Rutgers student intersects heritage with studies in French and political science, speaks with members of French political party
From New Brunswick to France, a Rutgers undergraduate student’s academic passions have led him to interview members of Marine Le Pen’s political party and study French politics during a time of uncertainty and upheaval.
John Capangpangan, a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences, studied in France in 2016 and kept his eye on the country’s then-upcoming presidential election in 2017, according to the School of Arts and Sciences news page. At the time, The National Front, a far-right political party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen and now led by his daughter Marine Le Pen, was on the rise.
“It was all over the newspapers and television,” Capangpangan said, according to the page. “I found it shocking that 25 percent of the people in the country believed and supported the message that they were putting out.”
Emmanuel Macron of the La République En Marche! party and largely considered a political centrist, ended up winning the presidency. Capangpangan, whose curiosity was driven by his studies in both French and political science at Rutgers, returned to France in 2018 to take a closer look at the political situation, according to the page.
From activists to party leaders, he interviewed approximately 12 members of The National Front party — the research will fuel his honors thesis.
“It was incredible,” he said. “I was drawing from both of my academic passions, French and political science, and also the personal experience I had when I was living in France and seeing what was happening.”
Capangpangan questioned his interviewees about topics like race and said that he received responses that held a “French-first” worldview. Being born in the Philippines himself, he said the experience was intriguing and unsettling.
He was often asked about the origin of his last name, Capangpangan said. In response he said that he was Filipino and his interviewees were taken aback and humbled because he was an American person of color speaking French, according to the page.
The interviews went smoothly and party members were cooperative. He said, “I was not there to judge or confront, I was there to do research."
“A lot of them said they don’t care about race as long as people put French culture and ideas before themselves,” Capangpangan said. “This is a party that really believes in the nation-state and the notion that people must abide by the same cultural, religious and unspoken rules about society.”
His project went hand-in-hand with an internship he had with Eurasia Group, according to the page. The company functions as a global consulting firm focused on analyzing political development around the world, and Capangpangan said he learned about the risks that the rise of anti-democratic movements can have on the private sector.
He received financial support for his research from the Aresty Research Center and the Department of Political Science. His thesis advisor, R. Daniel Kelemen, a European studies scholar and professor in the Department of Political Science, was able to help him find contacts for the interviews.
Capangpangan said that there is a lot of pain in the French countryside, unemployment is high and The National Front has convinced a significant number of people that it will preserve their culture and protect their jobs. If the Macron presidency does not go well, he said that the party will only get stronger.
He also discussed the aforementioned idea of putting the culture and ideas of one’s country before oneself. That, he said, is antithetical to the American ideal of declaring hyphenated identities and heritage, according to the page.
“I love that I can identify as a Filipino American,” he said. “There is not that idea in France. You are only French.”