Inauguration of the Museum of the History of Immigration
Paris, December 15, 2014
I’m proud to be opening the Museum of the History of Immigration today and recalling its role in our cultural and educational institutions.
We have to understand our history in order to move into the future.
Fernand Braudel put it this way in his last book: “to define the French past is to locate the French within their own existence.” Such is the aim of the national Museum of the History of Immigration: to restore immigrants to their rightful place in the nation’s story and thus enable us to address dispassionately the immigration question that is still being raised.
The intention of your museum is to show the continuous process by which the nation has integrated foreigners and managed to preserve its unity while recognizing the diversity of origins and cultures. This museum is more than a symbol. It’s a message of confidence in the history of our country, but also in what we are and what we can do.
France is a country with a long history of immigration, one of the European countries with the longest history of immigration. Begun in the second half of the 19th century to meet the needs of what was called the first Industrial Revolution, immigration continued throughout the 20th century and increased with the rebuilding of the country after the war, with decolonization and finally globalization. Today one in every four French people has at least one foreign grandparent. To talk about the history of immigration is to talk about the history of France; it’s history, our history. (…)
Immigration to France is the history of millions of people from elsewhere – from very far away or sometimes closer – who wanted their personal and family aspirations one day to be part of the French dream.
That’s how our history was made. Our country wouldn’t be what it is today without this proliferation of talent and strengths. Of course this immigration has also, throughout its history, created frustration, rifts and friction; we must neither ignore the talent nor conceal the fears.
This diversity is an opportunity if we can appreciate it, build on it, take it to a new level, if we can express a shared desire to live together, which means full commitment to the Republic. Otherwise it means falling into the trap of division, the threat of ghettoization, a clash of cultures and therefore racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of the Other.
By taking into account the risks which exist, in 21st-century France – ones we thought we wouldn’t imagine or see any more – that we’ve got to rise above ourselves, to ensure that the nation becomes a factor of hope again. France must have confidence in France.
It’s a responsibility borne by the state to guarantee cohesion and calm.
As I’ve said, education is the first requirement for this, but schools can’t address such a big challenge. Every institution is involved: not just public institutions, but private businesses too. Our country’s success depends on our ability to settle this issue of citizenship and immigration.
It’s also an individual responsibility, because the history of immigration teaches us this too. Living in France presents an opportunity. It must be experienced, understood, grasped, if it is to be used to serve a common destiny.
Your museum shows that this hope is possible, since it provides evidence that women and men forced to leave, often in painful circumstances, their country of origin, who experienced many hardships, were able, on our soil, to give the best of their lives and ensure that their children could fully be citizens and fulfil what, at that time, was their destiny.
The history of immigration is part of our national history, but the success of integration will determine our national destiny. (…)./.