- Postcolonial Hospitality: The Immigrant as Guest
Increasing attention has been paid in recent years to the role of immigration in French political and cultural life. The 2002 French presidential election and the disturbing success of the extreme right-wing anti-immigrant Front National highlighted to what degree questions of immigration and integration have taken center-stage in France. Typically, academic inquiries into the role of immigration and integration have focused either on the political and legal status of immigrants and the evolution of immigration policies, or on cultural inquiries into the effects of immigration on the identities of immigrants and their children. Mireille Rosello's Postcolonial Hospitality: The Immigrant as Guest takes altogether another [End Page 161] approach, exploring instead the cultural interpretations of immigration through the metaphor of the immigrant as guest.
Although Rosello's exploration of immigration in contemporary France centers on the representation of immigration as an act of hospitality, her study does not ignore the role of politics. Rather, Rosello reads the political treatment of immigration through the guest/host metaphor. What is more, she analyzes the ways in which both the political and social reality have been affected by this metaphorical rendering of immigration as well as the way in which social and political reality have altered the metaphor itself.
In her introduction, Rosello foregrounds the difficulty in reconciling the metaphor of immigration as hospitality with the reality of social and legal practice. Following from writings on hospitality by Derrida and Levinas, Rosello concludes that hospitality in the classic sense of the word is grounded in a selfless act of generosity on the part of the giver, and involves risk on the part of the giver and the receiver. From this definition of hospitality, Rosello argues that the metaphor of hospitality cannot be applied seamlessly to contemporary immigration since "if a nation invites immigrants because they are valuable assets, because it needs them for economic or demographic purposes, that country is not being hospitable" (12). She goes on to note as well that host nations in general have not typically followed their own codes of hospitality in that they do not wish to accept any risk in receiving immigrants, but rather expect the immigrants to undertake any and all risk in the exchange.
However, Rosello is also careful to point out that immigrants are not merely defenseless victims in the process of immigration either. She argues, for example, that immigrants are quite often able to reappropriate conventions of hospitality in the host nation in order to renegotiate concepts of both hospitality and immigration. As a case in point she cites the 1996 affair of the sans papiers (undocumented immigrants) of St. Pierre. During the summer of 1996, several hundred undocumented immigrants sought sanctuary in the church of St. Pierre in Paris. They remained there for ten months, staging a hunger strike and attracting a great deal of media attention. The situation ended when the French police stormed the church and apprehended the immigrants. According to Rosello, through their resistance to French laws that sought to expel them, the sans-papiers "created a space of sociological, legal and philosophical debate in the very heart of the French capital: they asked questions about the relationship between the city and the nation, . . . between rights and equity" (5). In so doing, they shifted the balance of power away from the state at a moment when the state seemed to have complete control.
As a final note in her introduction, Rosello points to the impossibility of separating the political and the metaphorical in undertaking an analysis of [End Page 162] immigration. However, she affirms clearly that her intention is not to take a position on the ethics of immigration. Rather, she asserts that the goal of her analysis is to interrogate the immigration/hospitality metaphor as it is used in contemporary France in order to point out the tensions that exist between the ideal of hospitality and the practice of immigration and the ways in which this tension have been represented. The five chapters that follow explore the tensions between immigration and...