I feel must address the devastation, disappointment and the profound elation (for a significant number of people) spreading in shock waves throughout Germany at this time, the country that I call home. The results of the election were announced a few days ago and they were relatively grim: Chancellor Angela Merkel held on to her power but nearly all the established political parties, including her own CDU, lost support across the board. And unbelievable gains, once believed to be virtually improbable, were won by the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) a right-wing party that has never entered the Bundestag (the German parliament) in more than 60 years (the last ones were…well, you know). For good reason, they are a populist party that is rigidly anti-EU, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, and pretty much anti-everything that Chancellor Merkel stands for. There is a hint of the nasty things to come as their party leader, Mr. Gauland, victoriously proclaimed on Sunday night that he will “Hunt them down!” what he means by them is likely a great deal more than just the political opposition. If the AfD’s rhetoric bears any weight, they will try to bring about the end of the EU and a “cleansing” of foreigners, especially Muslim ones, in order to preserve and “protect” a simpler, “purer” national identity. This is the general assumption at this point, because much of what they actually believe in is shady and unclear, even to them and there is chaos within the party itself. (Sound familiar to anyone?) Now they will enter the parliament as the third strongest political party in the country with approximately 13% of the popular vote. You can read more about the German election from my sources here and here.

alightcirclewebsitebundestag2mpbaeckerBeing a two-time immigrant and a person of color, I am deeply saddened by this outcome. My pain at being cast as the unwitting face of globalization as I wrote about in the Mirror of Hate bears repeating here. I feel as though I’ve been punched in the stomach repeatedly, I go about my daily tasks, hoping to forget about it or to focus on something positive, only to be reminded of it everywhere. Last year, when all of this was just a morbid possibility swirling in the darkness, I wrote these lines down privately before I began sharing any of my writing with the public:

I consider myself lucky to be living in Germany, a nation, that many now consider to be the last stronghold of liberal Democracy. Yes, a country I had once been too afraid to venture out to, may now be one of the last standing pillars of the free world! But even here, the forces of hate and populism are swirling at our feet and threaten to knock it down at any moment. This is what compels me to share my cumulative experience as a two-time immigrant, the knowledge that now screams under my skin, that no longer allows me to be silent, in this time of new challenges and tumultuous change.

Which brings me to the reasons why the AfD and other right-wing, anti-immigrant parties have been gaining in power throughout the modern world at this time. Yes, the modern world: The same world where science and technology have brought us to incredible new heights; where knowledge is literally at our fingertips; where we can communicate with everyone everywhere instantly; where all the companies we work for have bases, branches or suppliers all over the world; where everyone and everything is plainly linked, interdependent and interconnected. In this same world there still exists, simultaneously, beliefs, cultures and mindsets that do not accept science or popular wisdom, that are based on “alternative facts”; people unwilling to let go of obsolete hierarchies cultivated in a glorified past where blood, skin color and family name determined one’s identity and future—as fixed and stagnant as nothing else—as nothing else in Nature ever was, is, and ever will be. Yes, this is the modern world, the one world we’re all living in right now.

alightcirclewebsitebundestag4mpbaeckerThe Tagesschau, a respected German news outlet, released several graphics showing the main reasons why people voted for the far right, you can see them here.  The first two bars with 95% and 94%, respectively, are the first two reasons:

  1. I am very worried about the loss of my culture.
  2. I am very worried that the changes in our lives will be too drastic.
  3. The next three reasons were concerns about the growing influence of Islam, the widening of divisions in society, and the rise in crime.

