Crossing Borders, Constructing Identities

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Process of Work

Before deciding to focus on Morocco, we did research about some other countries, and lived some enriching experiences in some of their consulates in Barcelona. Within our initial options we chose countries such as Togo, Senegal, and Chad.  In this section, we relate the process of work from the beginning until we definitely established Morocco as the country on which we would focus the portfolio.

To begin with, we did a little research about Togo because it was the country that we wanted to focus on. When we went to the consulate, they were highly surprised, as they asked us if we already knew that Togo was a French colony, not an English one. After that, the secretary explained Togo was a small country and unfortunately there were not many native people living in Barcelona. Thus, we decided to try in Chad’s consulate. In that case, although there are few Chad citizens living in Barcelona as well, when we explained our project to the secretary she immediately thought that the representative console could be a potential candidate for us to interview: Javier Nart. Thus, having agreed to keep in touch, we decided to do some research about the console so as to prepare a consistent interview.

Javier-Nart-defiende-Ciudadanos-indendentista_TINIMA20140321_0727_18

We mainly wanted to focus on his experience living in Chad, since the years he lived there were highly remarkable from a historical point of view. At the same time, we were intrigued by the dichotomies that surrounded his public image; that is, for instance he erroneously received 31,000€ from Fèlix Millet versus the fact that Chad is one of the most corrupted countries in the world, and he has publicly claimed that this situation needs to get better. We spent a lot of time trying to think how to ask him about these problematic issues without making him feel uncomfortable. However, the first time we got in touch with him we were really motivated to fix a date for the interview, so that when the secretary gave us his number Sandra called him. He rapidly agreed to collaborate with us, telling her which days he was going to be in Barcelona so that we could meet, as well as a little bit about his background in relation to the country, that is, among other things, that he lived there until 1975.            Although Javier Nart was born in Cantabria, he spent all his childhood living in Bilbao. As he grew up, he started being a war correspondent in places such as Nicaragua, South Yemen, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Palestine, Camboy, Laos, Iran, Iraq or Chad, among others. Later on, he assessed the Spanish Government about international political issues from 1984 until 1988. Since the late eighties, he has been appearing in television as a fellow member in TV programs such as Crónicas Marcianas (Telecinco) or currently Espejo Público (Antena3). He is now a member of the European Parliament representing the Ciutadans party’s interests. Since we realized that he was in fact the person we got in touch with, we started investigating about his career, reading his book Sálvese quien pueda! Mis historias e histerias de guerra (2003) and we also discovered that he played a crucial part in the so-called Zoé’s Ark controversy. Indeed, he helped to liberate the crew members that were arrested in Chad.

However, after having sent more than three e-mails to Mr Nart, and having phoned Mr Nart’s secretary to confirm the meeting, she kept coming up with the same excuses “Nart is busy working now in Brussels and has no time for interviews”, “Please write to his e-mail address given that I can’t do anything else”.

Before concluding that in fact the interview was not going to be carried out because we never got a concrete answer, we went to Senegal’s embassy in order to get a further subject to interview in addition to Mr Nart. A 33 year-old man called Fode contacted us wanting to collaborate. We thought then, –since we did not completely know for sure about Mr Nart’s interview– that the two interviews could have been linked by the important fact that the former dictator of Chad Hissiène Habré is currently living in Senegal. As far as we investigated, the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) requested Senegal to give Habré his due, because under his rule he created a secret police force called the Documentation and Security Directorate, through which Habré’s opponents were tortured and executed. ICJ estimates that more than 40,000 persons have been killed during his regime.

Sin título

Thus, we wanted to combine and contrast both experiences –one being more citizen-like and another being more govern-like– in the interview. The interview that we prepared for Mr Nart is presented below.

Introduction

We have been told that you arrived to the Republic of Chad in charge of the Partido Socialista Popular’s international relations. You decided to join FRONILAT, a Chadian Popular Struggle Front, which truly represented Chadian society’s reality after Tombalbaye’s death. What was exactly that “reality” at the moment of your arrival? How were the rebel factions organized?

In relation to journalism

Which are the main mass media journals and how are they managed? Are they sponsored by the Government? –i.e. being non-objective and politicized, if so, to what extent?– Does international press help the population to understand better the current situation of their country? And also, to what extent it is word-of-mouth determining in order to spread information about politics in the country?

