Interesting piece today on NPR on the changing situation of Turkish “guest workers” (Gastarbeiter) in Germany today. These are workers who were brought to Germany in the 1960’s with the expectation that they would go back home after a few years. But instead, the Turkish workers stayed in Germany and brought their families to join them – jobs were much better paid in Germany and the political situation in Turkey was unsettled. Today there are 2nd and 3rd generation German-Turks, who often stand between two cultures. The report indicates that increasing numbers of Turks are going back to Turkey. In contrast to the economic problems in the European Union, the Turkish economy is doing well. The earlier Turkish ardor for entering the EU has cooled considerably.
Another aspect of that movement back to Turkey has to do with the attitude changes in Germany (and Europe generally) since the economic downturn of the past few years. Racism and islamophobia have increased, as jobs become harder to come by. In Germany a group of neo-nazis murdered Turks over a period of several years. This has led to much questioning in Germany about police lack of interest and/or competence in fighting violence against foreigners from far right groups.
One of the interesting twists in the story about Turks returning to their home land is the reverse culture shock described by one of the young returnees, who had gotten used to the sense of order in Germany society: “He was surprised to find a Germanic desire for order welling up in him one day while walking down Istanbul’s teeming downtown thoroughfare, with masses of people jostling this way and that. ‘You know, I can’t understand why all the people are walking like this! And one day I was nearly to cry, “Stop! You go right and you go left!”, ‘ he says.” .Anyone experiencing everyday German life quickly sees the real life acting out of the German saying Ordnung muss sein (There must be order).
“No, where are you really from?” – a simple question but 6 words which can hurt. Some insensitive and ethnocentric questions can produce deep, long-lasting wounds, others may be the equivalent of a paper cut – a sharp pain that goes away fairly quickly with no permanent damage. This metaphor was used in by Michele Norris in a story on NPR about the Racecard project: 6 word statements about race that are being collected. The comment on NPR: ” On paper it looks like a straightforward expression of curiosity or perhaps a social icebreaker. But dozens of people have said that their heart breaks a little when they hear that inquiry. ”
Some sample “racecards” collected:
Ask who I am, not what.
Reason I ended a sweet relationship.
She’s nothing but poor white trash.
Grandma sent $100 when we broke up.
No English.Standardized assessment. No chance.
Angry black men are so scary.
Not all Mexicans can do landscaping
Indian? At least he isn’t black!
“You’re 16, Mexican and not pregnant?”
Wait…so you’re not really black?
You see me as I’m NOT!
Hyphenating myself – how to prioritize culture?
The Italians may have lost in the recent European Soccer Championships, but they did much better than anyone expected. The most celebrated (and controversial) player for the Italian National Team was Mario Balotelli. He’s the one who scored 2 goals to propel Italy to victory over heavily favored Germany. Balotelli was born in Sicily but speaks Italian with a broad northern accent. The big surprise, however, is this: he is black, born of Ghanaian immigrants, but raised by an Italian adoptive family . A story today on NPR talks about how the prominence of Balotelli is changing what it means to be Italian. As with black players on other European teams, Balotelli has seen a lot of fan abuse and prejudice. But the victory over Germany may change some opinions.
The photo above, with his mother, may contribute as well to a changed view: “As the triumphant striker approached the stands, he gave this championship its iconic photo off the pitch — the 6-foot-2-inch black Italian Mario hugging his petite white Italian mother, Sylvia. The sight of his mother’s hand caressing the Mohawk-topped head sent a powerful message in a society where la mamma still plays a crucial role and where immigrants are most often treated as second-class. And when Balotelli ripped off his T-shirt, proudly showing off his statuesque physique, it was as if to say, ‘I’m black, I’m Italian and I am here to stay'” (NPR). Interestingly, something similar has happened in Germany with the Turkish-German soccer star Mesut Özil. Are these echoes of Jackie Robinson in American baseball history?