We are all immigrants

So much to say, so much has been said and is still being said on this terrible Muslim ban.

Unlike the “Women’s March”, I did not join the protest in the airports this weekend. But I was there in spirit and so proud to hear a lot of people had gathered at Detroit airport.

detroit-airport-protest-29-jan

This time, Muslims from specific countries are the target of what we can only call pure racism and scaremongering.

What amazes me is this fear of immigrants, not only here in the US, but also in so many other countries. In the UK this fear has given us the unfortunate Brexit and in France it’s offered to a political party full of hate and spite a recognition and electoral scores they do not deserve. They are, with the “Collabos” of WWII, the only French thing that makes me feel ashamed of my country.

I have never understood that fear, that hate of immigrants. Are people that heartless? Are people that unable of any drop of empathy? Or memory?

Being an immigrant is not something fun, nice, enjoyable , something to do to annoy or steal from others and very often it is something people did not wish to become. Have we ever asked ourselves what pushed immigrants to knock at our borders? If you feel the urge to leave your country, it means you are in a desperate situation. Emigrating means moving to a place far away, far from your friends, your family, your culture, where people won’t speak your language, where you will have to start from scratch and very often will be condemned to under paid jobs, where your degree if you have one is likely to be ignored  – but despite all of that, it is sill better than to stay at home. Emigrating means selling everything, and packing your life in a suitcase and sometimes it means never seeing your family ever again. Immigrants are people who are fleeing something any of us would flee if we found ourselves in the same situation. Because they are fleeing war, torture, dictators, abject poverty, dangerous places where their lives and their children’ lives are at risk. I do not know how much I would be able to fight to save my life but I know that I would fight like a lion for my daughter’s. I would have no shame, no pride, no limit if my daughter’s life and well being were at stake. I am so lucky I have not been in that position so far. These people, all around the world, that we see demonized, treated like sub humans, are in that position. And they are doing something about it. They should be greeted with warmth, with compassion. They deserve our support, our friendship. They want what we want: live a decent life without fear, with basic human rights and with food on the table everyday. We should be proud they want to join our countries: European countries, North American countries are democracies and treat people with respect. What we tend to take for granted make our nations so attractive to people who were not as lucky in the great lottery of the birthplace.

And we forget so quickly that it is likely most of us are the produce of immigration.

Back in 2002, Le Pen went through to the second round of the presidential elections in France. To say it was a shock is an understatement. I was then a student in Nice – the Cote D’Azur, however beautiful it is as a place, is unfortunately famous for flirting a lot with the extreme of the right. Le Pen and his party were and remain to this day the racist French party – the ones who do not like Black people or people of North African decent. Lots of protests were happening across France and naturally with my friends we joined the local march. Windows where being shut as we marched down the streets and the crowd felt much smaller that what I had got used to in my home town (we love a protest in Toulouse! The heart is much more to the left there). But it is what we were shouting that still resonates with me to this day – “Nous sommes tous des enfants d’immigres: premiere, deuxieme, troisieme generation!” (We’re all children of immigrants: first, second, third generation). Until then, I had never really thought about that. About the fact that where I grew up, in south west of France, a lot of the kids at school had last names such as Lopez, Martinez, Da Silva, Gallina… About the fact that I was myself the great grand daughter of two people who had been born in Spain, who had crossed the border just after the first world war to find some work in France, because the northern Spanish province of Aragon was such a poor place with not much opportunity at the time. About the fact that until he died, after a life of hard work, and not much extravagance, my lovely great grand dad never really spoke French because it was not his mother tongue,  but it never mattered to me as a kid. I just loved him so much. Despite my French last name, I was myself a child of immigration, third generation. I was the descendant of people who had left their country, and not so much else behind because they were really poor. My great grand mother learned French at school, especially through the songs and games children shared and she used to translate for her mum when she interviewed for employment as a maid. She left school early because she needed to work too and became a shirt maker. They used to hide her in a box every time there was a control in her workshop as she was too young to work. They both worked so hard all their lives, they gave French names to their two daughters who both went to university and became teachers. But their first names, Maria and Pedro, were a constant reminder that they had been born abroad, they were immigrants. And I realised most of my friends shared the same situation– they had Spanish origins like me, or Portuguese or Italian, or even sometimes a mix of all. The difference with the immigrants Le Pen was demonizing, was that our families had emigrated a long time ago, and nowadays were fully integrated – so well that we did not question if we were French or Spanish or something else. We were French. I am French.

So, when I see the USA closing their borders, the very country that is the flagship for immigration, the country that was built by immigrants (and slaves…), that would not exist if some people had not made this mad gamble to leave everything behind in search for a better life. Americans are all immigrants. The only people who can claim to not be immigrants are the Native Americans. And let’s not start on how they were and are still treated because that is another story and not a positive one for the “greatest democracy in the world”. Well, to be frank, I am not sure who is the greatest democracy today but it is certainly not the USA.

I would love to end on a positive note, but I read an article this morning saying that Marine Le Pen is predicted to get 25% of votes at the first round of the French presidential elections in May and that has added to my disgust and anger. Add to that the UK PM is maintaining the invite for President Trump to come and shake hands with the Queen.

I’m off on Twitter to read some inspiring stories such as the one by @dyllyp to remind myself there are so many amazing people out there and that they certainly outnumber the vile ones.

twitter-29-jan-17

PS: while we all are angry about the Muslim ban let it be said that the Trump administration is quietly carrying on making horrific decisions. We all need to remain vigilant and well informed.

re PS: expats – not technically immigrants as they’re supposed to go back to their home country at some point. If you’re not planning to go home, you are an immigrant. Sounds less glamorous than expat for sure.

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