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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Burqas, immigration and assimilation, an Auslander's view

The phenomenon of immigration -- and the politics that grow up around it like mold on bread in Berlin -- has always interested me. This might have something to do with the fact that, among Americans and especially Westerners, I have been unusually non-migratory. The various branches of my family had come to the U.S., mostly from northern Europe (Sweden, Germany, England and some wild card that gave me my olive skin and dark hair), back in the 1800s or earlier, and had ended up in Colorado before 1900. When I was growing up in Durango, I had Hispanic friends whose families had come to the region long before mine, and Native American friends whose ancestors came long before theirs. Mine was a decidedly non-transitory childhood. (Though I do remember well the Latino workers on the Slades' ranch out on the Dryside, and the goat roasts the Slades' held each year for the county Democratic party).

When I lived and worked in Silverton, a tiny high-mountain mining town in southwestern Colorado, I started focusing on the immigrant roots of the town. Italian, Welsh and other European miners had flocked to the area in the late 1800s, and had left lasting impressions. Chinese immigrants had also created a community there, until the European-rooted populace turned on them and ran them out of town for good (a phenomenon that was common in Western communities in the early 1900s). In the 1990s and early 2000s, a new wave of immigrants was coming to Silverton to work the restaurants and hotels in the summer (my El Salvadoran intern at the Silverton Standard newspaper and I put together a special issue on immigration, in both Spanish and English). In 2006, I moved to Paonia to work for High Country News. There, I spearheaded a special issue on immigration, and continued to push it as a topic of coverage for the magazine.

Now, I'm experiencing immigration from a completely different perspective. On the one hand, I'm an immigrant myself, having relocated to Germany several months ago. But I'm also living among immigrants, in the Wedding district of Berlin, a neighborhood of Turkish, Arab and other immigrants from mostly Muslim countries. In the meantime, there's a big debate going on here about integration, and the alleged failure of these Muslim immigrants to integrate into German society and culture.

I'm guessing this will be a big topic for me as long as I'm here, and beyond. My first shot at writing about it in any serious way is now up on my gin & gelato blog. It's a bit of thinking out loud for me, but I hope it's kind of interesting. And I also hope that readers will respond with their own thoughts.

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