The American photographer Susan Sontag has theorised about the use of war photography with politic purposes. Do you think that image spreading through social networking services must be necessary in order to raise awareness about the reality of Chad?

What is the difference between Tombalbaye’s autocratic mandate and a dictatorship in the country? Taking into account Chad’s political history, is  ‘autocratic mandate’ only an euphemism to refer to a dictatorship?

In relation to tribes

During Hissiènee Habré’s regime, what were the advantages of being a member of the daza tribe? To what extent are there remains of that so-called beneficial system nowadays?

Is there any identity feeling that takes precedence within the country, bearing in mind the differences between tribes?  Do you believe that reconciliation among them can occur?

As far as we know, according to an interview carried out in 2009, in the official web page Solidaridad en el Chad, you visited Moussoro, Gouro, and Badai and you felt that they treated you “like a comrade”. Which were the tribes you spent more time with? How did you deal with communication? Do you remember any tradition that amazed you to discover?

In relation to the current government

What do you think of Déby’s reform that took place in 2006? Is Chad closer now to reaching a sociopolitical stability than it was during the seventies? Could you please explain to us what are the main problems that block the path to progress in the country?

The non-governmental organization Transparency International (TI) qualifies Chad as one of the highest corrupted countries of the world. As the English web page Irinnews explains, a great part of the impoverished population complains about the unauthorized use of oil production funds. Their reasons are that a much more isolated president is investing those funds in armament to assure his own security. What is your opinion about this issue? Do you imagine that these specific circumstances are probably one of the main causes that lead the country to be in the 5th position among poorest countries in the world?

You spent a lot of time in Chad during the seventies. Nowadays, in 2014, as a Member of the European Parliament and your tight political schedule, how do you combine both activities?

From 2003 to 2010 approximately, Chad has been directly confronted with Sudan. Do you believe that the Chadian population is aware about the real state of the country?

As your personal Facebook account and periodistadigital.com explain, your participation in the Zoé’s Ark case was crucial to liberate the crew members arrested in Chad. Could you please briefly talk about that experience?

Finally, we decided to ask to a childhood friend of Gabriela’s to help us with the interview, since time was running out and it was already November. His roots being found in Morocco, Ismaïl pleasantly accepted to collaborate and explained to us his own migratory experience. After finishing this interview, we considered that having a female point of view on the same questions could be of interest as well, since in his interview Ismaïl had drawn upon concepts related to feminism and the role of Muslim women in society. Thus, we got in touch with L’Associació d’Estudiants Marroquins de Barcelona (AEMB). The secretary contacted us because someone who was willing to collaborate as well. Her name was Karima.

The Interview

1. How would you describe your national identity?
I’m a British national but when people ask me where I’m from they rarely want to know whether I’m from London! So I would also say I’m Zambian despite no longer having a Zambian passport.

2. What is your definition of heritage?
The legacy and history of your parent’s and ancestors.

3. Could you describe your parent’s reasons for immigrating to Britain and give a brief account of their experience?
They were trained pilots in the military and were stationed in a small village in Greece before they came to England. They moved because English was their second language and they learnt British history and read various English novels at school so they were more familiar with England than Greece, also the people in Greece were really racist. My mum felt quite lonely, especially when she found out she was pregnant and my mum’s sister and her family had moved to England a couple years before. So they moved in with them until my mum had me and my twin sister. I think it was easier coming to London because it was slightly less alien but it was difficult having to switch jobs, adjust culturally and have two babies all at the same time!

4. Do you feel that you have a dual nationality, and if so how does that define you as an individual?
I do. I had a Zambian passport before I had a British one and then I had both! I just think of myself as a British Zambian which sounds like a contradiction but it works for me.

5. Do you feel you have a connection to Zambia, or only to Great Britain?
I have a connection to both despite only going to Zambia twice. Zambia is my family, it’s the flavour of the food I eat at home, it’s the way I move my body. Britain is also my family, friends and my boyfriend, being in London makes me unbelievably so happy! I itch when I’m away from the stink and smog. I happily engage in both cultures although I didn’t always. At school they only taught us about slavery and only talked about Africans like they’re all poor, savaged and diseased. I was embarrassed, my name was so African and my skin was so brown I couldn’t escape it but I grew up very quickly and realised that it wasn’t true at all and I embraced being Zambian.

