Tag Archives: immigration

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, Kreuzberg, Berlin


Kottbusser Dam, Kreuzberg, Berlin



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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Underground Undergrads

I first heard of the phenomena of “underground undergrads” through the This American Life show that aired on April 6, 2007.  

Martha doesn’t like to talk about her future anymore. She’d wanted to go to med school, become an OB-gyn. And she’s exactly the kind of kid everyone roots for. She grew up in a poor, mostly immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles, where most people didn’t graduate from high school, and nobody talked about college. But Martha got into UCLA. She couldn’t believe it: UCLA.

She majored in chemistry, threw herself into six-hour lab sessions, ran a volunteer organization on campus. But the fact is, she can’t become a doctor. She can’t work at all in the United States, not legally anyway. She’s an undocumented immigrant; her mother brought her here from Mexico when she was nine. So now she’s a waitress, earning minimum wage, working off the books, and it may be the best job she can hope to get.

A bill called the Dream Act would offer conditional citizenship to those few kids, like Martha, who grow up in the United States and make it to college, or the military. If they get a degree, or finish their service, they become full citizens. Since it was proposed in 2001, the Dream Act has gathered powerful supporters from both the left and the right. But it keeps getting bogged down in immigration politics.

This piece aired as part of the April 7, 2007, edition of “This American Life.” It is a radio follow-up to “The Invisibles,” an award-winning article about the sad, inspiring, surreal lives of undocumented students at UCLA, and the bipartisan push in Congress to accept these kids — raised as Americans from a young age — as citizens.

This is one of those This American Life shows that leaves me sobbing, bawling hysterically at the knowledge of one woman’s sadness.  

You can find the archive of this show here.  

This week, authors of a student publication of UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education, Underground Undergrads, will read from their publication at Laney College in Oakland on Thursday January 2, at 2 and 4:15 PM. 

This student publication, Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out, features the growing student movement around access to higher education for undocumented students. Written by the students themselves, eight moving stories of undocumented immigrant students from UCLA provide the focal point of Underground Undergrads. The stories are unique and diverse, but they all demonstrate the pain, financial hardship, and emotional distress these students face as well as their ultimate triumph when they graduate from UCLA. Underground Undergrads also serves as an educational and research tool by providing a summary of the history of legislation impacting undocumented students in higher education as well as a resource guide of organizations that advocate for student rights.


The author-students, along with Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, will be present to discuss the book. 

Thursday’s event at Laney College is FREE and Open to the Public.

Find out more about The New America Foundation here. 

Find out more about UCLA’s Labor Center here.  

Find out more about the Dream Act here. 

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