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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 2

 | 
Sarah Barbour
, 
David Howard
, 
Thomas Lacroix
, 
et al.

Questions of Theory, History and Memory

Between Silences and Rewritings: Two Approaches to Memory Construction by Spanish Refugees and Economic Immigrants in France1

Evelyne Ribert

Résumé

This essay compares the varied historical and cultural legacies received and narrated by descendants regarding migratory experience of two groups: Spanish refugees who arrived in France following the Civil War and Spanish immigrants who came during the 1950s and 1960s. The narratives analysed in this essay are from interviews conducted with 46 persons which recount their memories, transmitted to descendants of migrants. The author’s fieldwork shows that refugees generally share little with their descendants about their lived experiences of the Civil War and the Retirada, whereas they do transmit a memory of their opposition to Francoism. Of the experiential reality of various events, what is told is only that which can be integrated with the French collective memory, such as the Resistance. The rest, in particular what was lived in Spain, remains unspoken. On the other hand, economic migrants, who return very regularly to Spain, rewrite their history from the vantage of the present, mixing memories of their past in Spain with memories of their present life in France. Consequently, the context of and reasons for their migration are transformed. What was at the time often a family decision connected with the opportunity of acquiring a house is now presented by the migrants simply as having to do with economic necessities and the future of the children. The memory associated with the life spent in Spain, supported by frequent stays there, is maintained and transmitted to the descendants.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Translation by Yvonne Cullen and Emily Epperson.

1Memory, as we know from Maurice Halbwachs, requires social frameworks. ‘We only remember’, wrote Halbwachs, ‘as long as we adopt the point of view of one or more groups and put ourselves in one or more streams of collective thought’ (Halbwachs 1950: 65). Migrants, who may have left their home country for political or economic reasons, experience a certain number of ruptures, such as a change of country and society, in other words, the material, cultural and social, environment; a complete or partial rupture of social ties; the discovery of new standards and social norms, and integration into new social groups. The memory of their lives in the host country is therefore added to that of their former lives in their country of origin. How do migrants reconcile these different memories? What are the effects of these ruptures on the memories linked to the country of origin? What repercussions do they have upon the evocation of the past and the history of migration by migrants and the transmission of these to descendants?

2The focus of this article is less on the memory of individual migrants than on the transmission process itself. It compares what is passed on to the descendants regarding the past and the history of migration by two groups: the Spanish refugees who arrived in France after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) on the one hand and the Spanish immigrants who arrived in France during the 1950s and 1960s on the other. It evaluates the transmission of an ‘exilic memory’ and of a ‘diasporic memory’ (Lacroix and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2013: 687) respectively. These transmissions reveal, in part, the memory development processes at work during contexts of emigration. After describing the methodology, the descendants’ knowledge of their ancestors’ migratory history is presented before assessing the logic governing the transmission of this history. Finally, I examine what is transmitted, when nothing has been recounted about the experience of migration.

  • 2 This study forms part of a comparative research project undertaken with Michèle Baussant and Nancy (...)
  • 3 ‘Portraits de migrations, un siècle d’immigration espagnole en France’, October 6-November 4, 2007, (...)

3This article2 was inspired by the exhibition ‘Portraits of migration, a century of Spanish immigration in France’ which took place during 2007 in a former Spanish church hall built in Saint-Denis, Paris, which now serves as a meeting place for Spanish cultural associations and as a social centre for the elderly3 and forms part of a neighbourhood known as ‘Little Spain’. The exhibition was organised by FACEEF, the Federation of Associations of Spanish Emigrants in France. This exhibition was set up before by the trade union Comisiones Obreras of Catalonia and displayed at the Museum of the History of Immigration of Catalonia in 2005. As part of this study, I went to the exhibition in Saint-Denis to observe the way in which people visited this exhibition, and completed eighty-three exit-surveys which asked visitors to reflect on their experience. Thirty-two follow-up interviews from among those surveyed were undertaken in order to explore at greater depth about the potential transmission of familial migratory history within their family. Visitors were mostly from Spanish migrant backgrounds. I also requested further interviews with family members of interviewees to compare their experiences and points of view.

4In total, I met 20 persons from exile backgrounds (which resulted in 18 interviews) and 24 persons from backgrounds of the economic immigration of the 1950s and 1960s (resulting in 21 interviews); the interviews were sometimes performed with two or three people simultaneously. It should be noted that the descendants of one migratory wave or another may come from mixed marriages, either in the sense of French/Spanish, or in terms of political/economic immigration. I met two generations from seven families and three generations from four families. I introduced myself to my interlocutors as a sociologist working on the memory of Spanish migration and the transmission between generations, beginning interviews with descendants with the following question: ‘Could you tell me what your parents or grandparents told you about their coming to France’? By requesting interviews with people who had come to see an exhibition on the history of Spanish immigration, a certain bias was introduced to the sample. However, amongst the relatives with whom I spoke, many had not seen the exhibition, nor were they particularly interested in family history.

  • 4 Upon arriving in France, many refugees were transported and accommodated in camps in the south of F (...)

