An elegantly written, perceptive analysis of the tensions common to the immigration experience.
Born in Mali, now a US resident, Diawara (In Search of Africa, 1998, etc.) makes a deceptively low-key but important argument about African immigration that questions both liberal and conservative notions about immigrants, as well as sentimental attitudes toward Africa. The author (Comparative Literature and Cinema Studies/NYU) begins with his arrival in Paris, where he planned to spend a yearlong sabbatical writing a book about a decolonization movement. Instead, felled by a debilitating malaria attack, he revisited his own past and pondered such topics as ethnicity, the difference between French and American attitudes to immigration, French racism, elements in African culture that hinder progress, and his own decisions about how to live and think. While working in Paris in the 1970s, he recalls, he was determined to move to the US, whose music, language, and literature he was assiduously studying. Once in Washington, D.C., he worked at two of the city’s then-fashionable French restaurants while studying at a local university. He saw and rejected his fellow immigrants’ ambition to save enough money to make an impression when they returned home. He thought they should rather create new lives for themselves in the US, where, unlike France, the opportunities were numerous. Now, revisiting France, he remains critical of its widespread racism: liberals are intolerant of multiculturalism, the Right is nationalistic, individuals and bureaucrats are condescending and suspicious. Diawara also faults Africa’s extended-family system, which “locks people into conformity, saps the individual’s energies and resources, and prevents him from having a private life or accumulating fortunes necessary for the development of societies and industries.” He deplores the fact that African immigrants in France retain practices like female circumcision that preserve the worst of their culture.
A rich and provocative intellectual feast.