France has a very diverse immigrant population. According to the Institut National de la statistique et des etudes economiques (Insee) at least 200,000 immigrants arrive in France every year. Of the 802,000 newborns in metropolitan France in 2010, a little over 13.3% had one non-French parent and 6.6% had two non-French parents.
The economic think-tank OECD in Paris released a report in 2014 that offered intriguing insight into French immigration:
● 8.8% of France’s population are immigrants.
● Almost half of all new immigrants in France are European.
● There are more Portuguese immigrants than any other nationality.
● There was a sharp rise in emigration from Europe in 2009.
● The majority of foreign students are from China.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that many famous French citizens have immigrant origins as well. From actors to philosophers, sports figures to politicians, immigrants have made their mark on France.
1. Jean Reno
Jean Reno, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Take Jean Reno, a revered French actor, for example. He was actually born Juan Moreno y Herrera-Jiménez to Spanish parents (from Andalucía) in Morocco. He moved to France as a young man, served in the French army, studied at Cours Simon and then changed his name to Jean Reno when he began pursuing his acting career in earnest. Jean Reno speaks many languages, including Spanish, Arabic, English and of course French. He’s practically a national icon. In 2006, Reno got married for the third time to Polish model and actress Zofia Borucka in southern France. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy served as his best man.
2. Patricia Kaas
Patricia Kaas, Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Patricia Kaas, a world famous French singer whose style is a mix of pop, jazz and blues, was born near the German-French border to a French father and a German mother. She started singing professionally at the age of thirteen.
3. Isabelle Adjani
Isabelle Adjani, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Well-known French actress Isabelle Adjani was born to a German mother from Bavaria and a father from Algeria. She grew up speaking French and German at home. She has been awarded Best Actress many times and a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2014.
4. Zinedine Zidane
Zidane, image courtesy of Walterlan Papetti (Wikipedia)
Born on June 23, 1972, Zinedine Zidane, also known as “Zizou” is the current Real Madrid Football Club manager. This former French National team legend used to play an attacking midfielder, and he’s widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Zizou is a son to Smaïl and Malika, who emigrated to Paris from Aguemoune in northern Algeria in 1953 prior to the Algerian War.
Now, let’s shine a light on some political and business figures you may recognize.
5. Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Nicolas Sarkozy, born Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sárközy de Nagy-Bocsa, is a former president of France and had Greek and Hungarian parents. He was the second of three children whom his father abandoned when he was very young. He ventured into politics at the age of twenty-two and rose to power from there. He was mayor for nearly twenty years before entering the national political arena. He served as budget minister and French minister of the interior, among other posts, before becoming France’s 23rd president from 2007 to 2012. His public and private lives were marked by controversy, but one thing can be said about Sarkozy: he could not be ignored and left behind quite a legacy.
6. Édouard Balladur
Édouard Balladur, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Édouard Balladur was prime minister of France from 1993 to 1995. He was born in Izmir (Smyrna), Turkey to Armenian parents. His family moved to Marseille in the 1930s. He served as finance minister, member of the National Assembly, and regional and municipal councilor. He was also a businessman, serving as president of Mont Blanc Tunnel and–in later years–of Générale de Service Informatique (which later became part of IBM Global Services).
7. Pierre Bérégovoy
Pierre Bérégovoy, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Pierre Bérégovoy was born in Déville-lès-Rouen to a Ukrainian father and a French mother. Bérégovoy was a metal worker starting at the age of sixteen and collaborated with the French Resistance during World War II. He worked his way from being an advisor to the trade unions to being a technical agent and eventually helped found the Unified Socialist Party.
He was prime minister from 1992 to 1993 and also served as secretary general, minister of social affairs and national solidarity, finance minister, and defense minister. He also held the office of mayor, municipal councillor and member of the National Assembly.
8. Rachida Dati
Rachida Dati, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Rachida Dati is a member of the European parliament. She served as mayor of the 7th arrondissement and as minister of justice. Dati was born in Saint-Rémy to a Moroccan father who was a bricklayer and an Algerian mother. She has eleven siblings and grew up in humble circumstances. She is a lawyer and has a master's degree in economics. She is a single mother.