5Interviews revealed important variations in the knowledge and memory of family migration and exile. In the families of those exiled, the history of the family exile is presented by descendants as a linear narrative, which generally begins with the Civil War, sometimes with the second Republic (1931-1939), and ends with settling in France, specifically, obtaining a house and work.4 Those whose families migrated for primarily economic reasons piece together their parents’ migratory history using titbits of information and anecdotes, creating non-linear narratives, recounting for example, the arrival in France, the first house or the first job. They also talk of a Spain before the migration, conjuring the image of an immutable past of long ago.

  • 5 ‘He told us nothing (...). He never spoke of ‘36-39’. Never!’ Interview conducted by the author on (...)

6The knowledge of interviewees about family migratory histories is highly variable. Some of the children of those exiled only have very a limited knowledge of their ancestors’ pasts, particularly during the Civil War. Asked what he knew about his father’s history in this period, Michel Rodriguez replies, ‘Lui ne racontait rien. (...) Il n’a jamais parlé de 36-39. Jamais!’5 Michel Rodriguez knows however that he was a communist.

  • 6 My father, at 18, joined up, apparently. From 1936 to 1939, nothing... He did nothing [laughs] (... (...)

Mon père, à 18 ans, s’est engagé a priori. De 1936 à 1939, rien... Il n’a rien fait (rires). (...) En 39, il traverse les Pyrénées, on lui enlève son fusil, ses armes, comme les autres. Là, il va dans un camp à Argelès.6

7Others, however, have very precise information on the history of their ancestors that they recount in detail. Overall, amongst those that I met with, usually living in the Paris region, the past of their exiled parents was rarely well-known. Similar observations were made in a related study on families living in the Paris region (Île de France), near Orléans and in the Atlantic-Pyrenées (Angoustures 1999). However, it is worth noting that Florence Guilhem draws a different conclusion in her study in the Toulouse region, an area where a large number of Spanish exiles live and where there are many migrant networks (Guilhem 1999).

8Amongst the descendants of economic immigrants, the awareness of family migratory history also varies. The children of migrants seemed to be less aware of their family history during interviews. While cognizant of general experiences, they didn’t know the details of family migration history. The fact that the past is transmitted in the form of snippets and anecdotes, at specific times, also makes it difficult to recall in the moment of the interview, an artificial moment, whereas remembering generally occurs more at family gatherings, from discussions, or prompted by material support. The children’s feeling of not knowing much about their parents’ and ancestors’ past can therefore be reinforced. Andrea Rivas explained how the transmission of family history worked:

  • 7 [It is not] something that is passed on, a subject that [my mother] took me aside to tell me about. (...)

[Ce n’est] pas un truc qui se transmet, un sujet pour lequel [ma mère] m’a pris à part pour me raconter tout ça. C’est plutôt venu quand moi j’ai posé des questions, petit à petit, quelque chose qui survient et à moi de raccrocher les bouts.7

9The generational status at which they or their parents arrived in France probably also plays a part. The stories of migration told by migrants who arrived as young children differs from those of their parents who decided to leave Spain and take the family to France. The former narratives contain fewer details concerning the reasons for leaving and the conditions of migration. Some, however, do recount close details of the family history and migratory experience. They describe the precise circumstances that led their parents to emigrate, their living conditions, and the jobs they had. For many others, the narrative is vague: for example, they know something of living conditions in Spain. Migration is described as a response to ‘economic reasons’, ‘for work’ in most cases, without giving more precise details. Often more accurate reasons that led to the departure of their ancestors is unknown, as the desire to buy or build a house, debt, etc. with unless interviewees had made a conscious effort to asked their parents or grandparents precise questions. The migration of parents or grandparents is often justified on the belief that there was a better future for themselves and for their children in France. In general, the descendants compensate for their lack of information by using their general knowledge of immigration: they fill in the blanks in terms of what they consider was likely to have happened. It’s what Cristina Bermejo did for example:

  • 8 I think they already knew people here before coming, because I’m surprised they came like that. I t (...)

Je pense [qu’ils connaissaient déjà du monde ici avant d’arriver] parce que ça m’étonne qu’ils soient venus comme ça. Je pense qu’ils ont peut-être connu des amis de mon grand-père, qui sont peut-être venus avant eux, en disant: ‘c’est bien de venir là, tu pourrais venir, il y a du travail, tout ça’. À mon avis, parce qu’on ne vient pas... (...) Je ne sais pas. Je pense, j’imagine (...). Je ne sais pas si la famille demon grand-père, de mon père, était déjà là bien avant.8

10Overall, the research shows that we cannot categorically claim that there is a lack of knowledge about family migratory history, unlike other studies that have focused primarily on the experience of teenagers (Fogel 2007, Lepoutre and Cannoodt 2005). Interviewees in this current were older, and it is apparent in most cases that when they reach 25 or 30 years old, or when they have children, descendants become more interested in their family history and are also perhaps more receptive to hearing to family histories.

