Lamia Hamdis, 29 years old
I am a part of a collective history of immigration. In 2004, I left Algeria because my mother had made huge efforts to make another home for us in France. First she left alone in 2000. She got her papers, and a more or less stable situation. Then she came back for us 4 years later. It was then that I moved to Paris. Before that, I had never left my native Kabylie. This was my first contact, my first journey: from the village where I grew up, near Tizi-Ouzou, to Paris, a European metropolis. What a new perception! I wasn’t easy to filter the barrage of new sensations in my adolescent mind. Finally, another society had taken me in. I had to learn new codes. I started in a lycée in Aubervilliers. I thought I would find “little French people”, as we say, but instead I found people who resembled me a lot and who came from the African continent. I didn’t expect that. It was nice but at the same time, for them I was a foreigner. They didn’t want to be lumped in with the new arrivals because they were proud to have been born in France; it was their parents who were born in Algeria or somewhere else. So I had the stigma of being a “bumpkin” (blédarde). This insult is quite common in France. The word hurts, especially coming from people who look like you.
My mother was one of the first women in my village to have migrated, to leave into the dangerous unknown, cross the sea. She knew nobody in France. Before her, only men migrated. She opened the way towards something new. After her, many other women left. You have to be very brave to dare to do that. It was difficult and frowned upon for women to leave the very community-oriented village. My aunts also left, one to Czech Republic, and others to the capital, for their studies. So you can view my story of migration at many levels: from town to town, from country to country, and also from village to city. It’s a story of women.
My mother was 40 when she left, I was a teenager. Her studies were her main goal. We didn’t come here to twiddle our thumbs, it was absolutely necessary to do well at school. The determination which is characteristic of new arrivals in an unknown society stayed with me until university. It enabled me to confront the racism which I had suffered from since my childhood, which had a big impact on my fellow people. There were two of us immigrants in my Masters programme. So I understood that I belonged to a collective history of colonial struggle which started generations before me, by Maghreb workers organized into unions, in working-class districts. It’s difficult to live in a France which promulgates racist and anti-migrant laws.
I was also profoundly feminist. My mother and my aunts taught me what it was to be a woman in a patriarchal society, how to survive, create solidarities among women, how to develop yourself, finance yourself. My mother was eminently feminist, in both France and Algeria. She had the life of a woman that she had always wanted, nobody bothered here. In France, three of us lived together. She started a small newspaper kiosk, she was independent, she managed her money. Nobody interfered in her life. It was that which annoyed my mother so much - everyone in the village interfered with everything. She claimed her right to exist, to be respected as a single woman who was raising her children alone, and it was difficult. She was very attached to her Amazigh culture; it was the way society functioned in rural areas which made her leave. She wanted to be in a more anonymous environment, to experience the city, where her destiny would not necessarily be linked with that of a community. At the age of 40, she said to herself: “Actually, what do I have to offer my daughters! I want them to be free and to do what they want!” And now it is I who is looking for my community.
When I return to Algeria, I try to do my small part to continue the work of my mother, who was always preoccupied with the life of her mother and her sisters, in her tight community which was extended through her language and Amazigh culture. I have various ways to give to my community the symbolic and economic capital which I acquired particularly in France. I feel like I belong to multiple communities. My base is feminist, I belong to a community of women, I am Algerian, I come from a relatively modest background. My communities are all of that. The most important thing for me is to make our path visible, to shout that we exist, that we are fighting, because the women who are fighting here are the same ones who are fighting in France. I also belong to an indigenous community, because I was born in a colonial history and I live in France, a country which colonised a large part of the world. I have to live with all these histories. Determination is important, to have a dignified existence, and to help my community understand that we have the right to exist and have the same rights as the others. Fighting with the heart, the “niya” as we say in Arabic, is the treasured legacy of my mother.