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This comparative volume examines the sustained contribution of migrants to Europe’s literatures, social cultures, and arts over centuries. Europe has never been a continent bounded by the seas that surround it. In premodern times, migrants imprinted the languages, arts, and literatures of the places where they settled. They contributed to these cultures and economies. Some were on the move in search of a better life; others were displaced by war, dispossessed, expelled; while still others were brought in servitude to European cities to work, enslaved. Today’s immigration flows in Europe are not exceptional but anchored in this longue durée process. Iberia/Maghreb, Sicily/Lampedusa, Calais are the three hotspots considered in this volume. These regions have been shaped and continue to be shaped by migrants; by their cultures; their Spanish, Arabic, Italian, and Somali; their French, English and Mandarin languages. They are also shaped by migrants’ struggles. The scholars and artists who wrote Migrants shaping Europe, past and present compose a new significant chapter in the cultural history of European migration by reflecting on the forces that have put people into motion since the premodern period and by examining the visual arts, literature, and multilingual social worlds fostered by migration. This historically expansive and multilingual approach to mobility and expressiveness makes a crucial contribution: migrants as a lifeblood of European cultures.
The introduction lays out the central argument of the volume, which has three main strands: 1) those named most often by others as “migrants” do not represent a sudden, unprecedented crisis but are part of a long line of people who have come from “elsewhere” to participate in European life; 2) this long-running circulation of men, women, and children has always been accompanied by the movement of inventive ideas; 3) displaced and dispossessed peoples have shaped European culture in a major way over many centuries. To make its point, the volume conceputalizes “migrants” in a new way, paying special attention to the existence of premodern migrants. It offers three groups of case studies, organized by language – Spanish, Italian, and French – which examine the growing and changing ensemble of representations in speech, writing, visual arts, and other objects that people create in search of a sense of self.
On October 25, 2016, French anti-riot police evicted thousands of migrants who had settled in an abandoned landfill adjacent to the port of Calais. Hundreds of makeshift houses and tents of the so-called “Calais jungle” were bulldozed or burned while the police forced migrants to board buses that would take them to asylum centers scattered across the French countryside. In the meantime, British authorities started the construction of the “Great Wall,” a one-kilometer long and four-meter high anti-intrusion barrier alongside the highway that leads to the port of Calais. Domicides and infrastructures intended to segregate migrants from French citizens are not new to the region. This chapter argues that present racialized patterns of mobility and the infrastructure enabling the segregation of people upon citizenship regimes in the Calais region were established long ago, when the French state managed the first wave of non-European migration in the region during World War I. The chapter first explores how thousands of Chinese indentured workers who toiled for the French and British army in northern France between 1917 and 1920 were deterred from settling in this region. Police brutality, racial segregation, and criminalization of solidarity are some of the practices established to deter nonwhite people from settling in the Calais region. From this historical perspective, the chapter then explores the institutionalized racism that structures current anti-immigration policies (in France and in the UK) and the proliferation of deterrence infrastructure in the Calais region.