It is not as easy to remember the name of ‘Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration’ as easily as the Louvre or other well loved museums – but it is nonetheless one worth seeing. There aren’t any historic art pieces or archaelogical finds but it is a treasure trove of documents and images that capture the role that immigration has played into shaping modern day France.
The museum departs from the premise that the French revolution while ushering in the concept of Liberté, Franternité et Egalité, also forced a complete redefinition of citizenship while drawing the line between those who belong and those who do not. The birth of a republic also forced other questions to the fore – such as that of integration. That is, for those who do not fit the bill, what is to be done to make them a part of the freedom and equality loving majority.
The question remains pertinent today, more than ever. ANd I am hoping to follow this during the election period.
As for the museum, it gives a moving and informative overview of the influxes of immigrants – Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Eastern European, North and West African, the opportunities and problems these have wrought, the evolution of French public opinion on immigration from accepting to xenophobic and the contributions that immigrants have made to the broader culture.
‘J’ai deux amours’ an exhibition at the museum is also something to be seen – very insightful.
I found it interesting although I could not shake off an uneasy feeling about the consistent presence of a tenuous relationship with France’s various immigrants throughout the years. One could hope that the tensions and xenophobia of ages past are indeed history and nothing more.