Perpignan, South of France, September 2000.
Here we are — my father and me at Perpignan train station.
We took the night train from Paris. As my first experience on a train, it was awful.
We took the economic class. The journey was 8 hours long.
Way too long for a first experience on a train.
I was excited about this new adventure in an unknown city. I was also a bit afraid.
Indeed one week after my arrival, my father left me alone in boarding school. He took back the train to Paris, then a flight back to Dakar, Senegal.
As I am walking on the streets of Perpignan, around the Castillet, I have a feeling of “deja vu.”
I felt like I had already been there.
Well, kind of. Let me explain.
Marseille, South of France, June 1940.
This is my grandfather. His name is Mamadou. He is my mother’s dad.
60 years before me, he was on the docks of Marseille amid World War II, fighting for France.
Yet a soldier, he fought all the battles on behalf of France.
The Thiaroye massacre: the dirty little secret of France.
“The Thiaroye massacre (French: Massacre de Thiaroye; pronounced [tjaʁ.wa]) was a massacre of French West African troops, by French forces on the morning of 1 December 1944. West African volunteers and conscripts of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais units of the French army mutinied against poor conditions and defaulted pay at the Thiaroye camp, on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. Between 35 and over 300 people were killed.”
Imagine that you are a young and strong Black man. You are living peacefully in your village under France colonialism.
You are mobilized to fight their war. And at the end of the war, before celebrating their victory, the French army sent all the Senegalese Tirailleurs back to a camp in Thiaroye, Dakar, Senegal.
Before sending you back, the French officials promised you a full pension as your White comrades.
Yet when you ask for your due, you are met with bullets.
What a way to celebrate a war you almost died for.
This story could have been my grandfather’s. Hopefully, for him, destiny has another plan.
Another fate for Mamadou, another fate for Ahmadou.
If it were not the case, I would not be sitting here writing these words. Indeed my mother was born in 1960.
My grandfather was dismissed with a small pension like many “lucky” Senegalese Tirailleur.
They could not even spell his name right after all he gave for them.
Why am I telling you this story? Where is identity theft?
Fast-forward to 2008. I received a letter of rejection for my request for French citizenship because I was just a foreign student in France.
At that time, I wished I could go back in time and tell my grandfather how France will treat his children and grandchildren.
I wondered even if the person who rejected my demand had people in their bloodlines who fought for France during World War II,
I learned about my grandfather’s story recently. Indeed one of my cousins, Thierno — the son of my uncle in the picture above — contacted the administration, trying to rehabilitate my grandfather.
It was a dead end.
This week, with some other ERGs (Employee Resource Group), we launched Club KESHO.
We define ourselves as Afopeans at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the companies we are working for.
As we were launching our initiative, it reminded me of the story of Mamadou.
He was the first Afropean in my bloodline.
Thank you, Gran Pa, on behalf of France.
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