15 April 2012

Double Nationalité

The other night, as I was walking hand in hand with my Frenchy husband, we happened to be behind a group of three young Frenchmen.  As we walked past the legislative house of France, we heard the following conversation:

Frenchy 1: "What's that building there?"

Frenchy 2: "It looks like the Madeleine [a church bearing similar architectural characteristics on the other side of the Seine].  Yea, I think it is the Madeleine."

Frenchy 3: "Yes, it is the Madeleine."

Ceci n'est pas la Madeleine...

Hubby and I cracked up, but we were also crying inside.  Here are 3 young French people walking past a building, that even if it were not marked "Assemblée Nationale" in big gold letters across the front, they should have been able to recognize it as the heart of their government's lawmaking function.  I commented that it is sad that these three people have French nationality, when they don't even know certain things about their own government, yet I, and other immigrants, have to fight every day to prove that I am worthy of one day having French citizenship.  I won't even go into the rocky relationship that Socialist Presidential candidate, François Hollande, has with the subjunctive.  All I can say is someone needs to send him a copy of Les chevaliers du subjonctif stat.

Economic crisis, high unemployment, and protectionism have given France's Presidential candidates the necessary canon fodder to go after the favorite scapegoat: immigrants. They are all guilty of pandering to those who would prefer to blame the misery of the French people on thieving, un-French people inhabiting this land, rather than looking at structural or even cultural reasons as to why France is somewhat stuck in a rut.

3M unemployed surely means 3M immigrants stole their jobs

Promises have been made by many to reduce the number of immigrants in France by wide margins.  New, more rigid procedures have been put into place for the naturalization process, to ensure mastery of the French language as well as assimilation into the French culture and national identity.  To become French, you must know the nation's history, language, and cultural values and in some ways, the unspoken expectation is that you renounce many of your own cultural traditions and values in favor of becoming French.  You must now sign a charter stating that while in France, you acknowledge that you will only be recognized as French and that you must uphold the values of the République.  Part of this is understandable, and is a practice in many countries when you attempt to become a citizen.  But the politicians that write these new rules do not know what it is like to be a foreign-born French citizen.

France's recent tragedy in Toulouse helped to further incite the immigration/national security debate among various Presidential candidates.  A French-born Mohammed Mérah, claiming connections to al-Qaeda carefully planned a massacre of French military personnel and Jewish community members, resulting in the death of 7 people.  Because of his Algerian heritage, calls to further reduce immigration were made, as well as calls to punish those who seek violent indoctrinization outside of France.  Sarkozy went so far as to threaten to strip foreign-born French citizens of their French nationality should they be found to be violent criminals.  Yet, they missed the point...Mérah was French.  His family had been here in France for years.  He was a domestic terrorist, educated in French schools, raised under the French flag, instructed in Republican ideals.  Many French people around me missed this point.  They wrote Mérah off as an Algerian terrorist.  It just goes to prove that even if you are born in France, generations after your first relative set foot in this country, you stand to not be considered French by your compatriots.  Especially if you are a race other than caucasian; a religion other than Catholic.

And it is this fact that helped turn Mérah into the person he became.  As a childhood friend of Mérah's recently quoted in the New York Times,

"Our passports may say that we are French, but we don’t feel French because we were never accepted here. No one can excuse what he did, but he is a product of French society, of the feeling that he had no hope and nothing to lose. It was not Al Qaeda that created Mohammed Merah. It was France."

This quote is so true, because in France, you may have your passport, but you will always be "français d'origine..." and never just French.  Period.

I think it's a bit much...(Source: Mediapart)

I love France.  I love living here, I enjoy exploring the various aspects of its rich cultural heritage, and I look forward to one day expanding my family here.  I want any children that I may have to learn about French history and the Fables de La Fontaine, to know the words to La Marseillaise and to master the language.  But I also want them to know The Star Spangled Banner, American history, Mark Twain and Faulkner, and know how to make cookies.  If there is something that I really want them to draw from my US background, it is that America was a nation founded by immigrants, and that cultural differences make a nation stronger rather than divided. I shouldn't have to give this up to become French, and I shouldn't be expected to teach my children only French characteristics.  But this will not decrease or diminish the respect and loyalty that I have to either one of my countries of citizenship.

No nation is perfect, and every nation has its xenophobic, protectionist mindsets, especially at the time of an economic crisis.  But as a foreigner, married to a French citizen, and living in Paris, I find that current trends in France's legislation dealing with people like me is harmful and terrifying.  You definitely have to work harder to prove that you deserve a second citizenship, and that you are capable of becoming a productive, participative citizen of your new country, but that doesn't mean that French people should get off easy just because they were born entitled to a French passport.  They too should live up to the standards of liberty, equality, brotherhood.  They too should have a mastery of their language.  They too should know their buildings and important monuments.  They too should be able to quote Molière, Rousseau, and Voltaire.  Every nation should instill this within their citizens, natural or foreign-born.

But I guess we still have a long way to go.

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