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we fly home

Yesterday I wrote about Africa Paradis, a Béninois film that depicts the migration en masse of down-on-their-luck Europeans to richer African pastures. This morning, the Europe edition of the Wall Street Journal ran a cover story with a similar plotline. First- and Second-Generation Françaises are “returning” to their parents’ homelands, the article says, in search of better job opportunities — and, interestingly, to escape systemic discrimination.

As France’s economy slowed in subsequent decades, however, unemployment rose, and hasn’t dipped below 7% for the past quarter of a century. In recent years, the jobless rate for immigrants has been around twice that of non-immigrants. Now that France is in recession, the first jobs to go are often those filled by minorities.

…. [In Morocco] Life can be better than in France. Surveys show that in France, applicants for a job have around a third the chance of getting a reply if their name sounds Arab or African as they do with a more traditional French name.

France is not alone in wanting to ignore race and ethnicity as markers. “You are all French now,” the state says. “And Frenchness transcends race.” But when your skin, your name, and the way others treat you tell you otherwise, what are you to believe? The (neo-)colonizer / (ex-)colony tango makes navigation particularly tricky.

I’ve had a few 1st and 2nd Gen friends move “back” over the years. It started happening when I was still in grade school — Marisa was 12 when she left her parents in Canada to go live in Portugal — and I have conversations with friends, now in their 20s and 30s, who want to live closer to their roots. There are new opportunities for them in China, in India, in Italy, in Morocco, and at one time, in Zimbabwe.

I can’t say this is a recent trend, but I do know that the tug to go “back home” pops up at one time or another. Goodness knows it’s crossed my mind.

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