“Turkish Berlin” Response

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Turkish Berlin, a well-written and accessible book, explores the lives of Turkish immigrants in a thorough and humane way. Unlike last class’s readings, the chapters about airports and globalization, Turkish Berlin steers clear of abstract writing and esoteric terms, focusing on the immigrants themselves and their lived experiences. Of course, formal academic writing and terminology have their place, but Hinze uses them to highlight the lives of the immigrants, the subject of the book and most important part.

Writing about the lives of Turkish immigrants in Berlin opens an important discussion about immigrants worldwide, but especially of American immigrants to most American readers. Like Germany, America also has a battle about what policies to make regarding immigrants. America swings more to the conservative or liberal side depending on location. In coastal states like New York and California, American are much more liberal about immigration. Immigrants in turn are more visible and have more options, in a cultural not just in an economic sense. They can be more open in mainstream society, since said mainstream society is more multicultural.

The American heartland is different, not too different to Germany’s overall attitude. Immigrants face a more black-and-white choice of assimilating into the mainstream culture, which is decidedly more WASP, or remain excluded. America can show some extreme cases of what immigrants and descendants of immigrants will do (or feel they must do) to assimilate. A striking example is when Bobby Jindel, Louisiana’s current governor of Indian descent, commissioned a painting with his skin paler and his nose slightly smaller. Jindel’s statement is explicitly political, not merely symbolic, because by looking more WASP Jindel legitimizes his power as governor by looking like a “real American”.

Regardless where American immigrants live, they associate in a similar way, by clustering into dense neighborhoods or exclusive suburban communities. It is an intelligent and understandable move, since they form a community and social network. New York is full of immigrant enclaves like Chinatown and Little Italy. Serbians congregate in only a few churches. One of them, Saint Sava Church in the West Village, packs around 6,000 Serbs when full, which is about the size of the Serbian population in Manhattan. In the suburbs, there exist specific communities, such as Orthodox Jewish communities. Unlike immigrants in cities, Orthodox Jews who moved to suburbs had to be “religious pioneers” of sorts, adapting their religion and culture so they can assimilate in the suburb, yet still remain faithful to their heritage.

Turkish immigrants in Berlin behave in a similar way to New York immigrants. They cluster in neighborhoods to create a tight community and social network. A phrase Hinze uses often in her work is “neither here nor there”, reflecting that Turkish immigrants neither feel exclusively German or Turkish. This mixed identity becomes highlighted when Turkish immigrants constantly struggle between being accepted by mainstream society and remaining faithful to their heritage. It is a struggle similar to that of suburban Orthodox Jews. Turkish immigrants respond to the struggle by creating a unique identity more than German, Turkish, or German and Turkish. They base their identity in the neighborhood they stay in. Interestingly, the neighborhood culture becomes their new “homeland”, their new yardstick of being true to their culture.

Immigrants of America do not share the same lived experiences and struggles, even if they are of a similar ethnicity. Korean Americans in California, for instance, live in different communities. Koreatown is a compact city with working-class immigrants who hold tightly to their heritage because they created a tight community. When Chinese Americans proposed building a bridge that signified only Chinese culture, Korean Americans in Koreatown took to the streets at the forefront. Eventually, they won with their protests and the bridge was cancelled. For Korean immigrants farther in the suburbs, however, they show less of their heritage overtly, and assimilate more into WASP mainstream culture.

Similarly, Turkish immigrants do not live the same in Berlin. Hinze contrasts two neighborhoods in particular: Kreuzburg and Neukolln. Kreuzburg is a more white-collar neighborhood, but nevertheless Turkish immigrants, women in particular, have to overcome ethnic and class hurdles to get a university education. Women who do not get a university education try to make ends meet in other ways. Turkish immigrants of Kreuzburg are more visible and closer to mainstream culture, but likewise they it upon themselves to become accepted but still remain true to their identity.

Neukolln is a tighter and downtown area, and primarily blue-collar. While Kreuzburg is wealthier, it faces the problem of gentrification, which often happens when immigrant neighborhoods become “acceptable” enough. The rising apartment prices force a lot of Turkish immigrants to go to Neukolln, where the apartments are cheaper. Neukolln, ironically, does not have a strong network, and many women who moved there miss the social networks they used to have, missing the “homeland” that is Kreuzburg.

Race and discrimination both rear their ugly heads frequently, both in America and Germany. Race places a barrier on immigrants, for a part of being accepted and assimilated into mainstream culture is looking “white” enough. This causes some immigrants both in Europe and America to have an easier time assimilating than others. A Serbian immigrant or Serbian American has an easier time assimilating because they can more easily pass off as “white” or WASP. A Middle Eastern immigrant, by contrast, has a harder time, especially since the 9/11 bombings, since the Middle Easterner Muslim has become the folk demon of America and Europe since then. Interestingly, about fifty years ago, almost the reverse was true. Back then, Slavs, including Serbians, were the folk demon because of Cold War politics.

Turkish immigrants face a similar struggle. Not all Turkish immigrants are treated the same. Turkish women who don’t look “too Turkish” are treated better and face less discrimination. German politics tends to conflate different groups of people together. Turkish people are frequently grouped with Arabic and Middle Eastern immigrants as the “stereotypical immigrant”. It would not be unlikely to say that Germany’s, and much of Europe’s, image of the stereotypical immigrant is partly fueled by racism towards Muslims and Middle Easterners.

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