SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
In France, there is pride in its national soccer team and high hopes of winning the World Cup tournament now being played in Russia. Many players on the French team are from these diverse, big-city suburbs that are struggling with poverty and low expectations. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited one of those French suburbs and watched a game with residents. She sends us this report.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: One of the French team's star players, Kylian Mbappe, hails from the Paris suburb of Bondy. Bondy is less than 10 miles from the beautiful center of Paris, but it feels like another world with its monolithic, cinder-block buildings.
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BEARDSLEY: Mayor Sylvine Thomassin greets me at the Bondy town hall. She says the Kylian Mbappe effect is a real boost for the town.
SYLVINE THOMASSIN: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: "It's marvelous," she says, "because so often, people talk about the suburbs in negative terms." Thomassin says the Mbappes are an old Bondy family, three generations, originally from Algeria and Cameroon. Starting in the 1960s, immigrant workers, mostly from North Africa, flocked to France for the economic boom years. They worked in construction jobs and lived in suburbs around big cities\ like Paris, Lyon and Marseille. But today, the jobs have dried up, and the housing is crumbling. Many people living in the suburbs say they face discrimination not only over their Arabic origins but also over their zip code.
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BEARDSLEY: A group of guys is listening to rap music in a public housing parking lot.
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UNIDENTIFIED RAPPER: (Rapping in French).
BEARDSLEY: Forty-two-year-old Nordine Breta says it doesn't matter if Mbappe is from here. He refuses to support the French team.
NORDINE BRETA: (Through interpreter) My parents are Algerian, and I was born here. But I don't feel French because my whole life, people have asked me where I'm from. That means I'm still not accepted as French. I'm sick of justifying myself.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: (Speaking in French).
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: (Speaking in French).
BEARDSLEY: Twenty years ago, France won the World Cup with a racially mixed team that was hailed as the harmonious future of the country. But a few years later, riots broke out in the suburbs over police racism. The hope turned to anger and despair. Successive governments' promises to fix the suburbs have largely gone unfulfilled, but many suburbs are now tackling their own problems.
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BEARDSLEY: In Bondy, old public housing blocks are being torn down and replaced by attractive, smaller housing units. Mayor Thomassin says there's an energy in the diverse suburbs that's missing from staid traditional France.
THOMASSIN: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: "Our suburbs are overflowing with talent and motivation," she says. "But most of France doesn't realize this yet. There's a whole world on the other side of the Paris Beltway."
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in French).
BEARDSLEY: A group of kids sings the Marseillaise along with the TV as France sets to play Peru. Mohamed Coulibaly is the athletic director of the soccer club where they're watching the game.
MOHAMED COULIBALY: (Through interpreter) The French team has many players from the suburbs, so we're very much a part of this national adventure. Kids here are all different backgrounds, but I can assure you they all feel totally French.
BEARDSLEY: Thirty-nine-year-old James Koumpate has come out to watch his son's team practice at the club. He says the suburbs are rising and not just in soccer.
JAMES KOUMPATE: (Through interpreter) It might be a little harder to succeed in the suburbs because people have less, but there's more energy and sheer will.
BEARDSLEY: Koumpate agrees with the mayor of Bondy that the future of France is playing out here in its suburbs.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News. Bondy, France.
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