When I think about my time in Paris, I think about how it is a cosmopolitan city where people you can meet people from all different walks of life, backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, races, and even nationalities. The homelessness in the city is astounding, as the cost of living in Paris continues to rise. And one is more likely to find minorities, immigrants, and first generation children in the suburbs or banlieue, the outskirts of the city of Paris. One thing that unites them all, however, is they all, more or less, speak French and well. It is common to hear English in the shops and restaurants, but not so much in the streets. Even then, as a foreign student, I was always aware of how French natives seemed a little put off with the Americans or foreigners who would enter into buildings speaking straight English. Sometimes, these French people even become hostile. I sympathized with them, careful to always begin or maintain conversation in French to the best of my abilities. The influences of globalization have overexposed them to American culture. As a first generation minority in America, it was interesting for me to see how the first generation French people my age felt about their country. I feel that it is there is a profound difference, with some people feeling that they are French because they have chosen to become so, and some people still working to navigate their two different homelands. From the French themselves, there seemed to be this prevailing idea that anyone who came into their country simply needed to let uphold their French-hood above everything else, whether that be a home country, mother tongue, or even religion. Becoming Frnech demanded that in France, you did as the French did, that all other identifications became secondary. This idea can be explained by the Frenc concept of Laïcité, which traditionally demanded a strict adherence to the separation of church and state, but has evolved into a concept tha forces the Muslim minority to forego adhering to their Muslim laws in favor of French laws.
The readings for this week offer some ideas that I feel help shed some light on the problems that minorities in France, and most especially the Arab and Muslim minorities in France face. I was most struck by Rushdie’s words in “Imaginary Homelands.” In my opinion, he seemed to be advocating a sense of openness to western culture, advocating for a sense of “cross-pollination” (20). I agree with him that this attitude toward different cultures is beneficial and one that does open both the writer’s and the reader’s universe a little more (21). However, keeping this in mind with the power dynamics I saw between the French and French minorities, I feel that Rushdie ignores the unequal exchange that occurs in some situations of cross-pollination. I feel that his argument could have benefited from some acknowledgement that every exchange necessitates a struggle for power, to be the dominant one. Still, I feel that Rushdie’s assertion that we should work to avoid the ghetto mentality, lest we fail to realize that there is a world outside of the ones we belong to (19) is a deeply powerful warning, one that means to protect people from being stuck inside of a box. And yet again, I feel as if he fails to include recognition that homelands are important as they are the first home, a home base even; they need not be the only home that one claims, but they hold importance in how they shape and color a person’s world or their perception of the world.