As an immigrant nearly all my life, I am acutely aware of these concerns and many like them. My identity has, in fact, been shaped by them. They are the main reasons why I tried so hard to integrate here and in the US. This may come as a surprise, but English is not my first language, I learned English by reading everything I could, often learning the hard way by mispronouncing difficult new words in public. When I moved to Germany, I attended language schools for two years, not only because I wanted to learn a new language, but to show respect for the culture of my new home and truly try to become a part of it. I wanted to avoid the quagmire of perpetually observing it from an impenetrable distance as if I was a permanent tourist. I often feel responsible for dissuading other people’s fears and negative assumptions about foreigners; responsible for making other people feel comfortable around me. And I often get the impression that I must be perpetually grateful for the tolerance and generosity of the natives who are much more valuable than I am. It is as if an immigrant has to outperform everyone else if he or she wants to be seen or accepted at all, this is reinforced by such back-handed compliments as, “Wow! You can actually speak the language very well for being a foreigner!”

alightcirclewebsitebundestag3mpbaeckerMany people may be quick to shrug off my views as self-serving, since someone who is anti-immigrant is clearly going against my best interests. But I doubt people who consider immigrants to be a burden or a threat are acting objectively either, or going outside of their own best interests. That is the main problem with these views, where do you draw the line between a new challenge that can enrich you, possibly help you in the long run, and something that is drain on your resources—an unnecessary burden?  If that thing is a person, that line is even more difficult to draw, at the very least, it should be.

For me and for most immigrants and refugees trying to integrate in their new homes, the rise in anti-immigrant, isolationist sentiments has direct, even violent ramifications. When I was eight months pregnant, I was forcefully shoved on the street by a skinhead hitting me from behind, the force of the blow almost knocked me to the ground. Since I was alone when it happened, I had been too fearful for my child’s life to do so much as yell at the man. When I paid a notary for his services, he took my passport and proceeded to scan every page of it without my permission, commanding me to renew my residency permit (he mistakenly thought it had expired) treating me like a criminal he should turn in. Even when I simply attended a yoga class, I was disrespected by a woman who stared at me with disdain, refused to touch me and literally tried to pull my yoga mat out from under me. For us, any implication, whether clear or vague, that immigrants are inferior, a burden, or a threat has direct, painful and even dangerous consequences to our safety and well-being. We cannot take the rise of populism lightly.

alightcirclewebsitebundestag9mpbaeckerPeople are quick to justify their actions as “protecting” themselves and their homes from foreign invaders. Right-wing, populist parties like the AfD, France’s National Front, and Trump’s administration have successfully tapped into this inexhaustible fountain of justification for their supporter’s exclusivity, hatefulness and arrogant behavior. Even if they claim that they are not racists or xenophobic, that they just love “their people” and “their country”, the rigid definition of what constitutes “theirsbegs, it begs for an explanation. One of their most common justifications, by far, that I have heard throughout my life has been, “Immigrants should go back to their home country and fix things there. We should focus on our own people.” If I had a coin every time I’ve heard this one, I would be able to immigrate to the moon or Mars.

First of all, if conditions weren’t so dangerous or irreparable in their home countries, all refugees and most immigrants wouldn’t have a reason to leave in the first place. And who in their right mind would pass up the opportunity for a better life—a brighter future for themselves and their children? Forced to decide between staying and likely dying in war, poverty or starvation or going somewhere else where they have the chance, or even just the faintest possibility of flourishing, most people would decide to go. Humans have always gone out, explored and wandered since the dawn of our existence. If we had all stayed where we were born, we would still all be in Africa or in the Mediterranean (depending on the latest archaeological findings). Yet moving is not without great pain and sacrifice: immigrants must leave everything they know behind. They are usually financially depleted, they must leave family, loved ones behind and make extremely difficult decisions. My own parents, when applying to immigrate to the US, were asked to leave three of their children behind: me and two siblings. Luckily for us, my parents insisted that we should stay together and the officials changed their minds. Once immigrants do enter their new country, they must quickly learn not to take anything for granted. They are confronted with all sorts of daily challenges, the very least of which is the prejudice and hate simmering below the surface of the place they strive to call home.

alightcirclewebsitebundestag7mpbaeckerEven if you have no compassion for immigrants at all. The idea that immigrants should go back to their home country and fix things there, should be recognized as stifling and self-defeating when applied to everyone and to oneself. I would expect, as it would only be fair, that people who hate foreigners so much, would never ever travel, never ever venture out into the world and become a foreigner themselves someday. A travel ban against a hated country or “axis of evil” is also a restriction on one’s own freedoms and those of future generations. What if your son or daughter falls in love with someone from another country? Shouldn’t they or their partner have a right to move anywhere they want to be with their loved one? But maybe that is the point, these are possibilities—complications that people don’t want in their lives. They don’t want to have to reckon with them, they are simply not prepared to deal with such complexity.

