Migrant’scene: migrants take front stage

how a writing workshop can be a tool for empowerment

Claske Dijkema, 14 December 2012


Interview carried out by Claire Hugonnard

In order to give a voice to migrants and to confront their narratives with stereotypical views, the national festival Migrant’scene is organised each year and in November 2012 it took place in 34 cities in France. The organization behind the festival is la Cimade and Fanny Braud one of its main organizers in Grenoble. During an interview she specifically commented on narratives as a tool for empowerment and as contribution to social cohesion. Through a poetry/writing workshop prior to the festival migrants were given the opportunity to construct their narratives in view of a performance on stage during the festival.

A group of eight migrants and organizers were led by a slam poet. Through words, feelings and poetry they jointly reflected on the lives of migrant people. The exercise “removed the distance between migrants and organizers, everyone being at the same level during the workshop. While already familiar with questions around migration, we as organizers have discovered other and new dimensions of their experiences”. The performance on stage was an emotional event, for two hours the audience listened to migrants’ struggles and were often emotionally moved.

Fanny Braud comments that “Migrant people were seen as persons with feelings, like any person with whom we can empathize and not as an illegal person with stereotypes added on their head”. These testimonies about feelings, universal ideas like peace, love, anger and sadness contributed to a sense of social cohesion. At the end of the performance there was a time for discussion where migrants and the audience could speak together, share their thinking about this experience and ask questions which enabled migrants to give an answer that reflected their reality and their needs.

After the workshop and the performance migrants said to feel better. For many it was the first time they had an opportunity to express themselves freely in public, the way they wanted, about the topics they wanted. Claiming this space in a public setting was a powerful experience because many of them feel as sub-citizens, without rights and French nationality and in the process of a legal procedure to obtain an official status. In their feedback migrants moreover explained that participating in building up the scene had given them a feeling of being actor of the festival instead of only beneficiary and to belong to a family.

The project enabled migrants to feel more secure because they were all together sharing common ideas. The fact that migrants spoke in the language of feelings rather than in accusations helped to keep the dialogue constructive.