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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Other Ways of Looking at Integration

In a previous post I talked about migrant integration and I asked readers to help me with a thought experiment that went like this:
Think about your home country and the immigration/integration debates going on there.  Determine what you think successful integration by immigrants would look like in or back "home".  For example, you might agree with the following statements "they should learn the local language"  or "they should not have a negative impact on the natives" or "they should be respectful of the people who already live there" or "they should avoid conspicuous expressions of religiosity." 
And then turn around and apply the exact same standards to a fellow citizen from your home country who lives as part of a migrant/expat community outside that home country.  Do you find that you can apply your integration standards equally to immigrants in your home country versus emigrants from your home country living abroad?  Or do you feel that you can't because the situations are simply not the same?
A few brave folks were kind enough to comment and it made for a very interesting discussion, though I note that no one really directly answered the question.  

Back in 2013 I wrote this piece which was my take on migrant integration from the perspective of a migrant (me) in France.  I reread it this morning and, frankly, I wouldn't change a thing.  I still have the same questions - I still feel that sense of confusion.  Here it is again for your reading pleasure this morning.


In all the countries I've lived in there is an on-going discussion about the migrants and their integration into the host country.  It's a hard discussion to have because "integration" is a very broad term and a moving target.  When a native argues that the migrants must conform (or at least give lip service to) to his values that begs the question of which ones?  All of them or just the ones that particular native at that point in time thinks are important?  People change their minds (and their values) all the time.   Societies are not static.

Saying that migrants should act like natives, talk like natives, and share their values is a nice general principle but often breaks down in practice.  When a society is at war with itself over certain issues, migrants are left not knowing which foot to dance on.

Take something like the "Mariage pour tous" in France (know as Gay Marriage in the U.S.)  So what do the natives think about this?  Well, some are saying that this is going to literally change French civilization for the worse and that nothing less than the French Family, the composition of which is a strong part of traditional French culture, is at stake here.  Talk to others and they'll tell you that this about equality, fairness and the separation of Church and State and that it is against the values of the French Republic to not allow gays full marriage rights.

However a particular migrant comes down on this issue, when talking about it with the natives one must summon all one's powers of diplomacy so as not to offend.  Why?  Well, if the native in front of you disagrees with you he's very likely to tell you, "Well you're American/Algerian/Brit/German and we don't care what you think, you immigrant.  If you don't like our values, you should go home."  Of course, there is a completely different reaction if you agree.   Then they congratulate you on how well you've integrated because you clearly understand "true" French values.  It makes for an interesting conversational dance.

So when natives talk about values, all I can say is that the day you all agree on what French values you truly share, send me the memo.

As for behavior, may I gently suggest that people need to be very careful what they ask for because they just might get it.  There are circumstances where clearly the natives do not want immigrants to act like them.  In fact the whole reason that many got in the first place is because they offer something the host society wants and needs.

A good example of this would be a highly qualified migrant from a very entrepreneurial culture with a strong work ethic and a high level of educational achievement for him or herself and high expectations for his children.

Do they really want this person to act like a native?  Let's say he decides to not start a business and be a taxi driver or a public intellectual instead.  Or he decides to go on unemployment or disability because he sees that an awful lot of the natives are on it.  If he qualifies, why shouldn't he?  He may have a STEM diploma (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) but since the natives don't get those degrees in high numbers, he might as well go with the flow and encourage his kids to do something else.

Hard to see how anyone could complain about this since the migrant is simply conforming to the behavior he sees on the part of the natives.  He's not doing anything different.  In fact he's made a decision to be just like them.  Can we say then in that case that he is "well integrated?"  Or would everyone be much happier if he held onto the values and behavior that he brought from his native land?

Migrants can't fix what ails a society.  If a society cannot produce a sufficient number of people who know how to do X and are willing to do it, then that's not a problem with immigration, it's an internal problem.  Where natives use social welfare networks, can't balance their national budgets, and then refuse to have enough children to keep it going, that's solely within the power of the native population to change.  It's a bit cheeky to say to the recent arrivals, "Integrate or else" but "Do as we say, not as we do."  And it's a really unfair to ask immigrants to take sides in the "culture wars" and then get angry with them when they give an answer the natives don't like.

What migrants can do is to add their human talent to the pool and offer a different perspective that might further the debate.  I'd even argue that everyone has an interest in considering some of the values migrants bring from their homelands like, for example,  a strong sense of family or deep respect for elderly people.  The French might be really surprised to know that these two things are deeply held values that some North Africans and Japanese find a bit lacking here in France compared to where they came from.  Might be worth having a conversation with them to know why they feel that way and why they don't want to integrate a French interpretation of those values into their worldview.

Just a few things to think about from where I sit.


Tim said...
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Tim said...

One thing I notice visiting the local ski areas near where I live is the diversity of customer base relative to lets say 20 years ago when I was growing up. Why do I think this is notable. First I live in a very diverse high income area where many immigrants are high income. Second skiing as a sport has a reputation for being a fairly expensive and "lilly" white sport yet at ski areas near where I live many customers are obviously from climates and culture where skiing as a sport was close to non existent. Thirdly and perhaps irrelevantly the area where I live is very close to relatively high quality skiing. It is only an hour and a half drive from my house to some of the highest quality skiing in the Eastern US. (Compare this to the 7 hour drive from Paris to the French Alps).

As aside I curious as to the diversity of the customer base of ski areas in other parts of the world say Mount Tremblant outside Montreal or the French Alps. Notably these areas have much poorer immigrant populations.

Anonymous said...

Dear Victoria,

First, it is nice to see you posting regularly again.

