of Paris are some of the most poorly cared for people in the country. They live in run down, high rise apartments that haven’t seen any upkeep since the 70’s, the unemployment rate is at least 10%, in some places higher and their public schools are inadequate and barely functioning with a high drop-out rate. And the population is mostly French citizens (not first generation immigrants, usually 2nd or 3rd) of Arab and African decent, with whites mixed in as well. This is not what people usually picture when they think of France; this looks more like home to me. And in some ways it makes me empathize more with these people that I see on television (because I have only walked through one banlieue since I’ve been here, and I didn’t spend any time there) because I know them; I’ve seen this before even though it has never been me.
But like the US, France has not changed the lives of these people since they broke shop windows, took to the streets and burned cars one year ago. Not only, I think, because the government doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t have time or money to worry about them unless someone more important than two young minorities die, but also because the riots did not have an apparent goal or a united message; the message received was that people are angry. Unorganized angry people can set their neighbor’s cars on fire, but they cannot change things. But they don’t know how to react and speak out because the sub-par schooling that they received was mostly discipline, and no want wants to help them. I can only hope that the few programs and people that are going into the suburbs are reaching these kids, because for the most part the rioters were no more than 18 years old, and teaching them that nothing will change through violence but that they can have a voice through voting and through education.
The French system of immigrant assimilation into the culture doesn’t seem to be working for them. Here, immigrants are expected to speak French, act French, and become the ideal French person. Not to necessarily forget all of their previous cultural ties and heritage, but it takes a backseat their new life. Not to say that our more integrative system is much better, although I think I prefer to let people retain their personal identities even if that makes us all so different and causes problems. But seeing this difference is extremely stirring for me because I can compare what I see in Detroit to what I see in France. I can see how the government and the citizens react to these kind of behavior; for example, by prohibiting girls from wearing headscarves (all outward religious symbols) at school, while in Dearborn students are free to wear veils, crosses and stars.
Don’t worry; the next post will be full of pictures and stories from beautiful España.


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