Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Monday, August 07, 2006

African Hunger Strike, and the Seeds of Racism in Limoges

Next to Pierre's office is an abandoned building where African residents of Limoges are now protesting with a hunger strike, and demanding paper as legal residents. When I walk by to meet Pierre after work, I peer inside and notice the mattresses on the floor. Men are seated outside, quietly talking, and I wish I could ask them about the strike, but I've only just learned the French word for hunger, so conversation would be a little stilted.

We recently invited our neighbors for an aperitif in the garden. The couple next door work in the hospital, and commented on the illegal Muslim Africans who come to give birth in the hospital, without paying for care. Sometimes a man will escort two of his pregnant wives and demand two separate hospital rooms, though denying he's the father so as to ensure the higher government payments for a single mother. People from the developing world desperately want to give birth on French soil to get coveted citizenship for their children.

Our other neighbors, a darling couple who impress me with their exercise regimen (two hour runs!), work in two different factories: a printing press and auto-parts manufacturer. They commented how the Africans seem lazy, don't want to work, but expect hand-outs. They pointed out the difference between these immigrants, and the hard-working Latin American folks who go to the US looking for jobs.

I listened, and thought a lot about migration between developed and developing worlds, racism, and where it stems from. Blue-collar communities like Limoges have dedicated their lives to their work, with the promise of abundant benefits (social security, vacation days, retirement) from the Great French State. A lot of folks I've met in Limoges seek comfort in the security of jobs, rather than embrace ambition. They choose benefits over the hope of a higher-paid job. And the French will fight to defend that precious State system. Immigrants who free-load are seen as jeopardizing it.


Post a Comment

<< Home