Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Third Time's The Charm

Thick walls, deep resentments

(The explanation for the title: Twice last week I tried to blog about this subject, but my efforts were botched by computer troubles. Here's wishing me luck this time...)

Even before the rioting that went on for three weeks made the fact of racial tension inescapable, I would already occasionally feel their discomfort, this pervasive unease.
Nico, who helped build our terrace, telling another story of how he had gotten into a fight with Beurs, second- and third-generation Arab immigrants, a fight that like the others that preceeded it, his anger, heft, and military training made sure was bloody. For my benefit, he added in English--quite unnecessarily, because how could I miss it?--"Me no like Arabs."
On our first visit to an Asian-goods supermarket in Nimes, Pierre warned me against ever coming alone, especially not at night. We were crossing the parking lot closed in on three sides by square, ugly buildings, and he told me of how he had grown up in places like this, the slums of France, inhabited mainly by Arab and North African immigrants. Pierre's eyes were alert, resting a few moments on a young man with brown skin, black hair, dark eyes. He knew this type well, he said, especially the feel of his fist against his face. Pierre was the son of a policeman, and until the age of 15, he was almost every day assaulted, sometimes verbally, often physically, by Beurs who wanted to get back at the older Mister Masssebieau and the establishment he represented.

Often Pierre would say to me, "I've travelled everywhere, but nowhere do I fear violence as I do in my own country. Out there, you know that when they attack you, it's because they want something, your wallet, your jewelry. Here, they'll do it just because they hate you."
Malika was the first Frenchwoman of North African origins I met, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants. She's in her forties, educated, single, working as a production manager for theater productions. Being those things has made her an outsider in her own ethnic community, where even now living outside their country women are expected to do nothing but marry their own kind, stay home, and raise children.
Lawrence, a social worker, invited us over for a grilled fish dinner where talk inevitably turned to the rioting. Everybody seemed to agree that the violence got as bad as it did because the resentment that the young rioters had inherited from their immigrant parents have, in this generation, transformed into anger, even hate, because, yes, they really do not have the same opportunites as the blancs, the "whites." Lawrence had no trouble convincing us how hard her job is. She engages the interest of youngsters in the banlieus, the slums, so that they are motivated enough to enter into a training program. Then she has to help them find jobs. Are there any for these sons and daughters of immigrants? She shakes her head, "Rien." Nothing.


cafe rennais said...

It's great that you wrote this because i wondered how things are now in your part of france. with the news on car burnings and restlessness in some cities, it's refreshing to hear about your neighbor's thoughts. it's sad that these things are going on right now and somehow life goes on, but atleast we get to hear from them. and glad you guys are o-k.

apol said...

naku, dang, i had to give myself a crash course in french colonial history, especially the war in algeria, to understand it all better. after all, i am now part of the minority in this country that doesn't treat minorities very well. i wanted to put in so many other things, but didn't want to rush and give uninformed opinions. wait ka lang, susulat pa ako tungkol dito.

lb said...

crimes in first world countries are always so much scarier, because there is no other reason for it other than craziness, or hate. not poverty, not hunger, not necessity.