Challenges in Preserving a Myth

By: Julia Aguiar

While mass migration in Europe is often put in the language of crisis and of the now, it is hardly a new phenomena. Indeed, we can track the migration of people throughout Europe alongside the creation of national borders back to the Middle Ages. In the contemporary context, mass migration has taken on a different shape as anxieties towards Islam have sprung. The myth of European autonomy and whiteness begin to falter not only as migration from the east continues throughout Europe but as these migrants become more established and vocal in their experiences. Moreover, as these readings call us to take a more intersectional approach, we must also consider how the meeting of gender, sexuality, and migration threaten the myth of European identity.

Migrants of colour are often placed outside of conceptions of nationhood and citizenship. This is true still for the children of migrants despite the fact that their birth is often the one that their parents migrated to. Ultimately, the very existence of the children of migrants challenges the country’s myth of whiteness. Moreover, as Nilüfer Göle writes in her article, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam,” muslim women in particular contest the ideal of secularism in European Public Spheres through the practice of veiling. However, as Göle demonstrates as much as veiling is viewed as a symbol of oppression by mainstream society, muslim women associate veiling with professional opportunity and other ideas that do not jive with the European ideal to other and victimize them. As much as European countries like to put migrants in opposition to ideals of secularism, the hybrid existence and experiences of second and third generation migrants as well as the way that the practices of Islam changes with migration as exemplified through the experience of muslim women, demonstrate that the myths of nationhood are becoming tenuous.

The intersection of sexuality and migration in the experience of Queer migrants in several European countries challenges the ideals that neoliberal cities like to project. In her case study of Amsterdam, Fatima El-Tayeb makes clear the marginalization that Queer migrants face if they do not meet certain neoliberal criteria like having a coming out narrative. It becomes clear that to be freely Queer is something that is often relegated to white, middle class men. Importantly, this has not gone unchallenged as demonstrated by the work of the Strange Fruit collective.

Cracks in the myth of European identity have always been present. As migrants further establish themselves and make their, often intersectional, experiences known, these cracks will only grow deeper.

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