There have been a few main themes in my time in Paris. The first is that France sees itself as a deep, rich culture that is a founding member of the European Union. The second is that the world is changing and France needs to adapt to these changes. The third is that immigration is a major issue, in that immigrants, especially young people, are acculturating and yet society is not ready to embrace them. This created a powder keg of tension that exploded in the immigratn youth rebellions in the Parisian suburbs a few years ago. And the fourth is that France is coming up to a presidential election, which casts a shadow on all our meetings.
During my stay in Paris from March 10 to 13, we have learned about the French perspective on the European Union, on immigration and education in France, about the economy, and globalization. The most interesting things, for me, were:
1) meeting with high school seniors at the Helene Boucher school. I sat with two girls who speak English very well, and participated in student strikes in the past two years, to protest the proposed labor laws that would allow employees under the age of 25 to be fired with no reason. They spoke about how hard it was to become employed at all in France and to lose it with no explanation was chilling to them, as it would be to any of us. I was impressed my their knowledge of the world, about opportunities, and about the fact that they spoke French, English, German, and Latin. One girl was taking Chinese class after school, to prepare for a globalized future. I got their names and e-mails because these girls are the leaders of today, and will be shaping our future.
2) The French census does not ask about racial and ethnic data because people realize that there is inequality and discrimination and are afraid that hard data would be used to confirm it. I believe that data is neutral. If it says that 15% of the population is X ethnicity, that is not good or bad. It's how you use it that becomes contentious. As Americans, we are used to this discussion and controversy. For France, it is new.
3)Meeting with an elected official from Massy, oneof the Parisian suburbs that experienced the youth rebellion a few years ago. This official was very matter-of-fact about the discrimination immigrant youth face, and their frustrations and lack of opportunity. I only wish that we had the opportunty to visit it to see for ourselves and to meet with the people directly, instead of having academicians, economists, journalists, and elected officials speak to us about it..
4) Meeting with GISTI.org about their work and the European Union's efforts to prevent asylee seekers from coming to Europe. The Secretary General share with me a map printed by Migreurop.org that showed asylee detention camps across the EU and their border states. GISTI provides legal aid to asylees in their immigration cases, advocates for immigrant rights, and publishes reports, in French, about immigration issues. That, by far, was the most interesting meeting I had so far on this trip.