The first woman mayor of Paris in 751 years was born in Cadiz and is Spanish
She was born Ana Hidalgo in Cadiz, Spain in June 1959 but her name was frenchified into Anne when her family of four Spanish (her parents Antonio and Maria, her elder sister Maria, and herself) became French citizens in 1973. Anne would not be Spanish again until 30 years later when she was granted dual nationality. She need not have gone into the trouble of recovering her old citizenship but she wanted to.Antonio Hidalgo, like his father before him who was persecuted for fighting on the losing side of the 1936-1939 Civil War and had to flee, moved his family to France in 1961 when Anne was just a toddler, driven by a threatening political situation in which he was often called “hijo de rojo” (son of Communist, in allusion to his republicanism) and by economic impoverishment. In Cadiz, he worked in the shipyards.
The Hidalgo family settled in the underprivileged neighborhood of Vaise, in Lyon. It was there where Anne and her sister went to school. The girls suffered from racism against the métèques, a pejorative word for the Mediterranean immigrants from Spain, Italy and Portugal, but only to a certain extent. Anne would recall that at the time France was prosperous and there was demand for labor, even foreign labor. That should explain at least in part why racism wasn’t virulent.
Putting in long hours of hard work, Antonio Hidalgo imparted to his daughters the Spanish republican conviction that education emancipates. Said Anne: “Mi padre dejó los astilleros de Cadiz para venir a Francia pensando en sus hijas. Creía en la idea de los republicanos españoles que afirma que la emancipación pasa por la educación (El País, 1 April 2014).”
Anne’s parents were determined to get their family integrated into French life. And integration, even in an environment that isn’t so auspicious, could be achieved with minimum pain when approached with the right dosage of pragmatism. Anne’s mother would give her daughters candies to share with their classmates. Children are the same everywhere and before long the Hidalgo girls had become popular in school; they began to speak French to each other, only speaking Spanish with their parents. In turn, the smart Señora de Hidalgo, who was a dressmaker, learned French by helping her daughters with their homework.
By the time Anne was 25 she had passed the civil service exam, having earned her degree in Social Work, and had moved to a modest apartment on the Rive Gauche of the River Seine in the populous 15th arrondissement of Paris. In addition, she has advanced studies (DEA) in Social Work and Labor Union. She joined the Ministry of Labor in 1993 and, true to her humble beginnings and the values that her parents had passed on to her, Anne joined the Socialist Party the following year, the International Labor Organization in Geneva between 1995 and 1996, and the ministerial cabinet of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin from 1997 to 2002.
In 2012 the newly elected socialist President of the Republic Francois Hollande asked Anne to join his administration but she chose to stick to the Paris she adored and where she could be with her mentor and friend Bertrand Delanoë. As mayor of Paris, Delanoë scored several firsts: the first socialist mayor in 130 years, the first openly gay, and the first to have been born outside France (Tunisia). For 13 years Anne was his deputy.
In the nationwide municipal elections held last March (2014), Anne ran for mayor and beat right-winger Natalie Kosciusko-Morizet of the Union por un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) by a comfortable nine percentage points. During the campaign, Anne distanced herself from Hollande’s fiscal policy which favors companies at the expense of the poor. Like Delanoë, she was a “first” mayor: the first woman mayor of Paris ever. Until Anne, the “mayors” of Paris, whether as Provosts of the Merchants (1263-1789), the state-appointed Prefects of the Seine who governed Paris for most of the 19th and the 20th century, or maires de Paris (Mayors of Paris, an elective post since 1977) were exclusively messieurs.
The extent of Anne’s victory goes beyond the mere number of votes she’d notched up; she bucked the massive trend toward the right. The phenomenon was not so much about the upsurge in the popularity of the French conservatives as the voter alienation from Holland. It was a tsunami of disaffection with the President whose approval rating has plumetted to between the low twenties and 18%. Hollande’s failure to address the economic woes of the country has been aggravated by his scandalous lovelife that sent the ex-first lady Valery Trierweiller collapsing in the hospital after he owned up to his affair with actress Julie Gayet who is young enough to be his daughter.
And Paris is of course the jewel in the political crown of France, the symbol of French grandeur, the seat of the national government, the traditional launching pad for a national career, and the stronghold of French conservatives for more than a century.
Against the backdrop of the Parti Socialiste’s calamitous loss of many cities and towns in the last election, Anne has become the risen star who will hopefully rise higher still and shine brighter; her party is setting its sights on the national arena for her. But she won’t budge from Paris: “Paris es suficiente por si misma. Paris es un lugar de acción. Paris es mi ciudad” (Paris is sufficient unto itself. Paris is where the action is. Paris is my city).”
On the Spanish front, the close relationship of the new mayor with her birth country is creating an unexpected windfall for her local colleagues. Elena Valenciano, who heads the list of socialist candidates in the European parliamentary elections this coming 25 May, and who came to Paris to attend the official opening of the French campaign for the European elections, felt more at home than she would ever have been without Hidalgo in the Hôtel de Ville. Somehow, the symbolic meeting between the two women was a boost to Valenciano’s candidacy.
It isn’t all one-sided; Anne too is able to do some harvesting. She is a recipient in 2010 of the Order of Isabella the Catholic of which King Juan Carlos of Spain is the Grand Master. Like many Spanish people who admit to being more juancarlistas than monarchists, the mayor holds the king in high esteem. When the subject of the French’s propensity for beheading their monarchs came up in an interview, Anne, an out and out republican, said, “Don’t chop off the head of King Juan Carlos!”
The immediate family of madame la maire consists of her husband, the socialist politician Jean-Marc Germain, and their 11-year old son Arthur, as well as Matthieu and Elsa, aged 28 and 26 respectively, her children in her first marriage. Malicious rumor would have it that Hollande sired Arthur. She went to court to stop that ignominious slander.
Before Anne’s victory, her second name was Discreet, a term that might be oxymoronic considering that she’s a politician after all. Now she’s definitely in the limelight.
Featured image (Hôtel de Ville of Paris): by Behn Lieu Song, Creative Commons Attribution3.0
Inauguration of the Place de la Republique/Clem, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
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