11Connections to family history are also different between refugees’ descendants and economic migrants’ descendants. In the case of former families, one may not necessarily know the history of ancestors who went into exile, albeit important and recognised as having made an impact on the descendants. It is often experienced as a burden or a trauma, which they cannot forget. This is maybe explained by the fact that interviewees (or a relative of them) had gone to an exhibition, and so were already interested in family history. On the other hand, some descendants of economic migrants did not necessarily see the migration of their parents or grandparents as an important event. The desire or need to know appears less. Some present this trajectory as a straightforward background, and as nothing out of the ordinary. In the family of those exiled, the actual life of a particular ancestor is what is eventually told or hat the descendent would like to know about: what he or she did in the Civil war, their exile, or the arrival in France; in other words, the individual path of one or more specific members of the family. In contrast, in the families of economic migrants, the ancestors’ history is most often described as a collective history, in particular when the family comes from traditional emigration regions such as Galicia. ‘Everyone in the family emigrated’, say those interviewed. Parents and grandparents did as others did. This difference between the descendants of those exiled and those who migrated may be due in part to the very different history linked to these two migratory waves. It could also be attributed to the fact that the descendants of those exiled living in the Parisian region are often of mixed parentage, whilst this is not necessarily the case in the southwest of France, for example, which is a very important place of establishment for Spanish exiles.

  • 9 ‘In general, the Revolution itself. Everything! How the working class organized themselves (...) Th (...)

12We will now try to highlight the logic that governs memory transmission. As shown by Halbwachs (1952), the present shapes what is remembered from the past. This is what determines the existence, and content, of the transmission in the family (Attias-Donfut, Lapierre and Segalen 2002). Thus, some of the refugees who have retained their political ideals, and who continued to fight for these in France, seem to have told more about their experiences in Spain in the 1930s than others. In the Puig family, for example, the family ‘saga’, according to the son, is well-known. Fernando, the father, who was 16 years old in 1936, also accepted to be interviewed at length by an acquaintance who wrote a book (for his relatives), using his testimony as a base. He recounted the Spanish Revolution, the frontline, exile, the arrival at camps in France and the different jobs he has done. When asked what he thought was most important to know, Fernando Puig, who campaigned his entire life for the anarchists’ union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), replied, ‘En général, la Révolution elle-même. Tout! La façon dont la classe ouvrière s’est organisée. (...) La classe ouvrière a fait tout, tout, tout marcher (...). En 8 jours de temps!’9 If this history is passed on it is because it shows that the libertarian ideal is attainable. It testifies to the righteousness of the ideals pursued. His time spent at the front is less detailed.

  • 10 Interview conducted by the author on January 29, 2008, in the home of Patricia Casado, Paris.

13Amongst economic immigrants, everything that links to the transmission of values, including solidarity, work, economy, sense of family, is highlighted in the family migratory history. Past and present living conditions are often compared to encourage children to realize the relative affluence in which they now live, and to moderate their wants and desires. Patricia Casado’s interview clearly illustrates this use of the past.10

  • 11 He doesn’t talk to us about it like a memory (...). He pointed that out to us when we were young, t (...)

Il nous en parle pas comme ça en souvenir, (...) mais par contre, il nous le faisait remarquer beaucoup quand on était petits, quand on voulait des choses, une marque. Quand on est dans une cour d’école, tout le monde a des Nike, des Reebok, des trucs comme ça, et quand on voulait la même chose, il nous disait (...) que lui, quand il était petit, (...) il y avait des choses qu’il ne pouvait pas s’offrir. Et c’était plutôt là qu’il nous faisait remarquer les moments de misère de sa jeunesse plutôt que de nous les raconter comme ça.11

14Elements of the transmitted past are very much related to current family knowledge. These elements are also determined by what makes sense in relation to the present actuality of this migration. It is therefore difficult to explain a past migration motivated, for example, by a project to build a house, in which, some 20 or 30 years later, parents and their children know they will never live. Parents prefer therefore to refer to economic reasons, future prospects more favorable for themselves and for their children, and even to retrospectively reconstruct their history. It was by asking her grandmother questions for a master’s thesis on Spanish immigration in France that Andrea Rivas learned the real circumstances of her grandparents and father’s departure:

  • 12 I suspected that living conditions in Spain at that time were not that easy, but I did not know tha (...)

Je me doutais bien que les conditions en Espagne à cette époque-là, ce n’était pas si facile que ça, mais je ne savais pas que c’était expressément parce qu’ils avaient commencé à construire une maison.12

  • 13 Interview conducted by the author on February 29, 2008, in a coffee-bar, Paris.

15In these families of an economic immigration background, maintaining Spanish culture dominates the transmission: language, summer holidays in Spain, family sociability, possible plans to return. For example, Rosa Moreno, born in France from Spanish migrant parents, describes what she wants to pass on to her own children.13

  • 14 First I want to pass the language on to them. It’s very important. It’s an asset for the future, no (...)

Je veux leur transmettre déjà la langue, c’est très important. C’est un atout pour plus tard, de toute façon, quoi qu’il arrive. Mon mari et moi, tous les deux, on était bilingues enfants. Ma langue maternelle c’était l’espagnol. Quand je suis arrivée à l’école maternelle, je ne savais pas parler français. (...) Et donc nous, on veut leur apprendre l’espagnol. Savoir pourquoi leurs grands-parents ou arrière grands-parents ont immigré, les raisons, leur faire comprendre que notre famille c’est une famille d’immigrés, qu’on a des valeurs, la culture. C’est toujours important, je pense, pour un enfant d’avoir une double culture.14

  • 15 Interview conducted by the author on December 19, 2007, in the home of Sergio Casado, Paris.

