African American Studies


“Sarah Palina” was born in 1983 in Lyon, France. Her father was Algerian, and her mother is half-French and half-Arabic (Berber.)When she was seven years old, her parents divorced, and she moved with her mother and three siblings from a fairly upper-middle class neighborhood to a lower-income section on the outskirts of Lyon. While her father spoke Arabic, Sarah never learned to speak it, as her father’s parents had decided to raise him in a more Westernized fashion. Similarly, both of Sarah’s parents were Muslim, but neither of them practiced the religion. Now Sarah considers herself a practicing Muslim, but most of her involvement with the religion is private (e.g. she does not go to the mosque.)

In her new neighborhood (mostly consisting of housing projects), Sarah became familiar with Lyon’s street culture. The neighborhood was almost universally composed of immigrants, predominately immigrants from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and more southerly countries in Africa. Sarah began identifying herself as Arabic against this background, as so many of her friends and classmates were themselves Arabic. She thus felt more comfortable and more at home than in her previous, more upper class neighborhood. Most of the young people in her neighborhood did not continue with school, as they came from poor families that needed money. While there was not much gang violence or violent crime, Sarah recalls an active drug trade and a relatively high crime rate. During this period, she also got involved in French hip-culture. She first was exposed to hip-hop when her brothers began listening to Tupac. From then on, Sarah explored both American and international hip-hop, and she eventually got involved with a rap and R&B group from her neighborhood, called Section 38. Sarah did singing and rapping with the group, and she also began dancing as a b-girl. A parallel interest of hers was boxing, which she took up at the age of 13.

Sarah immigrated to the US about 4 years before the time of interview. She first came to the US because she could not find a job in France—she wanted to work as a desk receptionist at the resort towns on the French coast, but her lack of English made her less competitive as an applicant. At first, she considered going to London so that she could work while picking up the language, but she eventually decided to come to the US on a one-year exchange program to work as an au pair. She thus moved to New Jersey, where she looked after a middle-aged couple’s new baby. She quickly picked up English in the position. From here, she made friends with other Francophones, including a few French and Arabic immigrants. She thus slowly built a social network that she could rely on in getting jobs, places to stay, and ultimately legal documentation as a full-time resident of the US. After her stint as an au pair was over, Sarah simply stayed in the US and worked on getting her paperwork in order. She took a job on Long Island, where she lived and worked for a Jewish woman who agreed to be her sponsor—when her employer found out that Sarah was a Muslim, she was shocked that she was both Islamic and a faithful worker and friend. Sarah managed to enroll in Nassau Community College on the side, where she is working toward a degree in communications. She has enjoyed her time in New York very much, and she plans to stay in the US. Ultimately, she hopes to marry, get a job in media, and raise a family here.

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