This week's reading dealt with the rise of art-based activism, particularly street art that represents the struggle of a minority group. The message of street art, oftentimes in itself a subversive act against authority, is compounded when it deals with complex topics like police brutality, racial discrimination, and gentrification. These topics overwhelming affect minority groups, who are often lacking the support system to change these circumstances. In addition to being without a support system, the platform for these issues to made public, usually media coverage, is hard to come by. Thus, public spaces become a modern-day, silent forum of sorts, where the strife of the oppressed group is expressed in art. The clandestine nature of street art allows it to persist and grow as more people add their own "opinions" to the mix, creating a collaborative piece about a shared struggle. The unity found in the creation of street art activism is incredible. The public nature of the work spreads the message in an efficient and arresting manner.
How do immigrant perspectives emerge in German cinema? What differences can be seen between German-produced media in comparison to that produced by the demographic in question? How is the concept of "othering" furthered or diminished through these films?
Recently, there's been more and more attention given to representation of minority groups in various kinds of media. From gender diversity, to LGBTQ+ visibility, and racial diversity. My own interest in this topic, as a person who lives in multiple minority intersections, comes from my own life experience. However, this passion became more academic in nature after I took Clare Bright's class "Comparative Ideologies of Human Rights Movements," which examined the feminist, queer, and civil rights movements. I thought again that I could bring this interest to our study abroad research by focusing on representation of immigrants in German film. As part of this study, I would delve into the differences in representations of immigrants in films produced by the larger German film industry compared to those that come out of the immigrant community. Do the potential differences or similarities between these different origins further the concept of "othering," and furthering the separation between immigrants and naturalized Germans? As a subset of these questions, it would be amazing if I could somehow look into audience reception of the films of these different origins. perhaps through box office figures, reviews, and even interviews with the audience members themselves.
For some preliminary sources, I have been looking at the Goethe-Institut, which has a wonderful database of "Multiculturalism in German Cinema" in their subset of studies on Migration and Integration. In addition to showcasing the works of immigrant directors, the Goethe-Institut provides the names of several journalists that I hope to contact for some first-person interviews. There is also a hub of research into European and German cinema accessible through the European Cultural Foundation, online at ECFlabs.org. I also view this as a potential resource for first-person interviews.
When I first applied to study in Berlin, I mentioned that one of my main reasons behind choosing this program was my own experience as an immigrant and how that has impacted how I identify myself in different settings. From this personal standpoint, and further motivated by the knowledge gained through our readings, I would like to do research surrounding the immigrant children in the education system. It would be fascinating to see whether being the minority in a school setting pushes children towards assimilation or creates the need for them to identify differently based on the setting. I suppose this topic falls under Identity and Environment, but with the focus on the scholastic setting, there is also an element of education to be considered. That being said, I would like to focus on the immigrant experience rather than the policy that potentially results in these experiences.
There are a few readings that particularly drew me on to this track, most notably Norton's vignettes of the immigrant experience. For example, most directly related to Identity and Environment is Martina, who adopts a maternal sort of identity at work to gain some sort of authority with other employees. More related to education is the contextual understanding of the short story discussed in the South African classroom. How would the children of immigrants relate to and interpret their curriculum? Are schools unwittingly policing the identities of these kids and forcing assimilation? These are questions I'd like to address through my research as well.
This weeks reading mentioned the "look" involved in national identity. Minority groups are constantly asked to validate and question their national identities because they don't appear similar to the rest of the population. I think in the United States we are spoiled with a considerable heterogenous society; that doesn't stop people from asking "where are you really from?" The idea that a different appearance precludes membership to a national identity is something I think would particularly affect the children of immigrants, 2nd or 3rd generation kids. In that demographic, there is a distinct separation between cultural background and the environment, and it would be interesting to see how that either fractures an identity, or forces an individual into difficult choices.
Norton's examination of the underpinnings of identity formation in immigrants focus heavily on language and the power it has. In her discussion of several vignettes, she notes how the mastery of language, the cultural interpretation of the words, and the connection one makes with the story being told all influence the “investment” of the learner. The aforementioned factors also contribute heavily to the formation of identity as a second language learner; they are opportunities for the learner to relate to the larger culture and in turn see how the larger culture respects their background.
In the case of Martina, the Czech immigrant, her English proficiency placed her in an inferior position at work when she related to her coworkers as simply another employee. However, when she reframed her relationship with these people, her workplace identity, to that of “mother,” she was able to claim more power in that social situation. This scenario led me to reflect on not only experiences of first generation immigrants, whose abilities are constantly doubted because of the language barrier, but also that of their children. Having seen their parents struggle because of the language barrier and resulting cultural differences, how would these kids chose to relate to their parents’ culture? Would they preferentially engage with their national identity over their cultural identity?