But when has something worth fighting for, something worth believing in, ever been easy? Most people don’t want to exercise, not even for their own benefit or to save their own lives. They must make the hard decision every single day to force themselves to do it, until it becomes part of their routine, until it becomes a healthy habit. The people complaining about how terrible it is to listen to someone with a foreign accent, or how difficult it is to understand someone from a different culture—they need to realize it is the same for the immigrants too, only much more intense. There have been years in my life when I never heard my own name pronounced correctly, when I hardly had any friends to talk to. A language barrier is enough of a challenge on its own without the addition of snobbery, shame and prejudice. We can learn from each other and adapt. The world doesn’t have to fit itself around us, it doesn’t have to stay within the narrow confines of our expectations and entitlements. The world doesn’t and shouldn’t stay within our self-restricting boundaries, and so much the better for us, for our personal growth.

alightcirclewebsitebundestag6mpbaeckerI am not, however, diminishing the necessity of laws and regulations. Anyone criticizing the so-called “open” borders of democratic institutions, should really talk to an immigrant or refugee. They will find that that person has stood in lines for many hours, was forced to fill-out mountains of paperwork, was photographed and finger-printed, was interviewed extensively by cold bureaucrats, had to pay for all their applications and had to show all of their identification and provide evidence of their education, employment and funds, all that under administrations they admonish for being lax on security. The idea that immigrants and refugees are the source of terrorism is even more misplaced because terrorism comes from people of all backgrounds and hate crimes are also terrorist acts. Terrorists operate in underground organizations beneath the quantifiable guise of a single nation or religion, beyond the striking distance of missiles or nuclear warheads. Fighting something as insidious and deep-rooted as modern terrorism requires everyone’s help, everyone’s vigilance and everyone’s cooperation. Let’s not forget, terrorists don’t care what anyone is, where they’re from, what religion they practice or what language they speak, they don’t bother to ask for identification papers before they stab, shoot or detonate a bomb. Terrorism threatens everyone, not just nationalists.

My words may come across as arrogant and condescending to some, but my views have been cultivated by a lifetime of listening to and accepting anti-immigrant concerns, justified or not, and they have oppressed me a great deal. I cannot stay quiet anymore. The real danger to a culture and language disappearing is rigidity and isolation. Culture and language is alive, and like all living things it needs a fresh supply of nutrients to stay that way. Blood needs more than soil—it needs air, it needs oxygen if it means to live and not go back into the ground. We need to breath in and out, together, helping each other, in the face of all this tumultuous change. The “my people first” mentality must end. There may have been a time when it gave us an advantage, but that time is gone. Long gone. Most of us no longer live on lands owned by kings, tribes, or warlords. Most of us work in companies that are globally interconnected and interdependent. We work and live with people from all over the world. Today, we don’t have to be defined by our blood, our heritage, our family name anymore, we can create new identities, new homes for ourselves and our children. These are the incredible new freedoms modernity and democracy has afforded us. We can create better opportunities, better lives for ourselves. And now, we will have to fight to retain these astounding new possibilities and keep them growing for future generations. If the last ten years is any indication, the challenges we face will only continue to grow in complexity, whether we can accept them or not. Will we adapt?alightcirclewebsitebundestag1mpbaecker

Text and images by M.P. Baecker. Photos are all of the exterior, interior and glass cupola of the Bundestag, Berlin

25 thoughts on “Of Blood and Air: Homelands Lost and Made

  1. Great post. I share all of your concerns and was disappointed to see the results of the election in Germany. I am not a person of color but that does not really matter. I am a woman, I am older , and both of those things make me less than “perfect”. I despair when I read how arrogantly the far right struts about and proclaims it’s beliefs. I still find it unbelievable and I continue to ask :”Where is the outrage?” It seems that often this extremism is met with indifference. So thank you for your intelligent and thoughtful blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, as always, for your compassion and your kind, thoughtful comments! You put it so well: “”Where is the outrage?” It seems that often this extremism is met with indifference.” That’s exactly how I feel about it! I don’t normally like to complain or share negative experiences, but in this instance, I felt compelled to show what the pain of being made to feel “other” or “inferior” is like, especially to those who would shrug off this rise in populism as a non-threat.

