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The Other Red, White, and Blue:  Immigration Benefits in France, and Why America Should Listen

by go Inspo | 8 months ago

By Contributing Op-ed Writer: Yahaya Ba

When I received a video call from my cousins based in Toulouse, France after the countries big victory, the scene never fails in bringing a smile to my face. French citizens from all walks of life bounded together by the common unifying factor of a 2nd world cup won.  I saw jet black West Africans, wheat colored North Africans, and white colored French of European descent all together engaging in the festivities.  I thought in my head “I wonder if the current United States president will see this, and realize the majority minorities want nothing more than to contribute to society any way they can.”  Furthermore, in reflecting on my own experiences as a young boy of West African origin in France I realized how fortunate it is to be cultured.  Like every single country in the whole entire world, France has its shortcomings.  However, its successful way of using something as mundane as sports to bring a variety of different people together cannot be overlooked.  As quiet as its kept this has been going on for quite a while.

When my mother and father, sent me to France as a 5 year old, I didn’t know what to expect. My uncle served as my anchor and helped me navigate around all the potholes and pitfalls that come along the way.  Sport was always the most practical way to avoid those bad elements.   The immigrant presence in France has always created a stigma among native French people.  Us west Africans were stereotyped as lazy, unproductive, and the keeper of many wives.  North Africans were stereotyped as hotheads who would go from zero to sixty at the blink of an eye.   These stereotypes would have to be rethought of when athletes of immigrant background started to join the ranks of French Sports and flourish in them.

The multi-cultural French team we saw in this world cup is not the first of its kind by a long shot. After World War 2 France encouraged immigration from its former colonies, and other European nations as well.    Before the Brazilian Pele hit international stardom there was Larbi Ben Barek.  A naturalized Frenchman of Moroccan origin that represented France on the international level.  Raoul Diagne was of Senegalese stock when he represented France internationally in 1930s.  When France won their 1984 European championship they relied largely on the services of the magic square midfield.  Three of the 4 players were of an immigrant background. Michael Platini being Italian, Luis Fernandez being from Spain, and Jean Tigana coming from Mali. The team that basically summed up Frances history of immigration was the winning 1998 World Cup team.  It would take too long to name all the players of immigrant background. Whoever is reading this should just know that Algeria, Armenia, Ghana, Portugal, Antilles, Guadalupe, Senegal, and Argentina were all represented on the team.  This presence leads to a new way of looking at France as a whole. France was no longer just Blanc (white) it was now Noir (black) Blanc (white), and Beur (Arab).

France achieving victory in this tournament brought back memories of the 1998 world cup. There I was celebrating alongside people who I normally would never ever interact with if circumstances were normal. Today as France did what we all hoped they would do. Some fellow French supporters who looked completely opposite of me even said “when we saw you, we knew we had to go park the car and come out and celebrate with you”  After this as I was still in shock and awe of what I just witnessed that I had to hide my tears of joy. In the process of walking back to my vehicle, I hear “allez les blues” which translates to “Go France”  These complete strangers greet me, ask me how I understand French and then proceed to treat me to a victory lunch.  Mind you they don’t know me from anywhere.  They looked at me not as a person of Mauritanian origin, but as a fan of the French National team.  My religion, my ancestry, not even the suburb where I’m from even came up.  Safe to say now I have more Instagram, snap chat friends, and possibly life-long friends.  I highly doubt that the current United States president will acknowledge this victory. This winning recipe of the world cup was like Boubalaise. It had a little bit of everything to ensure success. I personally think it would benefit America to do the same, instead of trying to do the opposite. If Mr. Trump decides to acknowledge this victory he will realize barriers get broken when people are striving for the same things. The French team was striving for victory. In order to get the victory, they looked past all the elements which are dividing this country as of right now. It is my hope that he will realize that Immigrants are the backbone of every society. It was shown today with the French team.  Maybe this will be a clear sign for him to let it be shown in America.

Yahaya Ba