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El Hachmi discusses multiculturalism in literature

<jat El Hachmi, acclaimed Catalan writer, is currently on Carleton’s campus. Winner of the most prestigious award in Catalan letters, the Ramon Llull prize, El Hachmi explores issues of cultural identity and immigration in her two novels, “I, Too, Am Catalan” (2004) and “The Last Patriarch” (2008).

One of the central themes of her work is multiculturalism. When asked what exactly the term means, El Hachmi explained that the term is often over-used or used inappropriately.

“The idea of multiculturalism has been idealized. The term acts to camouflage true societal problems,” El Hachmi said.“What it usually consists of – small groups of distinct cultures – is not a good or positive thing.”

El Hachmi provided an example of a multicultural festival in which each person brings cuisine from her respective cultures and people from varying backgrounds come together to share a meal. This does not promote true multiculturalism, El Hachmi said.

“It’s easy to eat. It’s easy to eat and then go home and forget. To relate to one another – that is harder.”

To relate this example on a broader scale, El Hachmi compared this to Catalonia, Spain. She said that these sorts of events and the institutions behind them are meant to facilitate the integration of immigrants.

Yet, “the next day, when these same immigrants go out in search of a job, they still face inequality and a lack of opportunity.”

As a writer, what does El Hachmi believe is her role in such a society?

“The role of a writer is not to give a lesson from your own perspective… nor should you write with the aim of raising awareness in people. A writer’s role is just to present a way of looking at things,” El Hachmi said.

The role of reader is then to act as a recipient and take out of a story what he or she thinks is important.

When asked why she started writing, El Hachmi responded that she wanted to be “truly free.”

“I had the sensation of living in two separate worlds – one from Morocco within my house and the other the world outside my house. I could not share one side with the other… When I wrote, I did not have to be conscious of my readers.”

“I like that I do not have to explain myself,” she said.

Talking about some of her least favorite aspects of writing, El Hachmi responded, “The promoting. The way the market and the media affect writing… they do not acknowledge the nuances, there is no grey; only black and white.”

When asked for advice to aspiring writers, El Hachmi said that it is important to keep the production of writing separate from the market; do not confuse writing with a production line turning out identical products.

“Write out of necessity,” El Hachmi advised. “Write what you truly believe.”

“You have to write a lot. You have to write silly, bad things. Write with complete freedom. By writing so much, you will find your voice. And make sure the first people to read your work are sensible, people who are capable of appreciating it.”

El Hachmi is taking part in a series of events, including visits with classes and the showing of the documentary ¡Mezquita no! this past Wednesday. Following the showing the documentary, El Hachmi answered questions from the audience concerning the documentary’s central themes of immigration and discrimination in Spain. On Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. in the Library Athenaeum, El Hachmi will give a talk entitled, “Escribir desde la frontera” (in Spanish, with English translation provided).

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