16It therefore seems rather logical that individual paths are not presented nor emphasized and that it is the group family history as a whole, which is highlighted. In general, the anecdotes told are mostly based on actions of the group, comic, lighthearted incidents with peers, meeting places, moments shared between Spanish people, as for Sergio Casado.15

  • 16 I’ll tell you an anecdote. This is when we were near Town Hall in the small hotel. I think there we (...)

Je vais vous raconter une anecdote et ça, c’est quand on était à l’Hôtel de Ville, dans la petite sorte d’hôtel, on était huit, je crois, de ce village. On (...) avait tous entre 18 et 19 ans et la veille de Noël, comme on fait en Espagne, le Premier de l’An, on a voulu faire la fête. (...) On avait une couverture chacun et on est sorti dans la rue, derrière la Rue de Rivoli (...). On était tous en rond et on chantait comme si on était en Espagne, pareil. Et là, les gendarmes... (...) ils nous ont ramassés tous et ils nous ont amenés au commissariat. (rires) On n.’avait rien fait de mal, mais enfin, c’est quand même des trucs qui restent marqués.16

17In families from an exile background, what appears to be passed on is what fits into the collective French memory or the collective Spanish memory. Thus, the father of Michel Rodriguez, who had told nothing of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, in the mid-1990s not long before his death, decided to write a journal of his own life focusing from 1939 to 1945. Choosing to neglect the years between 1936-1939, he recounted the period during which he fought in the French Foreign Legion, escaping twice from concentration camps: thus adhering to the French collective memory of World War II. A growing awareness of the durability of the Franco regime, the silence imposed on Spain regarding the Republican’s fight, as well regarding the abuses committed by the government, the lack of interest in France, until recently, in the Spanish Civil War; all this explains in part why so little has been said about the Civil War itself. That which is part of the collective French memory would effectively be easier to talk about.

  • 17 The Franco regime was an authoritarian dictatorship. It began in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War (...)

18In the course of my interviews with Spanish migrants and their descendants, references were made to the political context of migration, namely the Franco regime,17 but nothing more was said. In the opinion of my interlocutors, is it simply a general context that does not merit being described in detail? Do they consider that I already know enough about the Franco regime? In the majority of cases, though historical studies emphasize that emigration in the 1950s and 1960s is partly due to the Franco regime, no link is explicitly made between this regime and emigration, even in Republican families, unless their political commitment endured. Nothing is said about living in a democracy from then on. This does not mean that those interviewed do not link Franco’s regime to their migration or to that of their ancestors, but it is simply something that is not talked about publicly. There is no mention either of disappointment or regret regarding the living conditions for those who lived in slums at the beginning.

19This silence about the Civil War and exile on the one hand, and emigration on the other hand, can also be explained by the extremely painful, even traumatic events experienced that the migrants may not wish to talk about; or maybe they want to avoid telling the story to their children who, in general, are reluctant to ask questions. However, for those exiled, extremely tough times are sometimes mentioned (torture at the Buchenwald camp, risks run on the front-line, hunger...). In cases where migration was for primarily economic reasons, silence regarding when their ancestors experienced hunger or when they lived in slums may be deemed appropriate. The younger generations are then afraid to ask questions and therefore abstain from doing so. They do not want their elders to suffer nor to suffer themselves from knowing what their families have endured. They work it out, or imagine in this silence, the tears, or their difficulties in various situations, such as separations. They prefer therefore sometimes to ask their parents, or those who arrived at a younger age, rather than ask their grandparents, who left as adults.

  • 18 Interview conducted by Evelyne Ribert on December 10, 2007, in the home of Claire Saez, Levallois.

20For those exiled, acts of war and violence appear to be a topic which is seldom mentioned (Angoustures 1999) and is highly taboo. Only in one interview, did a grandson indicate that his grandfather had killed a Franco supporter. Claire Saez’s interview in the current study clearly illustrates this taboo:18

  • 19 The question I had, at 16 or 17 years, was ‘Has grandpa killed people nevertheless’? Because there (...)

La question que j’avais (...) à 16 ou 17 ans, c’est: ‘est-ce que papi il a quand même tué des gens?’ parce qu’il y a ça derrière. Et mon père m’a dit qu’il n’en savait trop rien... mais que... il m’a dit: ‘mais tu sais, c’était la guerre donc’... que même certainement mon grand-père, mon grand-père ne le lui a peut-être même pas dit... (...) Maintenant que j’ai un peu plus de connaissances sur le sujet (...), c’est un truc dont on a parlé (...) il y a deux, trois mois. Ça c’est ma mère qui a redit: ‘Mais ton père quand même, est-ce qu’il a...?’... Et là mon père a répondu beaucoup plus clairement, que bon très certainement... le contexte faisait... et puis il s’est beaucoup plus étendu sur le sujet mais... c’est vrai que la première fois que je l’avais posée, ce n’était pas forcément très clair... c’était ‘oui mais certainement’ grosso modo point barre.19

21Michel Rodriguez, an anti-militarist and of anarchist sympathies, thinks it is because his father was forced to kill, that he never spoke about his Civil War experiences between 1936 and 1939:

  • 20 He surely killed a few anarchists around then, he reckons, because he never wanted me to be an anar (...)

