Kamel Williams April 1, 2020
Êtes-Vous Français? The Struggle of the Second Generation Maghrebian Citizens in their quest for Cultural Citizenship
Everyone is born with the need to belong. Whether it be to an institution. cultural group, or even a national identity, we all yearn to be a part of something bigger than us that helps to give us a sense of identity. Citizenship is defined by Oxford Dictionary simply as “the position or status of being a citizen of a particular country,” but what happens
when you are denied citizenship to the culture of the country you were born in? No one knows this to be more true than the second generation children of immigrants originating from the Maghreb region of North Africa, including Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, living in France.This group, although citizens by virtue of being born in France, are not accepted into the culture and also not recognized as a separate group from
mainstream France. I will focus on on how the French’s attitude of treating minorities, their ideas of what constitutes citizenship and their attitudes heavily impact the
marginalization of this predominantly Muslim, Arabic and French speaking minority group. The goal of this essay is to show the treatment of these people and the response to their cultural exclusion by declaring themselves French and claim that it plays a role
in their own identities regardless of who might disagree with them.
The vast population of France holds the belief that being french is more than just being born and or raised on French soil. To the mainstream society it is believed that to be french you must fit into what is stereotypically french, not necessarily wearing a beret or holding a baguette but rather being typically of caucasian descent. It is also a
requirement to claim France as your only culture and nationality. This of course can be very problematic and such is the case for the focus group of our essay. s Dr. Jean Beaman, Assistant Professor in Sociology at the Ubiversity of California Santa Barbara’s, in her book, Citizen Outsider: Children of North Africa Immigrants, asserts that the belief of what it takes to be French is dependent on racist and xenophobic
ideals. She backs up this claim by going to France and interviewing forty five different second generation magribean immigrants specifically in areas of Paris and it’s
roundabouts and compared the ideas of politics and republicanism and feelings of nationalism to France of her interviewees to better understand the general feeling of Maghrebean descendants surrounding the issue of their marginalization. Dr. Beaman appears to write in hopes of finding the root of the marginalization due to racial ethnic origin in order to bring to light the racist and xenophobic idea of citizenship and french
exceptionalism. One of the important things we learn from Beaman is France’s attitude towards the recognition of her racial groups is different from that of the American
method. Here in America, they are counted to see how much of the individual groups
make up a percentage of the population, creating the idea of the majority and minorities. France is a little different. France’s national motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” is said
with the goal of gaining equality for all french citizens, leading to the idea of categorizing different racial, religious and ethnic groups is viewed as discriminatory and contradictory to the belief of égalité, or equality. This leads to marginalization and discrimination to certain groups and no sure way of understanding the number of these groups and how to address these issues. One of the interviewees, Khadijah, a 46 year old frenchwoman of Moroccan descent stated, “we are invisible in the eyes of our national government…
it would be better to know how much of people like me are there than feeling like an outsider in my own country”.
Language is also a very important part of citizenship. France’s official language French is famous for being la langue d’amour, or the language of love. French has been the
language of the french for centuries and it is the surest way to prove to someone how french you really are. However, what happens when french is not the language that the people of France speak? What happens when the latin script is not the first thing that children learn to read and write and what they do learn is a language has a completely different writing system. That is the case for most of the second generation french citizens and while learning the language of their home and of the streets simultaneously, they may sometimes confuse the complex french grammar or apply
rules of arabic grammar to a french sentence. In her narrative, Mother Tongue, american writer Amy Tan asserts that different types of english have been adapted by
immigrants due to their adjustment to american culture by addressing the belief of what is considered standard english and what is seen as seemingly the lingua franca of
immigrants, broken english.Due to how differently she speaks English, she is often
looked down on and not taken seriously by those with a different perception of what English should sound like. On the last paragraph of the second page, Tan states, “I think my mother’s English almost had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life as well.” As Beaman points out, this is also true for most of the people of Maghrebean
descent. The Maghreb encompasses three different countries where Arabic is the first language and due to colonialism, French was widely spoken and incorporated in the Arabic language. This led to the first generation immigrants to have some level of communication in French but it was not always enough fluent, leading to their children acting as their translator. This can sometimes lead to the parent being regarded as uneducated and the child, unable to learn from the parents, uneducated as well and
being perceived as foreign. This can be extremely stressful for these second generation Maghreb and can sometimes lead to them repressing their language and culture in an attempt to fit into what is considered more French which brings us to my third source.
(Beaman, Citizen Outsider:Children of North African Immigrants in France)
The struggles faced by these children linguistically are very exhausting. This negative outlook can lead to them feeling excluded, marginalized and ashamed of their own culture and backgrounds. On September 13th, 2018, Nadia Daam wrote an article entitled “I Know Why I Don’t Get a Word of Arabic,” in the French magazine Slate FR. She is a second generation Frenchwoman of Alegerian descent. She recollects her experience growing up ashamed of her parents’ native tongue. She would adamantly
refuse to understand her parents when they spoke to her in arabic and would, after a period of time end up losing her skills in arabic. She reflects on how the same people who bullied her as a child growing up because of her linguistic capabilities turned around to be patrons of the language themselves, learning and boasting it in their complicated subjects.
Chicana femenist writer, Gloria Anzaldua, in her semi-autobiographical book,Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, published in 1987, addresses the topic of mexican american identity and argues that her mixed cultural upbringings allow her to form her own vision of her identity. Anzaldua’s purpose is to provide her readers the reason why the Mexican American Chicano language evolved the way it did in order to show the treatment and outlook of different groups given to people of Chicano descent . Though Anzaldua’s presented Mexican American response to marginalization in creating a new method of communication and method of self identification is different from the French Maghrebean approach, their circumstances are rather very similar.
Anzaldua states that these chicanos are not fully accepted by the culture of their parents and would be considered a foreigner if they were to go to their family’s country of origin while at the same time they are seen as foreign and outsiders in the country they were born and raised in. Similarly, the second generation Maghrebeans oceans away are in a very comparable situation. They were born in a country that questions their “Frenchness” because of their religion and culture and when they return to the bled
(arabic for country or homeland), they are thought of as too foreign to understand the issues and customs there, too “Frenchified.”
- Anzaldúa Gloria. Borderlands -: La Frontera. Aunt Lute Books, 2007.
- Beaman, Jean. Citizen Outsider Children of North African Immigrants in France.
University of California Press, 2017.
- Daam, Nadia. “‘Je Sais Pourquoi Je Ne Pige Pas Un Mot D’arabe, Qui Est Pourtant Ma Langue Maternelle.’” Slate.fr, 13 Sept. 2018,
- Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” [Threepenny Review 1990; 1989.] The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues across the Disciplines. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. 11th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill , 2011. 76-81. Print.