9. Patrick Devedjian
Patrick Devedjian, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Patrick Devedjian is of Armenian descent. He has served as minister in charge of the Economic Recovery Plan, minister of industry, minister of local liberties, member of the National Assembly, president of the Hauts-de-Seine General Council, mayor, municipal councillor, and general secretary of the Union for a Popular Movement. He may be best known for insulting a female political opponent in 2007, which was caught on film and splashed across the Internet.
10. Manuel Valls
Manuel Valls, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Manuel Valls, born Manuel Carlos Valls Galfetti, is France’s current prime minister. He assumed the post at a time when the French socialist government had a low popularity rating and is striving to improve its image. Valls was born in Barcelona to a Spanish father and Swiss-Italian mother. He moved to France in his teens and became a citizen at the age of 20. He is fluent in French, Spanish, Catalan and Italian. He has served in a variety of roles, including minister of the interior, member of the National Assembly, vice-president of the Île-de-France Regional Council, mayor and deputy mayor. He has been compared to former president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Tony Blair in his political style. He has even described himself as a “Blairiste” and “Clintonian.”
11. Anne Hidalgo
Anne Hidalgo, image courtesy of Wikipedia
Anne Hidalgo, the first female mayor of Paris, was born Ana Hidalgo in Andalucía, Spain. She previously served as adviser to the minister of employment and solidarity, technical adviser to the secretary of state for women's rights and vocational training, and minister of justice.
Because of her background (her grandfather fled Spain over the Pyrenees and her father was placed in an orphanage as an outcast of the “Reds”), she is the perfect spokesperson for immigration and inequality issues in Paris. Her parents moved to France in 1961 when she was just two years old. Hidalgo is no stranger to overcrowded, immigrant housing, which she experienced as a child. She is passionate about the environment, walkability and green spaces.
12. Jacques Saadé
Jacques Saadé, image courtesy of cma-gcm
Jacques Saadé was born in Beirut, Lebanon. He created Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement (CMA) when he moved to France in 1978. The company grew significantly over the years and by 2005 became the world’s third-largest shipping company and a leader in the shipping industry. The company is known for being attentive to environmental issues such as climate change and is striving to reduce emissions by 50% in 2015.
A highly respected businessman, Jacques Saadé has received numerous awards such as the Manley-Bendall Award from France’s Académie de Marine. In 2015 he was named commander of the French Legion of Honor. When The CMA CGM BOUGAINVILLE (the world largest container ship sailing under the French flag) was inaugurated in Le Havre, the French president François Hollande paid tribute to Jacques Saadé and his company’s success.
13. Eugène Paul Louis Schueller
Eugène Paul Louis Schueller, image courtesy of Fashion Foot
Eugène Paul Louis Schueller, born to German parents, was the founder of L’Oreal. He went to school to become a chemist and soon after created a hair color formula in 1907, the first step toward starting the company in 1909. The basis for his products were “research and innovation in the service of beauty.” Today L’Oreal is a cosmetics giant. According to Forbes magazine, Liliane Bettencourt, Schueller’s granddaughter, is the wealthiest woman in the world.
When it comes to notable French citizens of immigrant origin, the list is endless.
Suffice it to say, they have contributed much to the history and growth of France and are inspiring to current expats hoping to remain in Paris for the long haul. You could be just like them, if you’re not already!
The next time you feel down or worried about fitting in, remember all those who came before you and those who are still here, consistently paving the way for other foreigners to more easily become part of the local culture. When in doubt, reach out to others like yourself and form a bond. Maybe get a group of your friends together and watch the latest Jean Reno movie. Or go retro and attend a Johnny Hallyday concert (his father was Belgian by the way).
What are your thoughts?
In what ways do you see yourself contributing to the multi-cultural vibe of Paris? Should more be done to raise awareness of the variety of cultures and immigrants in France? Are there too many immigrants here? Too few? Please share your thoughts, whether positive or negative, in the comments section below. Let’s start a conversation!
Image Sources: Wikipedia, The Fashion Foot, Cma-gcm