The New Germans: Immigrant Children’s Complicated Search for Identity – Part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Daryl Lindsey, Sept. 28, 2012.

One thing unites Khuê Pham, Özlem Topçu and Alice Bota: They are German citizens and the children of migrants in a country that has long struggled to define its relationship with foreigners. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, they describe the alienation of being first-generation Germans, but also their new role as their home becomes more cosmopolitan … //

… Over the past 50 years, Germany has ceased to be a country of mass exodus. Instead, it has experienced the first influx of immigrants in its history. After the signing of a labor recruitment agreement between West Germany and Turkey in 1961, millions of Gastarbeiter, or guest workers, were invited to come to help rebuild the country after the war and fuel its economic miracle. The idea originally had been that workers from Turkey and Southern Europe would come to Germany, work, save money and then leave the country after a certain period. But many put down roots, with tens of thousands staying to raise families. Along with the guest workers, immigrants from other countries like Poland, Russia and Vietnam also came to Germany.

A half century later, these immigrants have changed the face of Germany. Today there are 16 million residents who are either immigrants or their children, representing almost 20 percent of Germany’s population of 82 million. Among those living in the country under the age of 25, one-quarter have foreign roots. More than half hold German passports, and the only things that differentiate them from other Germans are, at times, their appearance and family background. The country of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, lederhosen and Cuckoo clocks has also become home to the Turkish döner kebab and Vietnamese phó. Germany’s new diversity can be found in the furthest reaches of the country … //

… ‘Our Germany ‘ or ‘Your Germany? ‘

“We New Germans” describes a latent feeling of exclusion or alienation that still accompanies many children of immigrants who have grown up in Germany, attended its schools, are citizens and can navigate the language and culture as well as any “traditional” German. These three writers have moved from the margins to the center of German society and still feel this sense of not entirely fitting in. The impetus for the book, they write, was a “feeling of anger” they shared over living in “a society in whose self-image we do not exist. And over the fact that we are a part of a change (in society) that most would prefer to suppress. And over the fact that we don’t know whether we should call this country ‘our Germany’ or ‘your Germany’.”

Rather than a damnation of Germany society, the book is packed with endearing anecdotes of growing up as the children of immigrants, and also chronicles the experiences of their parents. Rather than fighting back in the populist rhetoric of a Thilo Sarrazin, the authors appeal to Germans to become more open to a multicultural society that has already been a reality in Germany for decades. With a shrinking population that is no less than a demographic time bomb, they argue the country must learn to love its immigrants if it wants to maintain its status as an export world champion.

In an an exclusive excerpt from their book and interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Özlem, Bota and Pham share their experiences as “New Germans.”

In an exclusive excerpt from their book and interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Özlem, Bota and Pham share their experiences as “New Germans” … //

… (follows full interview text).

Part 2: We Weren’t Trying To Write another Book about Racism.

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