Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Emigrant Dreams

Yesterday morning bright and early I was in a taxi being driven to my hospital in St. Cloud.  My driver is a Frenchman of Algerian origin and over the past month or so we have had many interesting conversations on a wide variety of topics.  This trip was no different and the topic of the day was emigration.  He told me his story and I told him mine.  He came to France when he was two years old and just recently became a French citizen.  As I was explaining what brought me to France he started to  laugh.  He said that he had relatives and friends who dream of moving to New York or California and he thought it was a bit ironic that in his cab he had an American who gave all that up to go elsewhere.    And he conceded that he had never really asked himself,  "À quoi rêvent les américains?" (What do Americans dream of?)

Singapore, I replied with no hesitation.  Also Paris, London, Beijing, Bangalore, Buenos Aires, and hundreds of other places.  Just like Algerians, I said, Americans feel a "pull" to go abroad, see the world and take advantage of all that globalization has to offer.  Right now, I told him, there are Americans in the United States who dream deep dreams of coming to the city he already calls home (Paris).

Eva Hoffman once wrote:
Multivalence is no more than a condition of contemporary awareness, and no more than the contemporary world demands. The weight of the world used to be vertical: it used to come from the past, or from the hierarchy of heaven and earth and hell; now it's horizontal, made up of the endless multiplicity of events going on at once and pressing at each moment on our minds and our living rooms. Dislocation is the norm rather than the aberration in our time, but even in the unlikely event that we spend an entire lifetime in one place, the fabulous diverseness with which we live reminds us constantly that we are no longer the norm or the center, that there is no one geographic center pulling the world together and glowing with the allure of the real thing...
"There is no center" - what an extraordinary idea.  Just poles of attraction that change from one era to another and, in our time, they are multiplying rapidly.  The lure of the unknown, dreams of distant shores and the desire to pack up and go somewhere, anywhere, other then the world into which one has accidentally been born is universal.  I contend that the "people who move around," regardless of their country of origin, socio-economic status, skills, and talents, are fundamentally very much alike.

And that is why sometimes it is easier for two immigrants, an American and an Algerian, to speak freely, swap stories and come to a common understanding than it is for either of us to talk to our compatriots in the countries we left behind.

2 comments:

Mark Uhrich said...

My observation is that the connection between the two emigrants is a shared experience of the courage to leave the past (even if there was not much of a choice - because some don't / can't) and to go forth boldly.
What is shared is that they are in their own space - neither hear nor there - somehow a hybrid in the middle. This is something that the compatriots left behind will never understand.
Nor will they experience the richness of being international.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Mark, Good observation. The most interesting stuff happens at the boundary where one culture overlaps another. It's not something you can really "get" unless you've done it.

On the other hand I have to admit that those who stay home have an experience I have trouble relating to - staying in one place all one's life and never living anywhere else. What would that be like? I ask myself.