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Who is a migrant?

Migrant stories project

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Who is a migrant?

For sure, the expression “migrant stories” also refers to history. But in order to decide which stories we wanted to bring together in this archive we had to discuss from whom to ask stories. We had, therefore, to answer the question “who” is migrant. Without wanting to give a definitive definition, we can try to reply to this question in the following way.

A woman, a man, a child. Women, men, children. Singularities and pluralities of human beings who, like all human beings, need a space for their existence, but whose necessary adherence to space is, so to speak, suspended by the control devices that monitor their movements and residencies.

If the ‘migrant’ is one who is migrating, the label itself carries the paradox of turning a temporary action into an enduring state, that of the movement from one space to another, as well as hinting at the choice and the action of the subject who performs that movement. But in our opinion the word ‘migrant’ also describes the suspended position of migrants. Suspended in space, because an obstacle, a barrier, a limit, a border – whether visible or invisible, juridical, political or social – interferes with a complete adhesion to the territory on the part of women, men and children. And suspended in time, because an obstacle, a barrier, a limit, a border blocks the transfer, preventing the completion of the movement, considered as movement from one place to another place, and preventing it from reaching a final moment. Or suspended in time also because more subtle and invisible barriers and confinements superimpose a residue of the not-yet to the concluding moment.

We are aware that we run a risk with such an “attempted definition”. The risk is that of beginning our answer with a negative; or even that of replicating, by translating into spatial terms, the image of migrants as passive victims, as a space-related difficulty caused by control devices and governmental migration policies. In this way, we would replicate the platitudes common to the discourse about migrants used by many mass-media and many advocacy groups.

This is absolutely not our aim. Instead, through the stories – in their perpetual movement – we propose we would like to position ourselves on a crest. It is the crest in between this suspended position determined by power, and all the inventions of practices, actions, gestures, places, spaces, times other than those imagined by controls and sites of confinement, but that migrant women, men and children enact within the spaces and times of their suspension. And in so acting, they induce geography and temporality itself to migrate.

A migrant, then, is one who is moving. A migrant, in this literal sense, is one who is enacting a movement. For this reason, we have opted to organize this website in terms of continents, considered not so much as places of arrival or departure but as narrative space-times, when and where the interview was released or when and where someone told her or his story. But one who has arrived and is, so to speak, shifting the space of his or her point of arrival may also be a migrant And a migrant may also be one who has never moved in a literal sense but who needs to enact a shift in her or his residency space in order to be able to be committed to it. A migrant, then, is a French kid from some French banlieues, which besides being physical places are metaphors of this need of a shift in space; a migrant is a Peruvian girl who was born in Italy but whose possibility of residing in Italian territory is linked to her parents’ residence permit. On the other hand, a Spanish woman in Italy or a German in France are not migrants because their adherence to the space is not disputed – the space of the French or Spanish territory or, again, the space of the “Schengenland”. Nor is an Italian in Albania nor yet a Frenchman in Morocco a migrant because they find themselves in a territory that makes room for their existences and sometimes even for their delocalized economies.

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