Migrant, German, successful
Many immigrants have established careers in Germany
By Mehmet Toprak
Erol Onanmis came to Germany from Istanbul in 1971. He was 11 when his father came to work as an automotive upholsterer for BMW. The little boy couldn’t speak a word of German. Today, the 50-year old runs his own hair salon in Munich. “Germany has become my home, I feel comfortable here,” Onanmis explained.
Memet Kilic was already 23 and an attorney when he came to Germany from Turkey. He attended a language course, studied for a university degree, and ultimately made his way into politics. Today he holds a German passport and sits in the German parliament, the Bundestag, for the Green Party.
Nazan Eckes has also made it to the top. Born in Cologne in 1976, the daughter of Turkish immigrants is a regular fixture on television. She also wrote a book about her childhood and growing up within two cultures. “I’ve never been discriminated against, and feel that I am accepted 100 percent,” Eckes said.
There are many such immigrant success stories in Germany, stories of people who have forged ahead although there were obstacles along the way. In a country where the word “immigrant” is still all too often associated with the word “problem,” that is sometimes forgotten.
Germany long had difficulties with its immigrants. Approximately seven million foreigners live here, about 25 percent of whom are Turkish. There are 2.5 million people that call themselves “German-Turks,” mostly people who having been living in the country in the second, third, or even fourth generation.
Their parents, or parents’ parents, originally arrived here as “guest workers,” as did many others from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the former Yugoslavia. As far as the German state is concerned, the plan was for them to support the German economy for a few years and then return to their countries of origin. Which is why politicians and authorities did not put much effort at all into integrating these people into German society.
But then their stays were prolonged, and many “guest workers” later brought their families to Germany and had children here. These children grew up in Cologne, Stuttgart, and Hamburg, and no longer thought of returning to their parents’ homelands. Despite this, many remained foreigners in Germany – immigrants from Muslim countries have it especially tough here.
Mahmut Altinzencir is the managing director of Idizem, the “Intercultural Dialogue Center” in Munich. “The first generation of Turkish guest workers were mostly people from rural areas without any real formal education. They have left a rather negative impression of Islam with Germans,” Altinzencir said.
Almost every immigrant has experienced being treated as a foreigner at least once. Onanmis names an example when he was looking for a place to live. “When people on the telephone noticed that I was a foreigner they often said that the apartment was already taken. A few even said I should go back to where I came from.” He didn’t let himself be bothered by it. “Of course it annoyed me, but I didn’t really let it get me down.”
Sometimes you just need a thick skin. Eckes also had to put up with “hearing stupid jokes about Turks now and then.” Kilic sums it up thus: “I have German citizenship, yet am still always regarded as Turkish in Germany.”
How did these immigrants manage to establish themselves despite this? Learn the host-country language and accepting its culture is not as trite an answer as it sounds; there are still many immigrants in Germany who cannot speak the language.
Since 2007, attending “integration courses” has been compulsory for new immigrants. Hundreds of thousands have already learned some German and the basics about the country, its history, and culture. But that alone is not enough. Kilic also finds that foreigners can gain respect with virtues like “diligence, discipline, punctuality, perseverance, and competence.”
Eckes believes the home atmosphere is crucial. Parents cannot “keep themselves and their children away from German culture,” she said. Onanmis names ambition and the ability “to not go through life with blinders on, but rather to accept the circumstances” as decisive for his successful integration.
And integration in no way means that people must give up their own culture. Katharina von Helmolt, professor for “Intercultural Communication and Cooperation” at a Munich university, finds quite the opposite is true: “A person who comes from another culture has a lot to contribute to creative processes or problem solving, especially on the job.”
Companies have long since put this insight to work for them. Highly qualified immigrants are sought after employees for larger businesses. One good example of this is the computer giant IBM. Antonio Palacin, who hails from Cuba, has advanced to a high-level manager in his career with the company.
“My cultural background really helped me. After all, IBM operates internationally,” Palacin said. His colleague from China, Ting Chen, has a similar take: “My bi-cultural identity is like a gift, because it easily allows me to empathize with others. This is enormously useful at work as well.”
While international corporations have long since learned to utilize the ambition and talents of immigrants, many Germans still view them as a burden or even a danger. From that perspective it’s hardly surprising that many German-Turks are packing their bags and moving to their ancestral homeland.
Forty thousand people emigrated from Germany to Turkey in 2008 alone. More than a half-century after the first guest worker got off a train, integration’s bottom line remains fair to middling.
What does give cause for hope is that many Germans view immigrants sympathetically. Onanmis, for example, raves about his “very nice” boss who has encouraged him. Kilic also doesn’t forget to mention his friends in Germany. “A huge part of this society stands up for us. There are very many people here with a very strong sense of fairness and justice.”
“The Germans have a view of the world that is more open than might be assumed in some places,” IBM Manager Palacin observed. Never giving up is one of the best attributes that many immigrants have. Eckes is an example of this: “I am an optimist and simply will not believe that Turkish integration has failed. We simply must never cease working on it.”
But this requires more than just the combination of ambition, German courses, and assimilation. Often it is very personal qualities like optimism, charm, or perseverance that open doors for immigrants. And sometimes it also simply requires the aforementioned thick skin.
Quelle: The German Times