The Everyday Voices of Migrants

By Léa Coffineau

Literature, as we’ve defined it for this series, is shaped by what Michel de Certeau called “the practice of everyday life“—literature is quotidian not rare; self-made not taught; homeostatic not governed by received rules or metrics; radically democratic (even anarchic) not the instrument of an elite. Our series further assumes that literature opens us to the future; it is an expression of things as yet unknown to us.

Léa Coffineau uses video and the web to show us what she finds in the everyday lives of migrants, those tens-of-millions of people on the move whom politicians call “refugees.” She is suspicious of politicians and mass media who use the images and stories of migrants to paint a dire picture of “natural disaster,” as if migrants were animals forced to move by floods or fire, and we—the readers who receive the stories—were their saviours. Notably, that story dominates the market category publishers call “refugee writing” and it circulates as prize-winning books and widely-read news stories. Whose stories are those?

Where is the literature of the migrant? How can we, who are not on the move, find it and receive it? Léa Coffineau suggests that it might be in the migrant’s practice of everyday life: “the voices they can craft” are evident and shared in the most quotidian of places, as pictures and text uploaded to Google Maps. In 2020 she began “I Am Here,” a web-based exhibition that gathers and frames the everyday lives of migrants in the camps that have been built to hold them, seen through their eyes. In this contribution to our series she describes that work and related projects that open space for the literature of migrants to emerge.

The Everyday Voices of Migrants

1 March, 2022