Tag Archives: citizenship

This Story Isn’t Going Away

When I studied in Berlin in 2001, I spent the majority of my time in coffee shops and the Freie Universitat studying the issues surrounding Germany’s largest group of minorities: the Turks, who were invited to Germany by the German government during the post-WWII labor shortage.  

Today, while casually listening to NPR in the car, my ears perked up when I heard the abridged version of the story I learned rehashed on The World.

The story The World tells focuses on the controversy around integration: at first the Germans didn’t want the Turks to integrate, then the Turks wanted to integrate, then the Germans decided they wanted the Turks to immigrate, and once the Germans came around, generations had gone by and young and old Turks alike aren’t so sure anymore which road to choose.

A nation’s immigration policy is played out in heavy ways through language and education.  It’s especially extreme in a place like Germany, with its particularly nationalistic history (from Kant to Fichte to Hitler to post-WWII immigration policy) that contrasts with the global necessity of inexpensive labor (sound familiar?).  In Germany, these immigrant laborers are called gastarbeiter, or “guest workers.” 

The piece The World did is just the tip of the iceberg, but it serves as a magnifying glass.  Pay close attention around the 3:50 mark when one Turkish interviewee explains (in German) that his son has good enough grades at his elementary (!) school to get into the college track.  In spite of the good grades, the school is excluding the boy from the college track (implicitly on nationalistic grounds) and forcing him into a vocational track.  The father can’t understand the school’s decision in light of his son’s perfect German language skills (his son was born in Germany).  

This is just one example.  Almost all the interviewees from The World story (both German and Turkish) express great concern over the issue of language.  Language can serve as a means of protest, a mark of integration, or a ticket to social mobility.

If we are smart, we Americans have a chance to learn from the extremes that Germany presents.  Germany is a potential heuristic for our own immigration policy and attitudes towards educating the children of immigrants.  The challenges of globalization cannot be exaggerated.  It will take real work (not just hours, but personal-attitudinal work on the part of citizens and educators, policy, and academic research) to create equitable policies and practices appropriate to a new and ever-changing conceptualization of citizenship and nationhood.

Excerpt from The World March 25, 2009

The Federal Foreign Office of Germany: information on German citizenship

Freie Universitat (Berlin)

oranienstrasse

Oranienstrasse, Kreuzberg, Berlin

kottbuser-damm-kreuzberg

Kottbusser Dam, Kreuzberg, Berlin

kreuzberg

Kreuzberg

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go digging through the garage (I was actually taking pictures on film back then) for my personal photos from my time there, but I thought it appropriate to post some pictures of Kreuzberg, the notorious (and more recently hip) Turkish neighborhood in Berlin. 

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Let Us All Pay Homage

mlk-with-school-children

On this day I didn’t do exactly what my soon-to-be President told me to do, I didn’t paint any houses, or make meals for the poor; but I did spend some time rereading the words of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. and consider what he might think of 2009 if he could come visit us here now.  

I studied in particular “A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations,” an address Delivered at St. Louis Freedom Rally (10 April 1957 St. Louis, Mo.).  The full text is available here. In many ways the Reverend Doctor’s address could be delivered today.  

To paraphrase his message I say: should we spend this day in depression that it is the children of people of color in this country who are systematically denied equitable educational opportunities, still, in 2009?  No.  Should we all rejoice in the election and inauguration of America’s first African American president?  Yes.  Should we let either of these emotional poles (depression, rejoicing) lead us to stagnation and fits of inaction?  Absolutely not.  

Yet, let us use this day to become activated to refuse to accept things as they are.  Let us remind ourselves that just as the Reverend Doctor was appalled by the disparity of salary between blacks and whites in “A Realistic Look” so to should we be appalled with our census bureau data from 2008, which reveals that while the “median usual weekly earnings of [White] full-time wage and salary workers” was $739, the “median usual weekly earnings of [Black or African American] full-time wage and salary workers” was $589.  See source here. 

In King’s time he admonished the audience to support the NAACP and told them that the fight for freedom and equality comes at a cost–one with a dollar sign attached.  So, today, why not give money to the NAACP?

King summoned the crowd to Washington to march to persuade the government to enforce civil rights laws.  So, this year, why not organize a march?

As King said, to do so is not to fight for African Americans alone, it is to fight for this nation. 

There is something about America that we like, but we are making it clear in the U.N. and in the other diplomatic circles around the world that beautiful words and extensive handouts cannot be substitutes for the basic simple responsibility of giving freedom and justice to our colored brothers all over the United States. [applause] That is what they are saying around the world. And I say to you my friends, because of our love for America we cannot slow up. (Yes, Yes)

 The final point the Reverend Doctor makes is our need for leaders, leaders who cry out “Love your enemy.  Bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.”

And we can’t solve the problem [of race relations] with misguided emotionalism. (No, no, no) This is a period for sane, sound, rational leadership. (Yes) We must be calm and yet positive at the same time. We must avoid the extremes of hot-headedness and Uncle-Tomism. (Yes, That’s right) Oh, this is a period for leaders. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity. (Yes sir) Leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. (Yes) Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause. (Yes, yes, yes) Oh,

God give us leaders. (Yes) 
A time like this demands great leaders. (Yes sir) 
Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill; 
Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy (Yes); 
Leaders who possess opinions and will (Yes); 
Leaders who will not lie (Yes); 
Leaders who can stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking. (Yes) 
Tall leaders (Yes), sun-crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking.

And this is the need, my friends, of the hour. This is the need all over the nation. In every community there is a dire need for leaders (Yes) who will lead the people, who stand today amid the wilderness toward the promised land of freedom and justice. God grant that ministers, and lay leaders, and civic leaders, and businessmen, and professional people all over the nation will rise up and use the talent and the finances that God has given them (Yes), and lead the people on toward the promised land of freedom with rational, calm, nonviolent means. This is the great challenge (Yes) of the hour. (Yes) 

[emphasis added]

 

As I sit in the wilderness poised between my depression and rejoicing I know one thing: we have a leader.

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