Monday, 6 December 2010

On how to build an immigrant

I am borrowing the title from an article by Ana Bigotte Vieira (read here in portuguese only) published in the blog BUALA – African Contemporary Culture on the 10th of November. The author presents, without sentimentalities and excesses in her writing, the situation experienced near Ceuta, on moroccan territory, a place where people of various nationalities gather and wait for the right moment to attempt the desperate and hopeful leap against the barbed wire. They have against them the exhaustion, the hunger, the abuses of the owners of the illegal immigration networks, as well as of the moroccan and spanish police, and also SIVE, a system for the detection and blocking of the boats of immigrants in the open sea, composed by radars, cameras and connection to a satellite, that allows the authorities to stop them from reaching the coast.
The article by Ana Bigotte Vieira reminded me of one of my favourite books. Eldorado, by Laurent Gaudé, came into my hands by chance. I started reading it with a certain indifference – I had nothing else to read on that day – but soon the French author´s writing captivated me and I couldn´t let go of the book until I had finished it. This is the story of Italian captain Salvatore Piracci, who for twenty years has patrolled the Mediterranean intercepting the boats of illegal immigrants, many times left adrift in the open sea by traffickers. One day his faith in his mission is profoundly shaken after the encounter with a survivor who has lost her child during the trip. The captain leaves everyone and everything and follows the path of the immigrants, becoming one of them. At the same time, we follow the story of two brothers leaving Sudan hoping to reach Europe, the new Eldorado. Only one of them will reach the destination.
I was also reminded of Laurent Gaudé´s book when I first saw the work of Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo Road for Exile, as part of the exhibition Islands Never Found, presented at the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece. Even before getting to know this work´s title, the fragility of the balance of the pieces piled on the boat, the lack of space, the transparency of the sea water (beautiful, but hard and deceitful at the same time), created with bottles of vodka, reminded me of the stories narrated by Gaudé, of the world he described. Barthélémy Toguo has created so far five versions of the piece Road for Exile. One of them was exhibited last year at Carpe Diem in Bairro Alto (read here in portuguese only).
Recently I read one more novel related to the subject of immigration. Leaving Tangier, by Moroccan poet and writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, is the story of a Moroccan brother and sister who are looking for a better life in Spain. A book about a reality that was largely unknown to me (about the tactics of the moroccan regime or about love affairs and homosexuality in an arab country), the permanent contrast between the traditional and the modern, and also betaween Europe and the North of Africa. The approach becomes more interesting given that the author has been living in Paris for the last forty years, between (or within) the two cultures.

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