To your question on what we expect in terms of integration. It certainly is a matter of context and subjectivity, having a quantitative sense in the word «mass.» Without stating my personal opinion, it is certainly worth noting that many people feel the «mass» immigration now occuring is not some spontaneous event like an earthquake, but a specific policy aimed at at least two specific goals: 1) demographic change to the advantage of a political party, and 2) changing the host culture.

Consider this article by Peter Hitchens were he comments on statements by a former minister in the Blair government.

The opening of our ports had ‘a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural’.
Even this apostle of modernity was a bit worried. ‘I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended – even if this wasn’t its main purpose – to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far.
‘Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing .  .  . there was a reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour’s core white working-class vote.’

There is also, for example, discussion in conspiracy circles that mass immigration was part of the Frankfurt School’s 11 point plan to change (destroy) western civilization.

Thus, if you understand immigration in these contexts the notion of integration takes on a much different context than dealing with an individual person of family.

It seems to me the latest rounds of «mass» immigration in Europe the immigrants and the hosts are pawns of either a specific policy or a whimsical gaff by the chancellor.

I have written about myself:

Mark Twain’s eponymous character the Connecticut Yankee begins his self-history by saying “I am an American.” As the book is a critique of the Old World, this self-identification is an understandable counter point to the Medieval knights he encounters. I have often pondered the concept of self-identification and what my self-identification should be.  For example, I lived in Texas for several years. A typical conversation upon making an acquaintance at that time would be:
New Acquaintance: Where do you live?
Me: I live in Texas.
NA: Oh, you are a Texan.
Me: No, I live in Texas, but I am not a Texan. If you see me wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, a string tie, and a heavily starched shirt just shoot me because I have lost my mind.

Now I am often called le papa d’Anna, le mari d’Elisabeth or l’américain. On the RER-B regional train from the Charles De Gaulle Airport to Paris I have the warm sense of coming home, even if the train passes through perhaps the ugliest part of all France.  I kind of support Les Bleus, the French national team. But I don’t anticipate ever saying “I am French,” even if I will always continue to live in France.

Brst wishes,

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Tim, That's something I noticed immediately about Brussels - the diversity. Honestly I had not expected that but I was delighted to see it. This is a very cool city.

@Ira Good to be back and very happy to see your comment. "Mass" immigration? Yes, I can see why people might think that. In Europe many countries that were countries of emigration are now countries of immigration - some are both. It also seems to me that it's not so much about countries these days as it is about global cities. When I immigrated to France I told my spouse that "I didnt move all the way to France from the US to live in the suburbs or the country." Most of the other migrants I meet are in big cities like Paris, London, now Brussels. So part of this sense that there is mass migration in Europe these days may be about seeing large migrant communities concentrated in cities and close suburbs of those big cities which gives the natives the impression that there are more of them then there really are. My mother-in-law talks about growing up in the Limousin between WWI and WW II where there were migrants in her region who were seen as numerous and very foreign - Spaniards. :-) Are there a lot of foreigners in the Limousin today? Well, there are sure are a lot of Brits....

Interesting this idea about mass migration being a conspiracy. I will look into that. Perceptions really do matter here. From what I can see the working class in European countries has been and continues to be screwed by Europe. The benefits of the EU most accrue to the middle and upper classes. That's one perception (I think it's true). If, on top of that, there is a sense that the elite is allowing mass migration that the working class feels threatens them and their jobs well that's quite an explosive combo isn't it?

Loved your post. One of my classes is called Identity, State and Belonging so I will be talking a lot more about identity as soon as I catch up on my reading for seminar.

Tim said...


As to your comments about the EU I found something interesting over the holidays. First I was sick and in the hospital for a whole week in December with lots of time on my hands so I chose to watch quite a few Star Trek episodes on Netflix from the 1990s that I had never seen before. One thing that dawned on me is the degree to which the United Federation of Planets in 24th century Star Trek is really based off the European Union of the 1990s. In fact it is even implied that "Starfleet" in Star Trek is a very distant 24th successor agency to the European Space Agency. The other side of this coin is much of the conflict in 1990s Star Trek is between the "founding" Federation worlds like Earth and Vulcan(akin to FR, BE, NL, and DE) and newer worlds that have to undergo a great deal effort to join the Federation(akin to EU Accession) but don't have nearly the money or political power of the founding planets.

(A third even worse group of planets are nominally under Federation protection but are too poor and corrupt to join. Captain Picard is believed to be murdered publically in one episode in front of a huge crowd in a run down bar on one of these outer "corrupt" plants(Akin to Albania or Moldova).

Using the ESA, EU, and NATO as a 1990s inspiration for Star Trek is not a totally off the mark idea. The ESA is truly a multinational multicultural enterprise and throught NATO but military training and operations are done on more multinational basis than people realize. For example French and Belgian Air Force pilots do all of the flight training together standardized on a single NATO curriculum. Germany, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands do the same also at their own training school.

And yes some at the ESA noticed the inspiration for Star Trek as seen in the picture.

Anonymous said...

I believe the renewed fear of mass immigration, and which is being felt by far more than only the working classes, is based less on jobs and more on the risk of a cultural and eventually political take-over by Islam (of whatever stripe). Because Islam is a one-stop shop: an all-inclusve ideology the embraces (imposes) not only religion but politics, economics, education and (decidedly not universal) human rights. Whether the individual immigrants are conscious of or in agreement with such a design or not.

As to cities, the word civilization apparently comes from cities as that is where civilization as we understand it first developed.

The theme of a philosophical café last week in Paris: "what is national identity?". Proposed by a Frenchman and enthusiastically taken up by the very cosmopolitan crowd, in English.