Immigration in France: Organizational Efforts in the Neighborhood of La Goutte d’Or

By Cameren Lofton on January 16, 2020

In my last post, I wrote about an organization here in Chapel Hill geared toward assisting immigrants in the area. In this post, I will introduce and discuss an organization in Paris, France whose work benefits many of the immigrant families in their area. I interviewed Kellan Robinson, a Senior at UNC studying Contemporary European Studies and Global Studies with a concentration in Africa, to learn more about the organization, the work she did with them, and how she got involved. Kellan completed her study abroad in France this past Fall semester (September 1st– December 18th), and during her time, she volunteered with a local organization as an after-school tutor for both elementary and highschool-aged children.

Based in the La Goutte d’Or neighborhood, Association pour le Dialogue et l’Orientation Scolaire (Association for Dialogue and School Orientation) or ADOS is an organization that offers a series of programs and activities tailored toward children in the neighborhood. According to Kellan, the neighborhood of La Goutte d’Or has a historically large immigrant population, and many of the immigrants are Algerian or from the North African region.

The History of Immigration in France

Before discussing ADOS and the work that Kellan did through them, I believe that it is important to understand some of the deep and complex history behind immigration and integration in France. Since the mid-19th century, France has experienced a large and steady flow of immigrants. In the beginning, most of the immigrants were from Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland and experienced little trouble coming to the country and assimilating into French culture. However, as immigrants from former African colonies began coming to France, opposition to immigrants in the country rose (https://www.britannica.com/place/France/Immigration). Through one of her study abroad courses, Kellan completed extensive research on Algerian immigration to Paris (and France more generally) and shared with me some of what she learned through the course. In the early 1900s, France used people from their colonies, especially Algerians, for manual labor in their factories. Later, during the decolonization of many countries in Africa in the 1960s, large numbers of people from those former colonies immigrated to France.

Today, Paris and Marseilles have some of the largest immigrant populations in France. In most of the current debates on immigration and citizenship, race is deemphasized and the concept of secularism, or La laïcité, is emphasized. La laïcité refers to a 1905 law which stated that people have the liberty to choose which religion they worship. Present interpretations of the law state that religion should not be shown in public. With the influx of Muslim immigrants, the hijab and its implications have been one of the main points in debates about immigration in France.

Kellan’s Work in France

Kellan volunteered as an after-school tutor on Mondays and Thursdays. On Mondays, she worked with about 25 elementary school students and helped them with basic French grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary words. On Thursdays, she would help around 30 students in high school with their English homework and would help them write English essays. Although Kellan was comfortable speaking and communicating in French with the students, she knew that her French was not perfect and wanted to use her strength as a writer to help the high school students.

Because Kellan is also passionate about education and equity, she found it fulfilling to be able to help the high school students with their English homework. As a native English speaker, she was able to empower and affirm their intelligence and give them motivation and encouragement. The association offers activities in addition to tutoring (e.g. a trip to the circus), and she wishes that she were able to be more involved with these aspects but was limited by her class schedule.

Since Kellan is not from La Goutte d’Or, she could not offer any criticism to how the organization addressed the neighborhood’s needs. Additionally, she saw that there were other organizations that addressed a variety of needs and that these organizations could help fill in whatever issues were not being addressed through ADOS. Though she did not have any criticism of ADOS, Kellan did note a difference in how organizations talk about their target populations: in the US, organizations may explicitly state that they help “minorities” or a specific racial or ethnic group but organizations in France will say that they target “people who need help” without mentioning a specific group.

Kellan began volunteering through ADOS because she wanted to learn more about the history of the neighborhood, which she had first learned about through a course on immigration and diversity in Paris. She recognized her privilege as an American studying abroad and wanted to interact with different types of Parisians outside those you would typically meet through a study abroad program. Furthermore, she believes that it is her duty to help people where she can, and she wanted to give back during her time in Paris. Through Association pour le Dialogue et l’Orientation Scolaire, Kellan saw and experienced the importance of grassroots organizations and a great example of people helping others in the community.

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