A second vignette dealt with power dynamics in the classroom that dealt with cultural knowledge. The words, the language, to be interpreted in this situation dealt with the shooting of some thieving monkeys. This scenario, interpreted by its audience of apartheid era scholars, is fraught with implications of racial tensions. The different cultural understandings of the text were only brought to light in the classroom setting when the instructor took on a learning role by respecting her students’ differing cultural knowledge. This interplay of language and identity results in different interpretations of the text. Thus, the formation of a new identity as an immigrant is unique to that individual. Their interpretations of their new environment will vary in accordance with their cultural background. The third vignette dealt with the concept of “investment” in terms of assimilating into a new culture, in this case, through language. Often unintentionally, immigrants are alienated from their new culture by the very people who are trying to help them engage with it. What particularly struck me was the ways that Mai felt that her ESL class had failed her, such as structuring lessons on their past experiences rather than the language that is needed to adapt. If possible, I think this would be a fascinating area of education to research while abroad, dealing with the question “can a national identity be taught?”
Prompt: Based on the readings from last week and for this upcoming week, what are your thoughts about the following four narratives of the city of Berlin:
For almost 30 years, Berlin's most notable feature was the wall that separated East and West Germany. I can understand how the association between the city and the barrier would be unavoidable, given that news of the wall dominated the media coverage surrounding the country. Accordingly, Berlin came into it's own as a "globally recognized city" as a city of the wall--these two identities were inextricably linked. For myself, and others I'd imagine, the wall was the defining characteristic of the international perception of the city. However, the idea of becoming a global city as experienced within Berlin has more to do with the destruction of the wall. From the perspectives and descriptions we have encountered in our readings, the end of the wall meant the merging of the distinctive identities that grew on either side. Berlin is preserved as the City of the Wall by these identities that survive today as choices and chosen architectural reminders, rather than an imposed distinction.
The globalized city narrative can be taken further when considering Berlin as a part of the European Union. This collection of countries and the diplomatic, political, and economic bonds they share are evidence of the "opening" of Berlin and it's new role as, as Castles and Miller note, a multicultural, multiethnic center that indicates a global city. This narrative will undoubtedly continue to be shaped by the very people who make the international distinction possible: immigrants. This requires looking at Berlin through yet another lens, that of migration. In this reading, and from others we have looked at, Germany holds a very strict immigration policy that actively works against the settling of new immigrant families. I think it's interesting to compare and contrast the attitudes towards immigration between the United States and Germany. In the States, at least historically, immigration was viewed as building the country towards some larger goal, with the melting pot of different identities falling under the umbrella of the "American Dream." However, times have changed this outlook, and now it more closely resembles Germany's more hardline stance. You hear both side justify it by separating immigrants as "others" who are not fully German/American. I do think the distinction remains that in the States, one can "become" an American, either legally, through time, or assimilation. The difficulties that German citizenship presents immigrants results in them carrying their "migrant background" into the narratives of Berlin. Thus, the city is once again subject to division, just without the physical barrier.
"The impulse to preserve or to destroy--whether motivated by nostalgia, desire for prestige or for legitimacy, or even economics--reflects deep seated beliefs about historical identity. "
The above quote, in my opinion, is a good summary of the first chapter of Brian Ladd's The Ghosts of Berlin. Prior to his discussion of the Berlin Wall, Ladd takes a look at the rebuilding or preservation of landmarks across the world. The reconstruction of monuments at the expense of existing artifacts is often to reclaim a history lost in a shifting cultural landscape, perhaps as a result of imperialism, and designate a “true” history. Preservation also has the goal of writing history through monuments, in this case through selection rather than destruction. The Berlin Wall, Ladd’s focus in this chapter, exists in limbo between these two forms of creating a history; is it an unneeded reminder of a darker time or a part of history worth remembering?
The wall was as culturally divisive as it was physical. The somber “grayness” of the Soviet Bloc that influenced East Berlin existed in sharp contrast to the counterculture movement of the West. With these two distinct schools of thinking, ways of living, and interpretations of the wall, it becomes incredibly difficult to decide what is true German history.
Prior to reading this section, I hadn’t considered how much of the history we consider fact is really just up to interpretation. What the Berlin Wall, the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart,” if you prefer, represented differed widely based on perspective. I think it would be fascinating to listen to testimony from either side, to look for the similarities and differences in the meaning they took from the Mauer. The duality of the wall is something Ladd discusses, referring to it as both a symbol of division within the country but also representation of a unified German identity. How the wall was incorporated into the German national identity when compared to the identities on either side of the wall would also be worth looking at.
Ladd also compares Berlin, the “city that never forgets,” to New York, a dynamic place unburdened by the past. When combing the extracts from Ghosts with Matthew Sparke’s discussion of globalization, I think an interesting question emerges: to what extent does the increasingly global nature of commerce, healthcare, technology, etc., influence the “selective memory” of historical preservation? Does the interconnectedness of today’s world encourage a “best foot forward” mentality? I would like to consider this perspective as we delve further into the changing landscape of Berlin.