Liz Alderman has a New York Times article on France's banlieues and the efforts, by some, to make a success of their lives (video).“Look at us — we’re Moroccans selling Japanese sushi to the French,” Mr. Benamer, now married with a child, said on a recent weekend, sitting in his Champs-Élysées restaurant beneath a wall covered with Warhol-style images of a geisha. “If we had allowed ourselves to be stigmatized, France would lose out — on good sushi, yes, but also on the hundreds of jobs we are creating.”
Mourad Benamer remembers the day his parents first visited the sleek new sushi restaurant he had just opened near the Champs-Élysées. Against all odds, Mr. Benamer had broken out of the rough suburb, or banlieue, where he grew up in a family of poor Moroccan immigrants just northeast of Paris, and hit on a formula that would soon turn into a business success beyond his dreams.
“We came from a place where there was injustice and a lack of opportunity,” Mr. Benamer, 36, recalled of his banlieue, Bondy. But there he was in the heart of tourist Paris, on a winter afternoon in 2007, with his mother pointing incredulously to truffle-and-foie-gras maki being rolled out to patrons at Eat Sushi, which since then has expanded into a chain of 38 restaurants across France.
“How did you manage to do all this?” she asked.
His answer was simple: he did it on his own.“I was not going to let this feeling that we have no chance keep me closed inside the banlieue,” Mr. Benamer recalled recently.“I was not going to let this feeling that we have no chance keep me closed inside the banlieue,” Mr. Benamer recalled recently.For decades, the disadvantaged suburbs that ring Paris and other large French cities have been places of privation, plagued by discrimination and poverty. France has long vowed to improve the plight of the banlieue populations, often Muslim and primarily people with Arab or sub-Saharan African family roots in the French colonial past. Despite pledges by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was president to address economic and social inequality after a series of violent riots in 2005 and 2007, though, critics say little has changed.That is why a new generation of people like Mr. Benamer are trying to turn the suburbs into incubators for entrepreneurs, who see using their own initiative as the only way up and out of the banlieues, which are home to an estimated 10 percent of France’s 63.7 million people.