May was European Diversity Month… a month when we celebrate the beauty of this world; also called differences. My friends will tell you that I am very passionate about ‘diversity as a topic and a reality. On top of that, I am the product of the encounter between multiple cultures.
But for some reason, when the LMF Network monthly blog theme dropped, I got stage fright. What if I said something which did not resonate with the LMF community or, even worse, offensive?
So, after three weeks of staring at a blank page, I decided to speak my truth, hoping some of it might resonate with you. I hope you enjoy this personal piece.
A few centuries ago, my ancestors — a family of fishmongers — left Procida (a tiny island off Naples’ coast) for a better life in Oran (Algeria). But little did they know that they would cross the path of other fishmongers from Alicante in Spain decades later.
In 1962, 130 years later, France signed the Evian Accords, and my melting pot family fled Algeria to start a long journey across France to eventually land in Toulouse, where they started all over again.
For decades, they lived in social housing solely dedicated to immigrants, among other “Blackfeets”, as well as Jewish and Muslims. They raised one another’s kids, traded recipes and celebrated one another’s religious event. Though they had nothing, they shared the little they had.
Despite the poverty she lived in, my grandmother describes her first years in France as some of the best because of the hope and solidarity she shared with the other uprooted families.
Fast track decades later, I got raised in a small suburban town, near Toulouse, with a strong awareness of my “Blackfeets” heritage. I grew up eating all kinds of food (French wasn’t really one of them), learnt to speak Spanish at age 5 and constantly befriended ‘newcomers’ at school. It took me years to realise that despite being raised French, I have always subconsciously felt uprooted.
Though Toulouse was my adoptive city, my hometowns were Oran, Procida, Alicante…I am coming home.
I don’t know if you live in a city that is not your hometown like me. If you do, you probably know that constant longing for belonging. You know the feeling of walking around with a half-empty heart until your flight touches down in your hometown.
Truth be told, I did not know how much my mixed heritage defined my identity until I first travelled to Spain and years later to Italy. It is as if Alicante and Naples had been the missing pieces of my jigsaw all along. As I discovered these cities for the first time, I felt I had finally come home.
It was the strangest experience. Everything felt familiar, from the cities’ scents to the buildings’ colours all the way to the locals’ facial features in which I could recognise myself.
On the one hand, I believe that living in a foreign city where you constantly code switch to successfully blend can be a struggle. But on the other hand, I think this cultural awareness makes us more socially agile and psychologically resilient.
Code-switching mentally, emotionally and physically all at once is true art!
We are the world…
Last but not least, when I think about European Diversity Month, I think about challenging inequalities to become a more inclusive and representative society. Our society’s strength is in our differences — such as gender, race, religion and sexual orientation -, and unlocking their power will guarantee society’s sustainable success.
Over the last year, Covid-19 has taught us many lessons. The most powerful one is that to thrive, one needs constant and diverse connections with the external environment, what I like to call the ‘human touch’. One’s mindset and resilience only grow when being exposed to diversity. After all, we are social creatures capable of evolution.
Change starts with us. It has to start today, and it begins with celebrating our differences. Michelle Obama said it perfectly: “You see our glorious diversity- our diversity of faiths, colo[u]rs, and creeds- that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are.”
This blog contribution was made by Gaelle Couberes.
Gaelle is originally from France though a Londoner at heart, who believes in the power of sisterhood; championing both diversity & inclusion and mental health. Gaelle works in the beauty industry as a senior innovation manager, taking pride in being a content creator and a mentor.
In 2020, Gaelle became a mentor for the LMF mentoring programme and in 2021 is crafting content for the blog.
Stay tuned for her regular blogs in English and French.
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