Sûrement qu’il a tué quelques anarchistes par là, parce qu’il ne voulait pas que je sois anarchiste, donc je pense qu’il a dû participer à des trucs un peu stalinien sur Barcelone, je ne suis pas sûr. Mais quand on vu Land and Freedom, déjà, on a compris. (...) Je ne sais pas ce qui s’est passé entre 36 et 39, sauf que sûrement il a éliminé des curés. Moi, je me construis une image de révolutionnaire espagnol, parce que de toute façon, moi, ça me plaît, mais la vérité, je la sais. Je sais que c’était quelqu’un qui a été embrigadé. Ils ont dû lui faire faire des trucs de militaire: c’est-à-dire tu réfléchis pas, tu tires et puis que il valait mieux pas qu’il en cause. Et puis que après, il s’est rattrapé en tant que militaire antifasciste entre 39-45. Je pense que ça, ça a dû l’apaiser, parce qu’il était calme comme mec, par contre. (...) Toujours les copains, le machin, le truc tranquille, le boulot : on peint, on tapisse, on passe trois couches dessus, on oublie ce qu’il y avait avant, puis on n’en parle plus. C’est ça les peintres en bâtiment.20

22Perhaps this silence surrounding war and other violent acts is due to the concern that they might be misunderstood by children: they are not acceptable acts:

The parents’ story, as transmitted by the children, excludes or avoids situations and personal reactions that could seriously affect the image of their parents. (...) The image of the father is the hero, a defeated hero, something which is particularly difficult for a child, but a hero who fought for a just cause. (Angoustures 2003: 15)

23Even short anecdotes of little importance, which are unflattering, are often silenced. Therefore, when I asked Fernando Puig about what is not included in his written testimony, he explained that he had not mentioned some minor details of which he is not proud.

24The composition of the family also appears to influence discussion and transmission of memory. The act of recalling the past is influenced by exchanges with others (Gensburger 2005: 60) and by the ‘facts of communication’ Bloch (1925), cited in Gensburger (2005: 60). Although this impedes neither the narration of personal or historical events, nor the transmission of political analysis, an exile marrying another Spaniard from a different migratory background does seem to hinder transmission of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War and exile. It is also a possibility that some emotions or events, which are difficult to share with a spouse, are withheld if that person has a Spanish partner who was not exiled. In general, the larger the family concerned by this history, the more that transmission appears important, maybe because family discussions, through which children often say they became aware of their ancestor’s history, are a more regular thing or because the stories can be told by more than one person at a time. Past events often come up during family meals or on Sundays: in short, on special occasions and not during everyday family meals. In families who migrated in the 1950s/1960s, the history of family migration appears to be most frequently talked about during annual visits to Spain when with extended family. Some anecdotes and episodes seem to be told quite regularly on such occasions. Finally, it must be said that the death of an ancestor often acts as a trigger for their descendants to ask questions about their family history.

25Transmission also varies from one child to another. In families from an exile background, it often seems during interviews, that one of the children is the legitimate ‘heir’ of the memory: it is often the eldest, but not always. Gender, career and relationships in common with the ancestor also come into play here, and the same things are not told to each child either. There are feminine memories of grandmothers ‘left behind the lines’ and masculine memories of political involvement and the front-line (Angoustures 1999: 115), though there are always exceptions as several women got involved too. These memories tend to be transmitted preferentially to children of the same sex. Several of those interviewed highlighted this: Mario Hernandez, whose father was shot before he was born, explained for example:

  • 21 In Spain, there was men’s’ business and women’s business. And women did not necessarily talk about (...)

En Espagne, il y avait les affaires des hommes et les affaires des femmes.
Et les femmes ne parlaient pas obligatoirement des affaires des hommes, donc, en ce qui concerne mon père, j’ai plus appris par mes oncles par exemple que par ma mère. Peut-être, ajoute-t-il, que moi j’ai parlé plus avec [le] père [de ma femme] qu’elle.21

  • 22 We find this phenomenon in many families, independently of any migratory past (Ribert 1997).

26In families who migrated in the 1950s/1960s too, memories are often carried forward by one particular child.22 However, this has more to do with the relationship they have with Spain, if they have a taste for Spanish culture and for speaking the language, rather than knowledge of the family migratory history in itself. Regarding family history in general, children and parents both say they all know the same thing. The only exceptions are situations in which a child undertakes to ask his elders questions. This is different from what happens in an exiled family. In immigrant families, transmission of family history rarely differs according to gender, perhaps since it concerns later generations, for whom standards become more egalitarian.

27There are, however, important differences between the stories of men and women who have migrated. The narratives of men, especially those who arrived at a young age to France, as children or aged 18-20 years, are punctuated with anecdotes, jokes, and also embellished. These migrants tell of mischief that they got up to in their young days, including in the slums, which they described as great places to play. The older ones describe the parties and the balls that they regularly went to. Women’s discourse is markedly different, it highlights the lack of choice, they had to come to France, they followed their parents, as they had made the decision even if the girls did not want this. In France especially, they seem to have been kept more in the house, their parents fearing to let them go out too much. They appear then to have been more sensitive to living conditions. Whilst men tell many stories spontaneously and easily, women only talk about this past when asked.