      The older I get and the more I travel I find that people have more similarities than differences, regardless of color or nationality. And as women, we are often forced to cope in a society that reduces us to objects and does not acknowledge the importance of our opinions and philosophies. We all too often experience a common oppression: The erasure of our needs and desires, our significance taking second-place to a man’s. I plan to write more about this in the near future, especially relating to culture clashes with Islam and the modern role of women, another hotly debated issue right now.

      It’s such a great feeling to share my work with such intelligent, kind readers like yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your compassion! For a long time I was reluctant to write about the uglier aspects of my experience as an immigrant, because I don’t like to complain, or worse, deter anyone from traveling or immigrating. But there are people who don’t see the rise in right-wing nationalism as a bad thing or they don’t understand why people would feel threatened. So I decided to share these experiences to show what I mean. However, I would still do it even though I have had some crude encounters, the personal growth and the incredible perspective it gives you to be a foreigner is truly valuable! I was also so disappointed when Trump was elected, and again with the rise of the AfD here. The one big thing that still keeps me optimistic is how hard people are rallying against them here and everywhere. People are now having all kinds of serious cultural discussions, that encourages me to hope for the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The world is so much smaller than ever before. We are so much more interconnected, as you pointed out. And although this harbingers the promise of a world to come, a world where we don’t recognize one another by our nation of origin, but, instead, as an entire race of human beings, that era has not yet come.

    But as it draws closer it becomes scarier for those who have grown to know only the division of humanity, not the promise of unity. As walls come tumbling down, the natural inclination is fear. The natural counter-action is to build bigger walls.

    We find ourselves in that transitional era of fear and, unfortunately, fear gains ground every day. We saw that fear give us Donald Trump in the United States, and I watched as it gave you the AfD in Germany.

    I believe these are short-term reactions to the evolving nature of humanity. I believe these to be bumps in the road. But we cannot take that for granted. We must continue to spread information in any way we can. You perform that task admirably, my friend.

    I promise to do the same, wherever I can. I have friends who are populist-supporters. I was stunned when they showed those colors during the Trump campaign. I’ve fought the glut of misinformation tooth and nail the entire time. At times, I see cracks in the wall around them. I know, on some level, I get through.

    Another amazing article, MP, thank you for sharing! I may just have to share it, too, so that these folks building walls near me, around me, can see the light of truth for themselves. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Tom,

      Thanks so much for another thoughtful, inspiring and excellent comment! The connections that I have made here in this blog with people, like you, from all over the world are one of the most beautiful, amazing things about our day and age!

      You summed it up so well, “I believe these are short-term reactions to the evolving nature of humanity. I believe these to be bumps in the road.” The inclination to “build, bigger walls” seems so strong at this moment! I, like you, try to look at it with compassionate the entire time, even when I have a strong emotional reaction of anger and disgust, I am trying really hard not to add to the divisions that seem so much deeper now and often completely intractable. Because I too have people close to me who support populist leaders, right-wing nationalistic parties and people who can totally understand why they are seen as a viable “solution” by a significant number of people. My parents, if they were still alive today, would have supported the Republican Party nominee (even Trump) because they were staunch religious conservatives. So the divisions we see in the world now are mirrored within our own circles of family and friends. With that in mind, I would normally stand aside and stay quiet (like I did during the Bush/Cheney administration), with the thought that everybody deserves a chance to see their leader, the person they chose in power for that is a Democracy. But this time, I can’t sit this one out. It feels like Chinese water torture for me to listen to populist rhetoric, the greatest test of the belief that all humans are created equal. These leaders attempt to convince the public by direct and subliminal ways that indeed a better world is rigidly defined by boundaries and hierarchies based on race and nationality. I wonder if these leaders dominate the internet, say it often enough, if governments do change and democracies fall, will they truly manage to convince us that that human we have seen for years as our neighbor, friend, brother or sister no longer is, that he/she doesn’t deserve to be here or have equal status? Can we truly go back? After all we have learned from each other, from history?

