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Title: (Not) That Kind of Immigrant
Author: Alex Schladebeck
Author’s identity includes: I’m a European woman working in tech
Potentially distressing themes: Xenophobia
I’m an immigrant. I grew up in the UK and, after a couple of years back and forth, moved permanently to Germany in 2007.
I identify strongly with being an immigrant. After all, a quick Google search tells me it means “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country”. But it’s not about that definition; not in the least, because that doesn’t capture any of the connotations of the word. It’s because I feel it. I have a chosen country and a birth country. I participate in and understand two cultures. And I am often reminded that I didn’t grow up here and that German isn’t my native language. Not all of those reminders are negative. In fact, some are more along the lines of, “oh that’s cute and different,” or, “oh yeah, I have to remember that word is used differently here”.
Despite all this, I know that I am not what many people would call an immigrant. I’m white, Western, grew up Christian, have two university degrees, have English as a native language, speak fluent German and I’ve been employed continually since 2007. Hell, I even employ others.
When people talk about problems with immigrants, or wanting fewer immigrants, I do feel included in those sentiments. It’s an awful feeling to hear people talking about a group you identify with as a whole and as a problem. I will often speak up: “you know that I’m an immigrant, right?”. The answer is almost always a variation on the theme of, “you’re different,” or, “we’re not talking about immigrants like you”.
I’m not naive. I’m aware what picture of an immigrant these people will have. There will be differences in skin colour, religion, native language, education and employment. And I know that they won’t actually mean people like me. So I get unsure about whether I’m allowed, from my position of privilege, to be upset and angry for myself when comments are made. After some thinking, I’m going to say, “yes,” and here’s why.
Basically, I’m a “desirable” immigrant. According to current social and political leanings, I’m “allowed”. I’m “one of the good ones”. I’m not even “an exception” because, in the mental model I perceive such commentators to have, I don’t even count as an immigrant.
If I wanted to, I could feel okay with that – even if it sucks that others don’t enjoy the same status. I mean, I could just advocate for them without being one of them.
But here’s the crux. The definition of who is desired is fluid. It’s changed over history and it will change again. So my status as a desired immigrant may change. Especially in light of Brexit, I can see this being a possibility. Although I have German citizenship, I can reasonably and easily imagine rhetoric against non-Europeans taking jobs. One day, they might actually be talking about me…
In short, I am an immigrant. And I always will be.