  • 23 Interview conducted by the author, on November 19, 2007, in a coffee-bar, Paris.
  • 24 Interview conducted by the author, on April 4, 2008, in a coffee-bar, Paris.

28Transmission of family migratory history depends finally, above and beyond what is said by the parents, upon what is listened to and heard by the children. This is particularly true for the descendants of those exiled. Flora Dorlin, for example, regrets not having listened more to her father, who died when she was twenty years oldootnoteInterview conducted by the author, on December 28, 2007, in a coffee-bar, Paris. Pabla Hernandez, meanwhile, said she had not wanted to listen to her father, whom she discovered at the age of eight when she arrived in France, and with whom she has always had a difficult relationship.23 Children are ambivalent (Angoustures 1999: 114), they only half listen. Elena Molina-Dupond’s testimony clearly demonstrates this; she decided to record her mother.24

  • 25 She often got annoyed, my mother, because she felt that I didn’t remember anything. Very often, she (...)

Elle s’agaçait très souvent ma mère, parce qu’elle trouvait que je ne me rappelais de rien. Bien souvent, elle m’a dit: ‘mais je te l’ai déjà expliqué, etc’. Et moi, je n’arrivais pas à le fixer en fait... donc voilà, cette histoire de mémoire, garder en moi ça: je n’arrivais pas à le faire. Au moins, là, je pourrais toujours m’y référer, réviser. J’ai failli perdre l’enregistrement de ma mère, précise-t-elle d’ailleurs. (...) La disquette sur laquelle j’avais enregistré ma mère ces derniers jours, je l’ai égarée. Vous voyez, ce n’est quand même pas si simple que ça cette affaire de transmission.25

29It is the same in families from primarily economic immigrant backgrounds, where the children are often afraid to ask questions, depending on their relationship with parents and grandparents. Sometimes parents feel that they are constantly repeating elements of family history, and yet the children may still feel they do not know this past or even tell different versions of family migratory history.

30Although family history is not always narrated and though the transmission of cultural elements can vary, we can examine what is transmitted. In all of the families of exiles interviewed, even if their knowledge of family history is tenuous, a political legacy is passed on. This manifests itself in all kinds of ways, ranging from leftist sympathies, to being a member of an organization or political party, to activism or participation from time to time in political campaigning, such as strikes, demonstrations. The same applies to the children and grandchildren of refugees. Grandchildren who accepted to be interviewed for this study tended to be interested in family history. This political interest is not necessarily shared by their siblings. Between children and grandchildren, forms of political commitment and politicization can also vary.

  • 26 ‘It is part of the family identity, we can’t support the Right, it is impossible’
  • 27 Interview conducted by the author, on April 10, 2008, Paris, in the office of the author.

31One of the fundamental elements of this political legacy, generally found to be present in all generations, is an affinity with the Left. ‘Ça fait partie de l’identité familiale, on ne peut pas être à droite, ce n’est pas possible’,26 explained Eric Fernandez, 29 years old.27 But this legacy can also weigh heavily, as in the case of Pablo Hernandez, who is around 40 years oldootnoteInterview conducted by the author, on April 7, 2008, in the home of Pablo Hernandez, in Carrières sur Seine. Pablo Hernandez got his Young Communist League card when he was in the eighth grade. He then took charge of the Socialist section of the highly-reputed business school where he studied, all the while campaigning for the Socialist party.

  • 28 There were these years of study which (...) were difficult as I was beginning to realize that my be (...)

Il y a eu ces années d’étude qui (...) ont été difficiles parce que je me rendais de plus en plus compte que mes convictions reposaient sur des fondations très vaseuses et, en même temps, je n’étais pas encore du tout capable d’y renoncer! Ç’aurait été aller cracher sur la tombe de mon grand-père dont je ne sais pas où elle se trouve.28

32Pablo Hernandez then began a career in banking:

  • 29 I was fascinated by financial markets (...). When you are on the Left and you become a trader in a (...)

J’étais passionné par les marchés financiers (...). Quand vous venez de gauche et que vous devenez trader dans une salle de marché, c’est à peu près ce qu’il y a de pire que vous pouvez faire à part devenir pédophile. Néanmoins, j’ai continué à voter à gauche très longtemps parce que je ne pouvais pas faire autrement. (...) Et ça a été le dernier pas, qui est somme toute assez récent (...). Mais je suis tout à fait prêt à revoter à gauche, dès que la gauche me le permettra.29

33Luzi, who interviewed descendants of refugees living in the Southwest of France, highlights the fact that passing on values, such as ‘respect for others, consistency, courage, humanism’, is also very important. In economic immigrant families, as I said before, what is transmitted is more language, culture, an attachment to Spain, and also values.

