Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Images of Alterity: Second-Generation Turks in the Federal Republic

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Images of Alterity: Second-Generation Turks in the Federal Republic

Article excerpt

In the literary and filmic representations of first-generation Turks in Germany (those who came to the Federal Republic as recruited labourers, mainly from the mid-1960s until the Anwerbestopp of 1973, plus their spouses who joined them in the course of the 1970s) three particular obstacles to their social integration tended to be emphasized: the inhospitableness of the host country, the cultural dislocation suffered in the process of migration, and the resulting tendency on the part of the migrants to try to combat both these pressures through a strategy of cultural segregation. While they may have assumed different forms or evoked different reactions, these problems have also been encountered by Turks of the second and third generations.

What initially appeared as a 'literature of the affected' (1) sought to capture the experience of that first generation and elaborate the prevailing attitude to immigrants that was given such unwittingly eloquent expression in the official appellation Gastarbeiter, a neologism that 'fixed their temporariness in the German topos' and 'defined them merely in terms of their function as workers'. (2) Whether tending towards the miserabilism of confessional and documentary writing or, as was later the case, conceived in more activist terms as an instrument of cultural resistance (Biondi and Schami, Rowohlt edn, p. 146), this Betroffenheitsliteratur essentially aimed to explore the various ways in which migrants in Germany were subjected to the process of social exclusion. In so far as this engenders insecurity and fear it is an experience that clearly transcends the generations, as the Turkish protagonist of Alev Tekinay's novel Nur der Hauch vom Paradies (Frankfurt a.M.: Brandes & Apsel, 1993) comes to recognize. A successful writer born in Germany, Engin Erturk has one thing in common with his father, a Turkish immigrant greengrocer: the latter's 'Emigrantenmagen' (p. 45). This hereditary trait of stomach cramps Engin ascribes to the collective Angst that gripped the whole family whenever their residency permit needed renewal. Even now, he adds, when their permit has long since been unlimited, merely being in the vicinity of the Auslanderamt suffices to trigger an attack (p. 45). In fact, it would appear Engin's gut feelings are better attuned than his head to his actual legal status, for, contrary to the impression he imparts, his current residency permit, an unbefristete Aufenthaltserlaubnis, while unlimited in theory, may still be revoked at any time if the authorities deem it appropriate and, as with seventy-five per cent of Turks in the early 1990s, (3) it does not protect him against expulsion. Shortly after, Engin confesses to fear of an even more immediate, everyday kind when he is stopped in his tracks by racist graffiti and, as if paralysed, finds himself unable to erase the odious words: 'Die Buchstaben [...] erscheinen mir wie drohende Zeichen einer fremden Kultur [...]. Ich husche wie ein Schatten an dieser Mauer vorbei, die Krallen der Angst an meiner Kehle' (p. 53).

What compounded such problems for his parents' generation was the profound sense of cultural dislocation they felt at severing their roots and abandoning their homeland. In the portrait of her parents in her autobiographical narrative Schwarzer Tee mit drei Stuck Zucker (1991) Renan Demirkan presents two people who, though from quite different backgrounds, are equally unsettled by the uprooting experience of moving from Turkey to live in the Federal Republic. Her father, orphaned by the age of eleven and a beneficiary in both educational and professional terms of the secular state constructed by Kemal Ataturk, appears to be the more culturally adaptable of the two, in accordance with his oft-repeated adage: 'Heimat kann auch der Ort sein, den man erst finden muss.' (4) Yet the longer he lives in Germany, the more he is consumed by his dream of spending his retirement in Turkey so that his daughters might contribute to the 'sozialen und politischen Wohl des Herkunftslandes' (p. …

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