With Burns, to Germany

I’ll begin by saying, “I have good news,” and I’ll spare you a Geico joke (though I did save money by switching car insurance.)  The really good news, though, is: I’m a Burns Fellow!  The International Center for Journalists accepted my proposal to look at immigration issues in Germany as compared to the Southwest United States .  With the Arthur Burns fellowship I’ll head to Germany for two months, beginning in July, and I’ll act as a member of a host organization’s news team.

Details on where I’ll be, and specifics on host organization are soon to come.  I’ve requested to be based in Berlin (near the Turkish enclaves of Kreuzberg and Neukölln.)  My second choice is to be stationed in Bonn or Cologne , the hub of Deutsche Welle’s radio operation—DW being the national broadcaster of Germany .

Until more details are available rest assured my language training continues, and I’m looking into private tutoring with financial help from the Burns program.  Here’s my project proposal, for your enjoyment:

Imst , Austria is picturesque: Tirolean architecture is back-dropped by towering mountains.  Every Alpine valley has its own dialect and every village its own identity.  But with the superficial commonalities between Imst or any other Austrian town, come common problems as well.  Turkish immigrants live in Turkish neighborhoods.  One resident commented about the neighborhoods, “Oh, I just don’t go there.”  It’s an unspoken segregation, though Turkish immigrants have lived in the region since World War II.

 Imst is fairly rural, but the aversion to Turkish residents exists in population centers as well.  Germany ’s stories of immigration are just as potent, if not more so.  The Berlin enclave of Kreuzberg is an urban ghetto, cultivating the new Turkish minority.  Many residents emulate American hip hop, in verse and action, and they cry for acceptance and fairness.  Still, the debate seems to rest in either integration or assimilation, the latter drawing strong resistance.

Many of Germany ’s Turkish residents came following World War II, spurred further in the 60s and 70s with the “economic miracle.”  Guest workers were tapped to “do the work others wouldn’t do,” expected to return to Turkey in a few years.  Because of the expected short-term stay, the government didn’t press for language learning, or a requirement for cultural learning.  According to one San Francisco Gate story, the Turkish residents decided to not take the initiative if the government didn’t require it.  One Turkish community representative said the youth felt “If they want us to be foreigners, we will act like foreigners.” Turkish residents today still regard themselves as a separate community within Germany .  The country’s belated attention has caused segregation, more than multiculturalism.

With the droves of Turkish immigrants came the primarily Muslim culture, and their hopes for a better life.  But Germany has struggled to cope with these populations, both in government policy and in cultural assimilation.  Xenophobia and segregation still exist in many cities; issues compounded in a post 9-11 world.  One Southern German town even instituted a “loyalty test” for Muslim immigrants, quizzing the migrant on everything from personal tastes, to thoughts on homosexuality.

Arizona is now considering a temporary guest worker program, in lieu of waiting for federal action.  Lawmakers say workers just want to work, and would return to Mexico with pleasure.  But some immigration observers are skeptical, saying a sizeable number of guest workers end up staying in the host country.  The parallels of Turkish immigrants in Germany , to Mexican immigrants in the US , are visible and loud.  For this reason, I’d like to create an update on the Turkish community in Germany , and further explore universal immigration ideologies—the problems all countries have. 

This is a big topic, but it’s also a universal curiosity.  Here in Arizona , immigration has become part of the daily conversation.  Hispanics are quickly becoming the majority demographic in the American Southwest, but the same issues of xenophobia, economic segregation, and political standstill cause the dialogue to regress into rhetoric.

NPR looked years ago at Muslims in Germany , but I think a look specifically at Turkish immigrants would be of value, and putting details to anecdotes.  Turkish immigrants have their own identities aside their faith, and the EU’s possible admittance of Turkey may change the socio-economic and political climates of the region.  I would address the concerns of these communities through a series of sound-rich profiles from the region, exploring villages and sources with an outsider’s perspective.  I would speak with representatives of the Turkish community, government agents, and specialists to get a sense of how immigration policy has gone, and should’ve gone. 

With a topic as important and deeply rooted as immigration and cultural identity are, this series would resonate in many communities.

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