I have always admired the French and been welcomed warmly in their country. They are not huggers as Italians may be, but they can be very charming and can give competing Brits a run for their money in the almost-lost art of the veiled sarcastic comeback.
I visited Paris last month, just days after the D-Day anniversary. France’s memory of World War II is still vivid, and its gratitude and connection to America still deep. Many French soldiers from Alsace or the southern Midi fought and died alongside our sons and daughters from California to New England and all the states in between in the wars we have waged as a world power.
But as the wave of white nationalism slams across the globe, France shares U.S. concerns about how to manage large numbers of immigrants and refugees arriving daily by land and sea. There is rage in some Muslim French quarters based on what many see as religious repression. France’s Jewish community has long charged that anti-Semitism is growing. In the midst of France’s Gay Pride festivities, I saw no protesters of LGBTQ neighbors. Like most Americans, average French citizens can be charmingly tolerant, resisting some extreme Right factions.
Traveling east of Paris toward the German border for a day, I was inspired by a billboard in the French city of Strasbourg, whose Lower-Rhine local government boldly proclaims: “The Lower Rhine says NO to anti-Semitism and all forms of racism and the rejection of ‘the other.’”
How inspirational, how necessary, how brave. How simply moving that a local government would take the time to remind a small city, a whole country and the entire planet of what really matters and what true peace depends upon.
My eyes filled with tears when I read that billboard. Remembering it today, as women of color — also members of Congress — are told by our president to, “Go back to where you came from,” I long for the America that led the way in defending diversity, asylum and our immigrant heritage as a nation. And I wonder when or if that America will ever take the lead again.