"This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it."
Ta Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
The National Museum of Immigration, Palais de la Porte Dorée, Paris.
Photo: Marjorie Robertson
While traveling to and around Paris last month, I asked people about identity. It wasn't hard to do. An opportunity presented itself at every turn. A man from the Netherlands, who'd married a Romanian woman with a love of travel, was flying from their home in Los Angeles to Italy for a brief vacation. A spirited young Frenchman made his living pushing travelers in wheelchairs for ten hours a day at the Charles de Gaulle Airport because one of the perks is discounted travel. He's been to East Asia, Russia and the United States. A woman, born and raised in France, a former champion gymnast, whose parents drive a few miles across the France-Luxemburg border every day for work, sees herself as being part Moroccan. An American who was born in Baltimore, grew up in Los Angeles, and worked in Washington, DC, decided to settle down in California to pursue a new career later in life. "I'm bi-coastal," she says and shrugs.
Their identity is everywhere they've ever been and everything they've ever experienced, they said.
We never really leave anywhere we've been. We are a world of migrants. We move. We marry people from other parts of the world. We make families. At the same time, we are separate and cling to our roots (or our religion or our favorite team) with pride until our separateness is our identity. Governments and communities struggle with plurality, this notion that we must share space while respecting our differences. People get tired of this in degrees. Immigration and assimilation, religious and ethnic conflict--these are words used by governments and not at the microscopic level in the bodies of people navigating their days, everyone together in the same boat. Based on this last trip, I think we'll be all right.
"Sorry, but it's for your own good."
From a sidewalk in Montmartre.
Photo: Marjorie Robertson, Sept. 2015