      As I mentioned to another commentator, it seems like we were for a while living in a world where all these choices and political beliefs were allowed, a kind of “laissez-faire” of ideologies, but now that the world is getting smaller, more connected, more technologically advanced, the nostalgic belief of a better past (that never was) is choking out all the other possibilities for everyone else (now and for the future). Now, we must all choose a clear direction, we must choose, whether we want to or not.

      I am so grateful for your support, friendship and you definitely have mine! I thank you wholeheartedly for any mention or sharing of my writing! I would be so honored! And I would definitely encourage people to visit your site:http://www.tombeingtom.com, your logic is well-balanced and way of explaining complex topics is warm, refreshing, optimistic and fearless!

      Thanks as always for taking the time and for your great support!

      Liked by 2 people

      • You’re welcome, and you shall always have it! And thank you as well for the compliment, optimistic and fearless are the traits for which I most strive!

        And you’re right, the intolerance has reached epic heights. Unbelievable. Two years ago I would have said that this level of intolerance is far behind us, that bigotry is not and will not be the norm. But I was wrong.

        I still think that most of us are above it, but enough are not that this is a time of great concern. Luckily, we have each other, and those of our ilk, to combat the ignorance, and forums in which to do so.

        This morning, on Facebook, a dear friend of mine went on a rant about how he was tired of politics on social media, and that he was considering leaving it. I understood that. Then he went on a political rant condemning those who didn’t see it his way. I had to politely call him out on that.

        ‘The message isn’t “let’s all stop this,” the message is “everyone who doesn’t have my opinion, stop it.”‘

        That’s intolerable.

        If our voices can be heard saying anything, let them be heard saying we all matter; all of our perspectives are worthy. We should, by now, be able to outgrow hate.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You put it so well! We need to outgrow hate! I applaud you for being the voice of reason to your friend, we need more people to remind us to uphold our dignity!

          Perhaps I won’t manage to convince the people not open to my ideas, I still keep on. Maybe I’ll always be “preaching to the choir”, but I’ll definitely enjoy the music, it is truly wondrous!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. “Which brings me to the reasons why the AfD and other right-wing, anti-immigrant parties have been gaining in power throughout the modern world at this time. Yes, the modern world: The same world where science and technology have brought us to incredible new heights; where knowledge is literally at our fingertips; where we can communicate with everyone everywhere instantly; where all the companies we work for have bases, branches or suppliers all over the world; where everyone and everything is plainly linked, interdependent and interconnected. In this same world there still exists, simultaneously, beliefs, cultures and mindsets that do not accept science or popular wisdom, that are based on “alternative facts”; people unwilling to let go of obsolete hierarchies cultivated in a glorified past where blood, skin color and family name determined one’s identity and future—as fixed and stagnant as nothing else—as nothing else in Nature ever was, is, and ever will be. Yes, this is the modern world, the one world we’re all living in right now.”

    Wow! You have an intelligent yet compassionate grasp of what it means to be human in a modern world, an understanding that extends across time and culture. If only there were more people like you in positions of power and policy. Thank you for translating the report from The Tagesschau, the artcile that stated the fears that caused people to vote far-right:
    “1. I am very worried about the loss of my culture.”
    “2. I am very worried that the changes in our lives will be too drastic.”

    So people are afraid, and when you’re afraid, the status quo looks good, and the past looks even better. The people who look at the good old days don’t realize that the good old days weren’t that good for most of their ancestors.

    The illusion of choice comes into play. They want today’s standard of living with yesterday’s hierarchies, not realizing that if yesterday’s hierarchies had prevailed fully, today’s tech would not be available to the common man. There are still hierarchies, somewhat disguised, in the modern world and they play on the common man’s disorientation in the face of political, economic, social and technological changes.

    The common man is deciding who he is. Is he going to pick a “fixed and stagnant” identity, remaining tethered to the past, or is he going to be like nature and move towards newness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! I loved reading your comment! You’re an intelligent, compassionate writer yourself! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for the great compliments! It means so much to me to get such supportive and positive comments like yours, especially because this is the first year that my work has gone public! (I started blogging this February) It gives me more motivation to continue writing and try harder to get published.

