Double culture as a matter of course

Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône)

From our regional correspondent

“Me, I am French by birth, fully. “ Seated in his sister Stéphanie’s apartment, Mourad Mahdjoubi sketches a thin smile, electronic cigarette in hand. He was born in 1972 in Marseille. From an Algerian father and a mother from Pas-de-Calais. Three years before him, the couple had Stéphanie, in the North. “Motherless, my father was taken in as a child by his aunt in Algiers. He sold odds and ends, shined shoes … And then two Pied-Noirs took him under their wing. He started doing car mechanics and he went to France, where we were looking for manpower ”, Mourad synthesizes. His parents meet in a bar in Roubaix. The young woman has the ch’ti accent, she works at the 3 Suisses; the young man spent his first years in Khemis Miliana, homeland of several militants of the Algerian war, about a hundred kilometers south-west of Algiers. “French society is very conservative. But my parents live a real love ”, resumes their son.

Brown hair with auburn highlights, a colorful tunic and a communicative smile, Stéphanie Mahdjoubi lives in the northern districts of Marseille. In the city of La Maurelette, not far from his parents’ home, settled in this city, therefore, when the father found a job as a naval mechanic there in the early 1970s. “My first name, clearly, it is a choice of my mother”, laughs the young fifty-year-old who, like her younger brother, has dual French and Algerian nationality. Two nationalities, almost two identities. Every other summer, the family crosses the Mediterranean: “Here, I was Stéphanie, over there Kamila. There, I sometimes had to explain why I also had a French first name and here, why I had a name that came from elsewhere… ” On the benches of the local school, one of his comrades is the future mayor of the sector and senator of the National Gathering Stéphane Ravier.

On the maternal side, in Pas-de-Calais, the former minor grandfather became a baker. Mourad cherishes the memory of his platters of chocolate éclairs as much as that of the communist diatribes of his uncles. From the Algerian countryside, Stéphanie remembers the clay oven that her aunt rebuilt every summer to bake her bread. “I grew up in these two stories and it never handicapped me”, Mourad slips. “The strength of our parents is to have left us free to take what we wanted in each culture”, complete its elder.

Mourad is a lawyer. He passed the Marseille bar competition in 2013. Stéphanie, she works in the social sector. They both say it, their professional careers are also the fruit of these intertwined family roots. “It forged us. If I am open to others, to other cultures, and not just to my own, that obviously comes from there ”, frame the social worker.

When Mourad puts on the black dress, to provide business advice or defend a criminal case like that of the victims of the collapses of the rue d’Aubagne, he knows where he comes from. “From college, I could see that it was always the same people who were excluded, cataloged, stigmatized. I obviously experienced this ”, he continues. As a teenager, he raps in the Marseille group Uptown, shapes rhymes that describe the identity and social condition of children in the northern neighborhoods as much as they defend the discriminations of which they are the object. A lawyer, he measures his luck in being able to speak to everyone. Address “To the little brigand of the district”, like “Clasher” a prosecutor who flirts with racism.

A memory of a high school student resurfaces. A history lesson “Where decolonization and the Algerian war are swept away in fifteen minutes”. Good student, a little disruptive, Mourad makes a splash in class and is summoned to the principal. He is still moved by it. “How can we understand each other if we don’t look at this common history together? “, he asks. If the war is not a badly healed wound in the Mahdjoubi family, it still conceals its share of unspoken. Mourad calls out to his sister: “Did you know that aunts stashed weapons in the hammams in Algiers?” “ The eldest opens her eyes wide. This war, their father did not fight, but he often evokes it. “He speaks of independence as pride, even though he was already living in France at that time. He educated us in the complexity of things. In his eyes, it was not: the bad Pieds-Noirs on one side and the nice Algerians on the other. However, being part of this national novel is important to him. “ For his children too.

Stéphanie prepares coffees. On the red shelves of his kitchen, salt with porcini mushrooms is next to fenugreek seeds. With the years of lead, the link has loosened a little with the Algeria of their childhood. Then their father bought a house there. Mourad returned there, he would now like to go there with his wife and two children. Stéphanie conjures up the taste of cooked meat with prunes and the smell of jasmine from the garden. To be the custodian of this heritage is “Such wealth”, she insists. “I do not understand that this can be blamed on us. My identity, I will be proud of it until I die. “

The political discourse which hardens with the approach of the presidential elections worries him. “I would prefer that we hear a little more from binational people who experience things in a positive way”, she pleads. A France where Mourad could no longer be called Mourad, as Eric Zemmour suggested? It is the lawyer who answers, scathing: “Monsieur Zemmour makes films. The European Court of Justice has ruled on this question a long time ago, right? “

United by a beautiful bond, the brother and sister also harbor a common regret: not speaking Arabic. When they were young, they took lessons, learned literary Arabic and caught a few expressions from their cousins ​​on the fly. “My girlfriends are mostly of North African origin. And I sometimes feel a lack of not mastering the language, like them ”, Stéphanie analyzes her desire to assert her belonging to the two communities.

“Our father was never a communitarian”, specifies Mourad. Her Muslim faith, the lawyer embraced her as a teenager, following a personal spiritual quest. Stéphanie, she is baptized: “I was conceived out of wedlock. When I was born, if I ever died instantly, I didn’t have to be a lost sheep! ” Mourad is amused by a reminiscence. “My maternal grandmother was Catholic, but my ‘coconut’ uncles did not set foot in a church. So often at weddings or baptisms, the only men to attend the service were my father and me! “ The family is bathed in a syncretism of its own. When, as a young man, Mourad begins to do Ramadan, his father follows suit. The mother, Catholic, believing, does it for a while too, and does not eat pork, like her husband.

From Stéphanie’s apartment, the gaze flows from the hills that frame Marseille in the northeast to the high towers of the neighboring cities. Mourad and Stéphanie are well aware of being the fruit of a family heritage that is both unique and shared by many Marseillais: “We’re just telling a French story. “


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