Amy Cymerman

Amy Cymerman
African Studies and Government
Pittsford, NY

African migrants living abroad in the diaspora of France have historically occupied an opaque and underrepresented place in French society. As an African living in France- you’re citizenship is debated, as well as your identity is put into question. I incurred this observation through my preliminary research and was particularly confused by it because France has been long a country of immigration. France has been welcoming in immigrants from African countries since the start independence movements in the 60s. Therefore, the African population has been slowing mixing with France’s predominant white/Christian majority and consequently remodeling the demographics. What we see now happening in France is immigration becoming more and more like that of our own in the US- a melting pot of races and nationalities. However, despite the growing diversification of society in France, “colorblind” immigration and quotidian policies continue to ensue and stifle minority voices. These policies tend to glaze over real problems of racism and discrimination that affect Africans everyday. Additionally, the French republic persists by abiding to their Universalist and state centered policies amongst its newcomers thus denying any racial or ethnic identification. In other words, immigrants coming into France must assimilate and integrate fully into French culture, leaving their heritage behind. I found these perceptions and treatment of immigrants very intriguing because of how different they were to the American model of immigration. I wanted to dig deeper into the immigrant experience- specifically that of Sub-Saharan Africans, who journey from being a majority to a standout minority while living in France. I kept questioning- how do these visibly different SSA immigrants affirm their identity as an African and also as a French citizen? Additionally, how can Africans combat the typical racist stereotypes of being portrayed as naïve and unintelligent? How do African immigrants find solidarity within each other to create a unified ‘black voice’ or ‘black identity’? All of these questions came up during my research and I decided to pursue them by going to Paris, France to le Musée d’Immigration. In order to research SSA immigration, and black identity in France, it was necessary that I travel to France so I could observe the phenomenon happening with my own eyes. For my research I would travel daily to the museum, only a twenty-minute metro ride from the center of Paris, to collect data and information. Later on in the day at 14h, I would go to the médiathèque or interactive library that was associated with the museum. The médiathèque was extremely helpful in my research because it was a library entirely centered on the question of immigration, hybrizidation, and the presence of blacks in France. Thus, I was able to work in the archives of the library, listen to audio witness accounts of blacks in France, as well as read articles and books that I could exclusively find at this library and no where else in the world. Researching at the library and museum was extremely rewarding because it inspired me to take on another angle of my research- how black in France are portrayed through cartoons and animation books. Lastly, while stationed in France I was able to take advantage of carrying out informal interviews of SSA immigrants working at the museum. I wanted to take into consideration their personal experience being a minority and black in France. As a result of the research I did in Paris I can now accurately depict the changing French society toward African immigrants through my research.

Study Abroad: 
Global Francophone Cultures and
Sol Feinstone Grant