6. For you, does Zambia belong to the limited African stereotype of ‘‘Third World Country’’? What is your reaction to this limited stereotype of Africa?
Yes it does, people always talk about Zambia being a ‘developing country’ so close to the Western model of modernity but not quite. They never realise Zambia didn’t need colonialism in the first place. Zambia and other ‘Third World’ countries can never be like England or France or the US and shouldn’t be, it’s not working.

7. How does your experience as a second generation British citizen compare to that of your parents?
My parents will always be ‘immigrants’ whereas I was born here and I have that. But it still feels like a slap in the face when people talk about negatively about immigrants. I empathise strongly with the concerns of immigrants because I although I don’t know first-hand how hard it is to migrate to another country (especially one so hostile) I know it was hard for my parents.

8. Would you describe Britain as multicultural?
Not Britain as a whole, but some British cities, like London. I go to some places in Britain where I don’t think they’ve ever spoken to a black girl before.

9. What opportunities does Britain offer for you as a young woman that Zambia does not? (Vice-Versa)
I think I’d actually know how to cook properly if I was in Zambia! But Zambia is quite similar to England: girls are encouraged to go to school, to work and also have children and a husband. Although if your skirt is a little too short an old woman might tell you off. The British economy is better and in terms of education and resources I have a lot more access in Britain.

10. Do you have a desire to live in Zambia at any point in your life, or in any other part of the world?
I don’t think I’ve been enough times in my adult life to know. I think just because my parents left it’s never been in my mind to leave England and live there! I definitely want to live somewhere else, even if only for a while. Somewhere less wet and more exciting.

12. Can you give examples of art, literature or other forms that you feel represent your experiences?
Ngozi Onwurah and Isaac Julien’s films are amazing. Zadie Smith’s books such as White Teeth were extremely informative and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions was so close to home. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Chris Offili’s pieces are gorgeous and rich in different ways. I feel like these artists represent Africa, blackness and Britain in very interesting and refreshing ways. Although set in France Sembene’s Black Girl is also wonderful.

Extra Details on Chibeza

Equality & Diversity Committee: I go to the committee with things that can be improved or issues to discuss relating to race and ethnicity, if a group has an issue I can bring it to our student union and the issue would be addressed. Also I collaborate and create events and relating to ethnic minority student but I also help out with things regarding to LGBT+ students, students with disabilities and other minority groups as of course there are intersections within these groups.

Dissertation: And I’m doing my dissertation on the representations of mixed race women with a black/white background in British cinema. In previous years the White British public thought that mixed race children were a bi-product of a diseased society and they were largely oppressed and marginalised. Mixed race people are now the largest growing ethnic group in Britain and the media heralds them as examples of a ‘‘post-racial’’ society. I found that mixed-race women are often fetishized, hypersexual used and made invisible.

4. Conclusions

The aim of this project was to deconstruct the myth of African emigration and question the possibilities these newcomers can find in Europe. The first step in doing so was to conduct thorough research about Africa in general to find information about African migration in the last years and life conditions in Africa. Most of this information, we recorded in a documentary video. The next step in deconstructing the existing stereotype was to carry an interview with an African that could provide us first-hand information about their home country, immigration policies and compare life in Europe and Africa based on a personal experience. Although we were not lucky at first, we eventually found Aliou Sylla, a Senegalese who has been living in Spain since 2003. He helped us more than any article, documentary or piece of news could ever have, as he was sensible and honest to an extent that is difficult to find in many people. After having interviewed Aliou, the remaining thing to do was to find more information about Senegal to complete everything he had shared with us. His ideas and experiences helped us complete the fictional short story in which we compare African and European lifestyles in the 21st century.

All in all, we have been able to find evidence to our initial theories. It is possible to live in Africa nowadays, especially if we invest to improve life-conditions there. Aliou spoke of his life in Africa as a successful one in terms of jobs, family and social involvement and he admitted his wish to return to Senegal in some years. He also mentioned some of his siblings living and working in Senegal, which probably would not be the case if they had seen such a magnificent improvement in their brothers’ lives abroad. Furthermore, the myth that large amounts of African people are coming here to ‘occupy something which is not theirs’ has been proved false, as many of them are migrating inside the African continent. These African migratory movements show people rather stay in Africa as well.

To conclude, with this project we also realised how difficult it is to remain objective and impartial when carrying such a research project. Even though, as Aliou himself said, we had a broad vision of reality, at times we had to reanalyse our questions and writings so that they were in no way judgemental or presenting a stereotypical vision of the African continent. Therefore, this project has not only allowed us to present a different reality about Africa, but also helped us to overcome many preconceived ideas about the continent which proved to be false.

