Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow: Hope and Dreams in a Bi-Cultural Identity
The dilemma of having a bi-cultural identity has oftentimes been neglected as immigrants’ voices have often occupied a marginalized position in mainstream media and literature that mirrors their position at the margins of society. In Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, author Faiza Guene gives voice to Arab-French immigrants through the character of Doria and allows her readers a glimpse of Parisian life as viewed from the perspective of someone who desperately wants to be a part of it but is kept an outsider by her ethnicity.
More importantly, Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow not only illuminates the hardship confronting the children of immigrants as they are caught in between cultures that often clash with each other but also the hope and dreams of better lives that individuals coping with bi-cultural identities nurture in order to survive, often taking and using the best from both worlds available to them as an inspiration to dream of better things.
Doria’s story shows the painful experience of growing up in-between cultures as a Moroccan living in the projects of Paris and her struggle to cope with societal and cultural expectations as well as with marginalization. Born and raised in poverty by an immigrant Moroccan family, Doria has to contend with a variety of issues that mirror the problems faced by immigrants everywhere. She shamelessly reveals her bitterness about having to depend on food stamps and cheap housing from the French government although her mother already works long hours to earn a living.
As a consequence of her difficulty with fitting into the mainstream French culture, Doria suffers from problems at school and withdraws from others in her immediate environment. Instead she feels most close to Hamoudi, a neighbor and drug dealer, who has known her since she was little and whom, perhaps in her view, she shares a commonality as a social outcast.
Although she is regularly visited by a social worker to help her handle her problems, she develops feelings of resentment for social workers and psychologists whom she thinks are insincere in their efforts to help them. This stems from her opinion that these people cannot truly empathize with the immigrants’ problems given the privileged position accorded to them by their pure French identities. Another source of bitterness for Doria is her gender, which she thinks is the reason why her father left her and her mother since the Moroccan culture places a premium on having a son.
It is therefore not hard to imagine the roots of Doria’s hostility towards the world. Doria is doubly stigmatized by her ethnic identity as an Arab and by the impoverished condition of her family. For instance, she pities her illiterate mother whose accent is always being made fun of, a reflection of how the mainstream culture tends to look down on cultural minorities such as Arabs and on other cultures in general.
On the other hand, Doria is depressed by the fact that the good Parisian life remains distant to her and her mother as illustrated by their inability to see the Eiffel Tower despite its proximity to their home, or by the fact that they cannot afford a real Levi’s jeans unlike her classmates. As such, Doria resorts to imagination, sarcasm, and even feigning autism to ease her feelings of alienation from affluent Parisian lifestyles.
It is clear, though, that Doria has absorbed the value system of Parisian culture. In one of her accounts, for instance, she makes the observation that `waxing hurts, and if you hurt somebody it shows a lack of respect,” a comment that shows her knowledge of French women’s beauty regimen. She also sees the television as the “poor man’s Koran,” and even bases her fantasies and imaginings on the realities depicted in the television.
At the same time, she invents a dream life based on both her Morrocan and French value systems to draw the Parisian life as she perceives it to be in her attempt to bridge the gap between her dream and current reality. It is these dreams of leaving the projects and building a better life for herself and her mother that sustains Doria although she is painfully aware that for people like her these may remain out of reach.
Thus, beneath her pessimistic and sarcastic tone, and even the vengeful characteristic of her imaginings, Doria desperately wants to overcome her bitterness towards her circumstances with her recognition of her difficulties as experiences to learn from. She is therefore brought to tears when Hamoudi states the phrase Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow as it represents a hopeful view that things are always getting better.
Towards the end of the story Doria and her mother’s situation do not necessarily change for the better or even change at all, but this is exactly what Doria’s story aims to point out to its readers, that despite the hardships and the seeming inability of people like them to rise up from their marginal position, they will always draw hope from knowing that tomorrow things will not be the same and there will be better times ahead of them.