“My Skin Has an Accent”: Immigrants’ Children as Germans and Not

Friday, January 5, 2018: 11:10 AM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Paul R. Spickard, University of California, Santa Barbara
Germany is a nation of immigrants. It has one of the highest percentages of immigrants (15 percent) among the world's wealthy nations (by comparison, the US stands at 14 percent, Canada 21, France and the UK 11, Sweden 14; source: Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision [United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2015]). Yet Germany has not developed an idea of itself as an immigrant nation, nor a language for articulating such a self-conception.

This lack of understanding of the multicultural fact that is German society (and has been since at least the 1970s) has shown up several times in recent decades. Most recently we have seen explosions of anti-immigrant and -refugee anger in the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland party and allied movements. But these recent flare-ups are part of a longterm beneath-the-surface sentiment among many ethnic Germans that people who come from other places are not and cannot become true Germans.

This paper concentrates not on the public discussion about immigrants, nor on government policy, but on the lives of people of immigrant stock. Specifically, it is built on 52 in-depth life histories of young adults who are children of immigrants, conducted between 2009 and 2013. It finds that their actual lives look almost nothing like the public discussion of immigrants that has taken place in recent years. It also finds that some children of immigrants have integrated quite well into mainstream German society, while others have been kept in marginal positions; the main difference between these two groups is race. Nonetheless, the trajectories of their lives suggest quite hopeful possibilities for the future shape of the German people.

See more of: Race and Membership in Germany
See more of: AHA Sessions
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation