Originally published for Buzzfeed News on July 21st, 2018.
Atop Paris’s famous Champ de Mars gardens lies its even more prominent Eiffel Tower — a gargantuan lattice ironwork that millions of people from around the world flock to visit annually. Like all landmarks of cosmopolitan cities, the site is picturesque, nostalgic, and crowded — the hustle and bustle of citizens and visitors alike, colliding daily. About 15 yards from the main entrance, you’ll see a row of young men, largely of African descent, aiming to make as much money as they can from passersby, selling anything from mini Eiffel Towers to French flag pins. At the end of their day, some will pack up and take the Metro past the Périphérique to the banlieues; from the ritzy city center where they spend their day to the isolated, low-income suburb enclaves of mainly black and brown people who have been denied significant mobility or opportunity, the cité tower blocks in the shadows of the shimmering lights of the notoriously low-lying city.
These Parisian banlieues are home to many African and Caribbean immigrants and their French-born or -raised children, including many of the soccer superstars celebrated for bringing a World Cup victory to France for the second time in the country’s history last weekend. Kylian Mbappé, who won the tournament’s Best Young Player Award, grew up with a Cameroonian father and Algerian Mother in Bondy; Paul Pogba, whose parents are Guinean, has spoken openly about his family’s experience in Roissy-en-Brie; Blaise Matuidi was raised in Fontenay-sous-Bois, a community in the city’s eastern suburbs, with Angolan and Congolese parents. The names go on: N’Golo Kanté, Presnel Kimpembe, Benjamin Mendy, and Steven Nzonzi all grew up and were discovered in similarly constructed neighborhoods centered around immigrant communities that had access to a wide network of soccer clubs.