The National City of Immigration in Paris

Like New York with Ellis Island, Paris finally has its museum dedicated to immigration. This institution, which opens its doors on October 10 at the Palais de la Porte Dorée, traces two centuries of immigration to France through a large permanent exhibition called “Repères”. Its objective: to make known and recognize the contribution of foreigners to France, while taking a historical and balanced perspective on a subject that unleashes passions. A most laudable mission when we know that nearly a quarter of French people are of foreign origin.

Know and recognize the contribution of immigration

Finally ! Like Quebec with the Museum of Civilization and especially the United States with Ellis Island in New York, France has a museum dedicated to immigration. The National City of Immigration History (CNHI) is opening its doors today in a completely redeveloped Palais de la Porte Dorée (12th arrondissement). Ironically, the Porte Dorée building was designed for the colonial exhibition of 1931. Today, it is the seat of a national museum whose objective is to "publicize and recognize the contribution of immigration to France ”.

Because, for Jacques Toubon, president of the orientation council of the CNHI, “although France is, with the United States, one of the great countries of immigration in the world, this aspect of our history is hardly known. and is not recognized ”. And this, even if nearly 25% of French people have foreign origins. For its president, "the City makes it possible to look our history in the face and can help to change the contemporary outlook on immigration". A beautiful bet on a subject that feeds many fantasies and controversies.

A long story

The City of Immigration has come a long way. His project was born in the minds of several historians, including Gérard Noiriel and Pierre Milza, at the end of the 80s. Buried by François Mitterrand, a time supported by Lionel Jospin, the City was wanted by Jacques Chirac in 2002. It opens after five years of work and twists and turns. The most brilliant took place last June with the resignation of eight historians from the official authorities of the City to protest against the establishment of the controversial Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. These historians, including CNRS researcher Patrick Weil, still support the Cité project, which, beyond the controversies, has come to an end. This is the essential.

Landmarks, the permanent exhibition

Centerpiece of the City, the permanent exhibition "Repères" traces two centuries of immigration to France, showing the important part taken by immigrants in the economic, social and cultural development of France. The exhibition opens with a series of maps placing migrations in their international and historical context. Immigration is neither a recent phenomenon, nor a Franco-French issue. Far from being suffered, it results from demographic and economic needs. Everywhere, it has helped shape the identity of host countries.

After this prologue, the visitor follows a thematic and chronological journey dealing with the various questions linked to immigration: the reasons which push to emigrate and to choose France, the evolution of the laws relating to immigration, the ambivalent reactions of public opinion, housing, school, work, integration, sport and the cultural contributions that we owe to foreigners.

Each section contains explanatory tables, precise and clear, offering historical and demographic benchmarks. They are compared with archival documents, photographs (Robert Capa, Sherman, etc.), immigrant testimonies accessible by audio guide, press cartoons, works by contemporary artists (Kader Attia, Eugene Atget, etc. ) and objects donated by individuals. It ends with interactive terminals showing the influence of foreign words on the French language.

Throughout the exhibition, we realize the considerable contribution of immigrants in many fields: from science (Marie Curie) to entertainment (Jamel Debbouze), including cooking, art, sport or hobbies. Coming from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Eastern Europe, Africa or Asia, foreigners, despite the hostility of some of our fellow citizens, have been able to integrate and show patriotism. Like the Spanish resistance fighters and the Senegalese skirmishers who fell for this France, which was much more diverse and mixed than it would like to believe.

Upcoming events

More than a museum, the Cité is also a forum dedicated to the collection of testimonies and archives on immigration in France. At the end of the exhibition, visitors will be able to either record a testimony in a video booth, or donate an object or a photo related to their history, which will help to create a “living” memory of immigration.

Finally, in addition to the “Repères” exhibition, the City of Immigration intends to offer temporary exhibitions several times a year. The first two are devoted to "Armenian refugees in the Middle East and in France from 1917 to 1945" (from October 16 to January 11) and to the portraits of immigrants to Ellis Island made by Augustus Frederick Sherman between 1905 to 1920 (from 13 November to January 7). A way of proving that migration is a universal phenomenon, probably as old as the world.

National City of the History of Immigration
293, avenue Daumesnil, Paris 12th (Porte Dorée metro station)
Tél : 01-53-59-58-60

Open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 17 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Full price entry: € 3 (reduced € 2). Open days from October 10 to 14.

Website :
The very rich site contains numerous thematic files on immigration as well as a wealth of information on the subject.

Also read our dossier on world migration and the chronicle of Amartya Sen's essay Identity and Violence.

Audio Video The National City of Immigration in Paris
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