      You hold up many excellent facets to the light in your diamond of a comment, I could write a whole piece about each one: “the illusion of choice”, a better past that never was, Nature’s move towards newness, the disguised hierarchies of the modern world (pros and cons). Very inspirational!

      We live in truly amazing times! Like those famous lines in the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,”(Dickens)

      Some of us make the conscious decision to be open-minded and continue learning from the world, live on our own terms, with knowledge of the past but without nostalgia, not allowing the past to restrict us or stifle our futures from fully unfolding. Some of us don’t want to step outside of that grid of what’s tried and true, those familiar avenues set by our ancestors and preached by those we admire. Some of us fall somewhere in between, perhaps not wanting to be responsible for any decision at all and therefore making one by default. Could it be that for a little while, perhaps, we lived in a world where ALL those decisions were possible? We tried to sustain it for a while but now its failing. Now, the main problem is the fearful people who prefer to make the second choice for themselves are endangering the entire system, the entire possibility of the first choice for everyone else. Now we are all wondering what to do next. This time forces us not only to make that decision now, but to do it loud and clear.

      Thank you again for your kindness and insight!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Scary times. Thanks for shedding some light on the immigrant experience. It’s ironic that countries that once colonized/invaded other countries and convinced others that their ways are better, their culture is better, are now afraid of the “foreigners” coming to “their” lands and taking “their” jobs, country, etc.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks as always for your insightful comments and support! You make a great point! That fear, perhaps unconscious, of karmic repercussions from colonial exploitation tipping the scales to a balance.

      It doesn’t help that if we look to the past or to the wisdom of our elders and great thinkers, we don’t have much in the way of figuring out this diverse new world full of so many cultural clashes. I’m sure the founding fathers (Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, among others) could not in their wildest dreams imagine their phrase, “All men are created equal” being applied to all of humanity regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality and nationality! Nor could they imagine all these kinds of people coexisting peacefully! This is a brave new world we’re living in right now! The big question in the air: Will we step through it or reject it?

      Like

  5. You summarize what is going on very and I agree with you! Alas, like me, your words will fall into what I call the echo chamber and be read mostly by people who agree with you or are in your situation. The people you, myself and other bloggers who write about what we do, want to reach, teach and preach too….they are going to read, like we must admit we do too, what solidifies their already existing views on this subject. That is the problem today ! A lot more people are speaking than there are those taking the time to actually hear and feel what anyone else has to say that isn’t just like them. I hope what I’m saying makes sense. What I’ve resolved for myself, and I think you have too, just write it even if only you will read it. Better out than remaining in! May be the internet God we’ve created will use our words someday to fix this mess we’ve all made! Keep writing and know you aren’t alone!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your positivity and your insightful comment! You make an excellent point about echo chambers! I wish I could have fitted echo chambers into the story itself, perhaps I will ponder on it in another article! That’s the main problem isn’t it with “the information literally at our fingertips”? It’s all just one click away, literally one click away!. People don’t want to read something that makes them feel uncomfortable or guilty, not if they have a choice! I think that is a huge hurdle for any artist or writer, how do get someone to really listen? Is it even possible to learn anything new if one doesn’t get it already? I am still struggling with that, but you’re right, we should continue to describe our truth, for ourselves.

      My main motivation for sharing my writing is to help people who find themselves in a similar situation: being outcasted as the “other”, or suffering from culture shock. I had some very long uncomfortable conversations with alt-right nationalists at some very pivotal times in my life and found myself unable to convince them of anything, you can only go so far when someone does not consider you an equal or a human with equal rights, so I’ve mostly given up on trying to convince anyone of anything. Although I would be very happy if I ever managed to! I asked myself before I wrote this, what would I say to my children if they are ever attacked or belittled in the ways I have? How would I give them the mental strength to live with dignity in the face of adversity? Since I am not good at making lists, I prefer to write it in this essay form.

      May the internet God be with us! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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