34This article highlights refugees’ silences and rewriting of the past by economic migrants. In the two cases, little is said to the descendants of migration history itself. This past is generally painful for both groups for different reasons. Refugees do not generally speak about what they experienced during the Civil War and the exile, whereas economic migrants often transform the reasons for their migration and don’t give details. The latter simply say that they came to France for economic reasons and the future of their children, whereas many of them have left their country to buy a house in Spain. It is clear from this work that what is transmitted, from the migration history in the two cases, is what still makes sense in the present: a political commitment for the refugees; values and Spanish culture for economic migrants. In what is told of the past, we find some of the characteristics of exilic and diasporic memories as defined by (Lacroix and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2013: 687): on the one hand, a very fragmented transmission of traumatic events which led to the exile; on the other hand, the story of facts which generally occurred after the migration. The composition of families and descendants’ attitudes also play a role in what is passed on.

35My results also suggest that, in general, it is only the events which are part of the French or Spanish collective memories, at the very most, which are narrated. Presumably, however, things are slowly changing due, on the one hand, to the recent recognition of Spanish Republicans in Spain (Martinez-Maler 2007) (Leizaola 2007) following the movement known as the recovery of historical memory and the law of the same name adopted in 2007; on the other hand, to the different actions and commemorations that have emerged in France concerning the ‘Retirada and exile of Republicans’ (Moulinié 2013), and finally, to the recent appreciation of the history of migration in Spain, and in France, where a National Centre of the History of Immigration was opened in 2007 (Cohen 2007). These various forms of recognition could promote a family story, both in families of exiles and economic migrants, making this story legitimate and inspiring the descendants to ask questions. But they can also impede this story if historical data is substituted in place of storytelling by family members.

Bibliographie

Works Cited

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Angoustures, Aline. ‘Difficultés et paradoxes du devoir de mémoire : les enfants de réfugiés espagnols en France’, Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps 70 (2003) : 12–19.

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Notes

1 Translation by Yvonne Cullen and Emily Epperson.

2 This study forms part of a comparative research project undertaken with Michèle Baussant and Nancy Venel, financed by the French Ministry of Culture as part of the ‘Immigration memory, moving towards a patrimonialization process?’ (2007) funding programme, and which resulted in a subsequent report (Baussant et al, 2009).

3 ‘Portraits de migrations, un siècle d’immigration espagnole en France’, October 6-November 4, 2007, Hogar de los Españoles, 10 rue Cristino Garcia, La-Plaine-Saint-Denis.

4 Upon arriving in France, many refugees were transported and accommodated in camps in the south of France.

5 ‘He told us nothing (...). He never spoke of ‘36-39’. Never!’ Interview conducted by the author on February 5, 2008, in the hotel room of Michel Rodriguez, Paris.

6 My father, at 18, joined up, apparently. From 1936 to 1939, nothing... He did nothing [laughs] (...) In 39, he crossed the Pyrenees, they took his gun, his weapons, as with the others. There, he lived in a camp in Argelès.

7 [It is not] something that is passed on, a subject that [my mother] took me aside to tell me about. It more came about when I asked questions, little by little, something that just happens and it was up to me to put the pieces together. Interview conducted by the author on February 26, 2008, in a coffee-bar, Paris.

8 I think they already knew people here before coming, because I’m surprised they came like that. I think they may have known friends of my grandfather, who perhaps came before them, and said: ‘It’s good to come here, you could come, there are jobs’. In my opinion (...) I do not know. I think, I guess (...). I do not know if my grandfather’s family, or my father’s was there well before.

9 ‘In general, the Revolution itself. Everything! How the working class organized themselves (...) The working class made everything, everything, everything work (...). In eight days!’ Interview conducted by the author on January 24, 2008, in the home of Fernando Puig, Sartrouville (Yvelines).

10 Interview conducted by the author on January 29, 2008, in the home of Patricia Casado, Paris.

11 He doesn’t talk to us about it like a memory (...). He pointed that out to us when we were young, though, when we wanted things, name-brand things. When you are in playground, and everyone has Nikes, Reeboks, things like that, and when we wanted them too, he told us (...) that at our age (...), he could not afford some things. And it was more like that than by just telling us that he pointed out the poverty of his childhood.

12 I suspected that living conditions in Spain at that time were not that easy, but I did not know that it was specifically because they had started to build a house.

13 Interview conducted by the author on February 29, 2008, in a coffee-bar, Paris.

14 First I want to pass the language on to them. It’s very important. It’s an asset for the future, no matter what happens. Both my husband and I were bilingual when we were children. My mother tongue was Spanish. When I got to nursery school, I did not speak French. (...) We want to teach them Spanish. We want them to know why their grandparents or great-grandparents immigrated. We want them to understand that our family is an immigrant family, which has its values, its culture. I think it is important for a child to have a dual culture.

15 Interview conducted by the author on December 19, 2007, in the home of Sergio Casado, Paris.

16 I’ll tell you an anecdote. This is when we were near Town Hall in the small hotel. I think there were eight of us from the same village. We (...) were all between eighteen and nineteen years old. On Christmas Eve we wanted to celebrate, as we do in Spain for New Year’s. (...) Each of us had a blanket and went out into the street, behind Rue de Rivoli (...). We were all in a circle and we sang, like we were in Spain. We all got arrested (...) and we were brought to the police station. (laughs) We had done nothing wrong, but these things stand out all the same.

