Sometimes when I walk on the mahogany mediterranean tiles of my house, I can feel the heat of the warm oven across my feet. It’s amazing to think about the many memories, French delicacies, aromas, conversations, and journeys that have mingled into the floors and walls of this narrow, and beautifully refreshing home.
This week, we visited the Pont du Gard, which is the second most visited monument in France. The Pont du Gard is an aqueduct located in Uzes, which was built in 19 B.C. This aqueduct was used to deliver fresh water to the Roman baths that existed in Nimes. This huge aqueduct, was used to deliver bath water! The Pont du Gard is also well known because it was built without the use of mortar, and is held together by iron clamps. And as you can see, it is very well preserved. France is in a very curious location. This has definitely been something that we’ve been discussing in my Sociology course. When Spaniards fled the dictator Franco many came to France. When Belgians, the Polish, and Italians sought work, many of them came to France. In 1921, the population of immigrants in France was an estimated 1,550,000 persons. In 1982, this number grew to 3,680,100 persons. By 1982, France was full of Portuguese, Spaniards, North Africans, Italians,and Sub-Saharan Africans.
And today, you could only imagine how much the immigrant population has grown, especially after wars of independence. Walking through the streets, you see that it is so impossible to say that someone looks "French." Even before France was "France", there were Celtic invaders, Romans, and Germanic tribes. It really makes you question your ideas about race, and national identity. Our professor asked us to reflect on our own personal experiences in France, as an immigrant. I talked about the way race is constructed in the United States with my host brother Thomas. I told him about the One Drop Rule, and about some of the history of American Indians. He was quite fascinated, but also very much informed about American history.
In Arles, it seems as if interracial relationships aren’t treated the same way they are in many parts of the United States. There are very many children in this city of mixed ancestry. I have not heard the racial terms "white" or "black" here in Arles. The only distinctions I have heard here would be for a gypsy (gitan, in French). In America, you find many separate quarters for ethnic groups.
If you travel through downtown Los Angeles, you cross Koreatown, Chinatown, and Little Ethiopia just to name a few. We talked about the idea of assimilation. Are there Americans who still feel like immigrants? Another fascinating idea that I’ve thought about here in France is the beauty of our origins and Ancestry in Progress. In America, for those of black African descent, we often talk of our ancestry up until slavery. But what about our history before slavery? What about our origins in Africa? In the US, why is Africa treated like a country? Does this make Americans uncultured and uninformed?
All of the young children that I have encountered here know all of OUR history and politics, AND their history, along with a second or third foreign language. People here in Arles have been very interested in the black experience in America, and they ask me all the time about my origins, and slavery is hardly a word that comes up in their questions. Its very weird to think about how our ideas about origins and identity differ. What do you think? Do you feel like you are an immigrant? I think many of the people in my program have felt like immigrants. There are times when I feel like an immigrant as well.
I think a lot of French people will assume many things about Americans in general, but won’t assume things about you personally. Of course, this is my opinion. I feel that in America, a lot of our relationships are based on very superficial things (i.e. We can only be friends if you are rich and I can get something out of you someday). From what I have gathered, people get to know you as a person and an individual first, before they ask about your profession or how much money you have. Sometimes when we walk into shops, people will say "Oh Americans! Hello Hello!. Very Good, Very Good." This is very innocuous, but it makes you feel weird at times because you are here to learn French and blend into the crowd. But there is something about us, that just says "American." Who knows?
Tomorrow, we are holding another aperitif, and we have invited the Mayor of Arles and other city officials to our school. Then this weekend, Les Rencontres d’Arles, a photo festival featuring artists from Korea, China, India, and all over Europe. And Wednesday night, the first Corrida! Please leave comments. Do you feel like an immigrant in your native country?
Ryan Forbes Morris ’08