Flavia Dzodan is a business developer, writer and public speaker, currently residing in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian’s CIF, xoJane and Persephone Magazine, as well as right here on Gender Across Borders. She also frequently blogs at Tiger Beatdown and on her own blog Red Light Politics. Her main interest lies in the intersections of race, class and gender in a European context. Flavia was born in Argentina and came to the Netherlands in her twenties, where she has lived ever since. Gender Across Borders talked to her about immigration in Europe and the status of migrant women, as well as her own experience.
Gender Across Borders: How did your own experience of coming to Europe influence your writing and activism?
Flavia Dzodan: For me the biggest shock was to go from being totally unaware of how certain immigration issues play out in Europe, and then to be here and to be labeled by the state as “the Other”. That was my starting point: to try to understand what was going on. A lot of what I write stems from that need to understand that structure that we see in place across the entire EU. What I’m interested in is unpacking a system in which we have one dominant culture, which is white, and you have a system of “the Other”, which is the immigrant, the foreigner, the alien.
GAB: Have you noticed a particular change in how immigration issues are dealt with in Europe over the most recent years?
FD: Very much so. I see it escalating. Every election cycle in Europe it escalates and gets worse, with more aggressive rhetoric, with more outlandish ideas of how immigrants should be treated, and there’s also this obscuring of what really goes on. I recently wrote about the internment camps where immigrants are kept. Well, all of this is obscured in the media. You don’t get to hear about these blatant human rights abuses. So, on the one hand the rhetoric increases, and that is the visible aspect of it, but in the background the policies that make these human rights abuses legitimate are passed as legislation.
GAB: One argument that always comes up in the immigration debate is this sort of the-boat-is-full rhetoric, that we just can’t have everyone coming. What would you reply to that?
FD: I’d say that it’s a very historically flawed way of looking at what has happened between Europe and the global South for the past 500 years. Let’s not forget the very long, painful and brutal history of European colonization in the countries where all these immigrants come from. European states, with very few exceptions, went to these countries and ravaged resources, created a system of dependency, created a system of oppression for entire populations, and these have been perpetrated until not so long ago. We created a welfare system in the EU across the entire continent on the back of the colonized countries. And now, when these people say: “Hey, we also deserve a portion of this pie”, we tell them: “Oh, but it’s full”.
GAB: Do you think that immigration affects women differently from men?
FD: Of course I do. Especially in Europe there is this sexualization of the immigrant. The immigrant body is a gendered body. The immigrant woman in her visible difference becomes a threat. She is the one that wears the markers of difference, and that is most visible in the case of the Muslim immigrant woman. She obviously doesn’t look like us, and she doesn’t speak like us. And how do European governments treat the immigrant woman? As someone that needs to be rescued from the perils of her own culture. You can see that with the burka debate, with the birth rates around immigrant families. The focus is on the immigrant woman, because she is the child-bearer; she gives birth to these children that are taking over “our” society. … There is a whole set of coded “issues”, that are ascribed to immigrant women specifically.
GAB: How about yourself? Having lived in the Netherlands all these years, do you feel like you’re Dutch now, or do you still feel Argentinian?
FD: First and foremost, I’m Hispanic and Latina, and my struggle in terms of my immigration status, in terms of my status as “Other”, is the same as everyone’s from Latin America. I am Argentinian, that goes without saying, but I also look at what that means pan-regionally. I write about policies of immigration, and for me the interesting thing is how the EU creates patterns to racialize and to “other” groups of people. Am I Dutch? No. I love this place; this is home. But I’m never going to be Dutch. This has nothing to do about how I feel. When the state hands me my documents, I am a special category. Even if I acquire the Dutch citizenship, I am coded as a foreigner. This is not something that I choose. It doesn’t matter how I feel. The state tells me I’m not Dutch.
GAB: What’s your next big project going to be?
FD: I’m writing a book about anger. Political anger, to be more precise. Because as women and as feminists, especially when you’re not white, you are constantly told that anger is not the way to engage politically. I believe this is counter-productive. There is a whole set of women who have written about this, like Audre Lorde or Sara Ahmed, but here in Europe feminism presents itself as pretty much white. Let me rephrase that: non-racialized. Which means that it’s white by default. That’s a disservice, because that’s not the reality of what we live or what we know. My approach in the book is to write about anger and the European way of looking at politics and the politics of engagement.
GAB: Thank you so much for your time.