Occupied Spaces: l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris

November 17, 2010

Press coverage and information about the "occupation."

I recently visited the Immigration Museum in Paris (Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration), and was fascinated by what I saw there. It’s rare that I use a word like “fascinated” when I talk about museums. Generally, they are “interesting” or perhaps “complicated,” but the Immigration Museum is experiencing a very particular moment in its own history, and I’m glad to have stumbled upon it to watch it unfold.

When I first arrived, I noticed that there were people gathered in one of the main rooms on the first floor, but I assumed there was some sort of event happening there and so preceded upstairs to the main exhibit area. The exhibits themselves were largely what you would expect from this type of museum. They incorporated representations of struggle and resilience that fit relatively easily into a museum that focuses on immigration narratives.

But it wasn’t until I was leaving that I poked my head back into that large room I saw when I first arrived. It turns out there wasn’t some event going on.

Belongings and murals in the grand meeting room.

It was a strange sight – the room, decorated with large colonial murals, was filled with people eating, sleeping on the floor, playing games, chatting etc. People had their bags and blankets spread out, and it was hard not to notice that most looked like they were new arrivals from Africa. I asked someone what was going on and they said that people arriving without working papers had recently started to set up camp there. They slept there, ate there, and perhaps most importantly, they organized there. The Immigration Museum had, at least in part, become a site where recent immigrants could organize and perhaps leverage their presence in the museum in negotiations with the French government.
This is especially interesting given the immigration museum’s history. The building itself was built for the International Colonial Exposition in 1931, and its transition to the Immigration Museum has been controversial. Although senior politicians often attend the opening events for museums in France, controversy kept them away from the Immigration Museum when it opened in 2007.
A banner for the rights of undocumented workers outside the colonial the immigration museum.

Press coverage and information about the “occupation.”

Part of the exhibit upstairs. The girl looking into the vending machine is a mannequin and part of the exhibit. The two men looking up at migration maps are not.

Another image from the exhibit upstairs. It's entitled "Correspondence" by Kader Attia.

I’m sure there is much more to this story…

5 Responses to “Occupied Spaces: l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris”

  1. jb Says:

    great post naomi!
    have a good weekend…

  2. Thanks, jb. So interesting what’s happening at the immigration museum right now.
    Back in Cachan now. Getting ready for a productive week!
    Have a good weekend too.


  3. hammertofall Says:

    Dear Naomi,

    I was very happy to stumble upon your post, as I tried to visit the same museum in Paris a few weeks later (in early December), and found that the occupation was still ongoing (although the whole complex had been sealed off by then, unfortunately). I’ve been trying to get some information on the current status of the occupation, and whether/to what extent the protesters’ demands have been met, since I’ve been trying to write a post on it for my own blog (http://hammertofall.wordpress.com/), but all I’ve found so far are news/website reports from back in October, when the protests started out – would you happen to know any good sources I could consult on this?


  4. n.a. Says:

    Hi Christian,
    Thanks for checking out the post and commenting. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be much help. I returned to Toronto from Paris in December and haven’t heard much about the occupation since. I remember finding it strange how hard it was to find more information about what’s going on there. It’s a really interesting case though – I hope you’re able to find more than I did. And if I happen to find anything out, I’ll either post here or get in touch.

    Good luck!
    p.s. I like your blog too – I’ll continue to check it out.

  5. hammertofall Says:

    Hi Naomi,

    Thanks for your reply, and for checking out my blog. I’ve done a bit more research, and it seems the museum reopened to the public on Feb 1st of this year, following an acrimonious standoff between the city and the protesters. Still trying to get details, including on whether/to what extent their demands have been met. I contacted a couple of sources in France as well, so hopefully I’ll get some more info. Shall let you know once my post is up.

    Good luck with your own work!

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