Isabel Flaquer Beltrán
Sílvia Pérez Carro
Mireia Trejo Domingo
Ada Guiteras Canal
Eva Puyuelo Ureña

5.1. Description of the Portfolio

All in all, the interview and the historical research have been key factors to understand the deconstruction of the African myth, both in terms of success and migration, and alsp to realise that the image that Europe portrays of Africa is not entirely true. Sometimes, and as discussed above, it is a real struggle for African people to be accepted in the host country and to find a job where they can succeed. Besides, Europe’s biased belief that it is almost impossible to earn a living in Africa has been dimmed taking into account the fact that, as Aliou mentions in the interview, Africa is a continent with a wide amount of chances in store for its inhabitants. Hence, the created portfolio is aimed at supporting the above-mentioned ideas.

Firstly, we invented a short story that clearly mirrors the difficulties that immigrants have to undergo when arriving to Europe alongside the possibilities to find a job and to live a successful live in the African continent. Besides, a documentary has been recorded in order to provide information about migration policies coming from real data obtained directly from official web pages and books that masterly deal with the aforementioned topic. Finally, the portfolio contains an album with pictures Aliou gave us in order to illustrate his life in Africa and, using his own words, his “shift into being a European citizen”. The cover of the portfolio highlights, with the picture of luggage, the idea of migrating in order to find a better life in another country. The globe underscores Aliou’s route from Senegal to France and, eventually, to Spain.

The video entitled “Mapping Migration: The Deconstruction of a Myth”, is the clearest example that underscores the reality hidden behind the flux of migration that is usually displayed. After a very scrupulous and deep study on migration, paying special attention to African migratory movements, it has been observed that a lot of Africans leave the country and seek for comfort in Europe. Among the countries that are usually chosen as the destination for African immigrants feature France (which, worthy of mention, is the first place Aliou emigrated to), UK, Italy, Germany or Spain. It is important to value that such a careful study of African migration has revealed that some of these countries, as exemplified in the video, have become harshly racist, developing policies against black immigrants (Juba, 2003). Therefore, the barriers they have to overcome are not only those of a difficult and dangerous journey, but also a situation of racism in most cases. Emigration thus needs to be read as a process that involves multiple decisions -including the abandonment of a family, a culture and a homeland- and which usually derives into the disappointment of the emigrant when arriving to the place of destination. The aforementioned portrayal can only account for those emigrants who actually leave Africa as a continent. But is that really the unique type of migration that is taking place in Africa? The video reveals that this is not so. While we are only offered images of black people il/legally migrating to Europe, the number of African people who claim for intra-migration is actually outnumbering that of people who decide to leave the continent. Hence, more migration within Africa takes place than migration outside Africa (Koutonin, 2014). Mass media seems to be a direct element affecting the perception of black migration, and thus it is a determinant factor when it comes to craft European beliefs about racism, rejection and hatred. This reveals not only that a lot of people decide to stay within the confinements of Africa, but also that it is a country full of possibilities. We should not believe everything that we are told, because, sometimes, reality is far away from it.

In order to complete the piece of work with a more creative and informal part, it was decided to create a tale. This story presents two friends, Aarif and Kaamil, who live in a small town in Senegal and struggle to create their own story in the world.

As in Africa it is very difficult to find good job opportunities to make a living, Kaamil decides to look for those opportunities in Spain, whereas Aarif stays in Africa looking for those same possibilities. In a series of letters these friends send one another, we have a glimpse of the struggles a black person may undergo when in a European country. The main purpose of the story is to provide the reader with an overview of those struggles as anecdotes that lead to the adaptation of the immigrant to the new country and lifestyle. The drawings have been made by hand and afterwards photoshopped so as to introduce some real elements to the original drawings. Moreover, the letters have been written as if we were those fictional characters in the story, trying to show the emotions and worries they would feel.

Sometimes, those Africans who need to leave the country and need to acquire false identities in order to be accepted as factual part of the destination demography, they need to stop at places such as Cape Verde. This problematises their journey towards a new land, for they have to fight for achieving a new identity and hence abandoning anything they claimed for before.

Isabel Flaquer Beltrán
Sílvia Pérez Carro
Mireia Trejo Domingo
Ada Guiteras Canal
Eva Puyuelo Ureña