17 The Franco regime was an authoritarian dictatorship. It began in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. Franco died in 1975. A democratic constitution was adopted in 1978.

18 Interview conducted by Evelyne Ribert on December 10, 2007, in the home of Claire Saez, Levallois.

19 The question I had, at 16 or 17 years, was ‘Has grandpa killed people nevertheless’? Because there is that, in the background. And my father... told me that he didn’t know too much about it... but that... he told me: ‘but you know, it was war’... that certainly even my grandfather, my grandfather had not necessarily told him... (...) now that I know a bit more about it, (...)... it is something we talked about two or three months ago (...). It was my mother that said again, ‘But your dad, nonetheless, did he...’?... And there my dad answered much more clearly, that well certainly... the context was such that... and then he talked more extensively on the subject but... it is true that the first time I asked, it wasn’t very clear... it was ‘well yes certainly’, but basically that was it.

20 He surely killed a few anarchists around then, he reckons, because he never wanted me to be an anarchist, so I think that he must have participated in things a bit Stalinist in Barcelona, I am not sure. But when we saw Land and Freedom, already we got it (...). I don’t know what happened between ‘36 and ‘39, apart from that he definitely killed some priests. Me, I make an image of a Spanish revolutionary for myself, because in any case, I like it, but I know the truth. I know it was someone who was enlisted. They had to do some military stuff: that is to say, you don’t think, you shoot and then it is best not to talk about it. And then after that, he made things up by being antifascist soldier between ‘39-45’. I think that had to appease him, he was a quiet guy. (...) Always the friends, different things, the calm thing, work: painting, laying carpet, painting three coats on top, we forget what was there before, then we talk no more of it. That’s painters when they work.

21 In Spain, there was men’s’ business and women’s business. And women did not necessarily talk about men’s things, therefore, with regards to my dad, I learnt more from my uncles for example than from my mum. Maybe, he added, I spoke more with [the] father [of my wife] than [my wife] did. Interview conducted the author on November 19, 2007, Paris, in a coffee-bar.

22 We find this phenomenon in many families, independently of any migratory past (Ribert 1997).

23 Interview conducted by the author, on November 19, 2007, in a coffee-bar, Paris.

24 Interview conducted by the author, on April 4, 2008, in a coffee-bar, Paris.

25 She often got annoyed, my mother, because she felt that I didn’t remember anything. Very often, she would say, ‘But I have already explained that to you’. And I, I couldn’t record it, there you go, this story of memory, to keep it to myself: I couldn’t do it. At least, I can always refer to it, revise it. I almost lost the recording of my mother. The disk that I had used to record my mum these last days, I misplaced. You see, it is still not easy this whole thing of transmission.

26 ‘It is part of the family identity, we can’t support the Right, it is impossible’

27 Interview conducted by the author, on April 10, 2008, Paris, in the office of the author.

28 There were these years of study which (...) were difficult as I was beginning to realize that my beliefs were based on very muddy foundations and, at the same time, I was not at all able to give it up! It would have been the same as going and spitting on my grandfather’s grave, though I don’t know where that is.

29 I was fascinated by financial markets (...). When you are on the Left and you become a trader in a trading room, it is pretty much the worst thing you can do apart from becoming a pedophile. Nevertheless, I still voted Left for a long time as I couldn’t do otherwise. (...) And that was the last step, which was actually quite recent (...). But I am all together ready to vote Left again, as soon the Left gives me that choice.

Auteur

Institut interdisciplinaire d’anthropologie du contemporain, équipe du Centre Edgar-Morin, E.H.E.S.S.-C.N.R.S..
Is a sociologist at C.N.R.S. and a member of CEM/IIAC (Centre Edgar-Morin, équipe de l’Institut interdisciplinaire d’anthropologie du contemporain, E.H.E.S.S.-C.N.R.S.). She worked on the representations of national belonging in France among youth of immigrant background and studies the memory of the Spanish immigration in France. She is the author of Liberté, égalité, carte d’identité, Les jeunes issus de l’immigration et l’appartenance nationale (Paris: La Découverte, 2006); of two papers ‘Résurgences du passé’, Communications, ‘Passage en revue, nouveaux regards sur 50 ans de recherche’, n° 91 (2012): 211–225; ‘Formes, supports et usages des mémoires des migrations: mémoires glorieuses, douloureuses, tues’, Migrations société, 137, vol. 23 (2011): 59–78; of 2 papers with B. Tur ‘The Role of Spanish Refugees in the Construction of the Migration Memory in France and Spain’, Journal of Intercultural studies, 6, vol. 34 (2013): 714–728, ‘Le choix de la nationalité chez les descendants des exilés et des immigrés espagnols en France’, Pandora, Revue d’études hispaniques, ‘Nation (s)’, 11 (2012): 21–42. And of a report with M. Baussant and N. Venel, Mémoire de l’émigration, mémoire des migrations, mémoire des luttes sociales : trois formes de patrimonialisation de la mémoire de l’immigration en France, Ministry of Culture and Communication, Mission to the ethnology, September 2009.

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