‪Tamar Jacoby Discusses “What It Means to Be an Immigration Country‬”.

2010, Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of Immigration Works USA, was invited to Berlin for a research scholarship of the American Academy Berlin. As a journalist and scientist she is known for her writing on immigration-related issues. She worked for the New York Review of Books, Newsweek and the New York Times. Being a member of the transatlantic exchange program she met German scientists, artists, journalists and politicians in order to stimulate knowledge-transfer. Unexpectedly she arrived in Germany when the discussion concerning immigration politics were at its peak. Thilo Sarrazin had just published his critical approach “Deutschland schafft sich ab”. The discussion in Faust-Kultur is not focused on emotional short cuts but tries to analyze the status quo of immigration politics in Germany.

Interview with Tamar Jacoby – Nov. 2010

Acceptance is more than tolerance

Tamar Jacoby, you are a leading expert on immigration questions in the United States. Why did you come to Germany for three months?

I came to Germany for research and to give lectures and to participate in conversations of policy maker. It is an exchange of American and German perspectives. I arrived at the time of the Sarrazin controversy. It is an interesting question to me, how do people in Germany approach this debate?
For my research, I decided to look at a place where Germany´s need for foreign workers comes into conflict with its fear of difference. Germany, like all the developed countries in the world, needs highly-qualified workers—our century’s equivalent to colonies of coal and iron and minerals. Every country needs them to be strong. Every country also fears difference, maybe even greatly. So that is the place I am looking at. How does Germany reach out to those highly-qualified people? How is it making them welcome; yet where is it having problems in welcoming them and making it appealing to them.
This is my narrow assignment, but that´s not all I am looking at. I am in Frankfurt to spend an evening with five young Chinese people working in the finance industry. Why did they come to Germany rather than North America? How do they find Germany? Does Germany welcome them? Does Germany offer them an opportunity to have good careers? How is Germany for their wives and for their children, since this group is an interesting microcosmos of Germany´s challenge to become an immigration country.

How did they answer?

They are the new bright minds in the finance industry. They think that Germany is only starting to get used to people who are different. But they don´t really care, because they are doing their work and building their lives. They think Germany is a good country where you can have a comfortable life. I don´t think they feel very understood by Germans. They don´t actually mix with Germans very much, but instead of complaining they get on with their lives. They weren´t saying that they could not work here and that it was a problem. In fact they don´t get invited to German homes. They live quite separate lives, but it´s okay.

Do they speak German?

Yes, and they are very successful. They are making lots of money in the finance industry. They are very educated people with PhD and MBA. They could go anywhere in the world. Instead, they are here in Germany, having big success without integrating in German life.
Interestingly, that they don´t complain. Other groups would say this country is not welcoming enough and not mixing is a problem. They say they have a good life here. They are educating their children and having families. In a way, they are very German. They appreciate things that German people appreciate such as the social safety net, lots of vacations, free weekends, good working hours to spend time with their families. In China and in the United States people have to work much harder, so they like the German life. In some ways, they absorbed some German approaches to life and appreciated it.

Frankfurt is one of the most international places in Germany. Did you also contact less privileged parts of society?

I am not looking at them so much; because my time is so limited I had to make a choice. People who are frightened of immigrants are going to be the most frightened from the lower economic group. So, I decided to talk to the successful group, which they have no excuse to be frightened of. In this context you cannot say the fear is a class problem and part of a general prejudice, because it is not a class problem to them. I am going to take the class out of the discussion.
It is not about prejudice, but attitude. I don´t know if Germans are prejudiced, but I think Germans do have a somewhat different attitude toward difference and citizenship than we do in the United States; that´s what I am trying to look at, and by taking social class out of the picture, one can see it more clearly. The Sarrazin book is not all that important, however, I think the debate that followed is good for Germany. He showed an ugly side, but he got lots of people thinking about the question. Germany has to grapple with this question. I´ve been coming to Germany now to talk about immigration for about ten years. I am struck by this new generation and not just of Chinese people but of people who have grown up here, second generation and third generation of immigrants who are very successful, educated and promising; it is a young generation that is just bursting on the scene, whether at universities or in politics. Ten years ago, even five years ago, there was solely one person in this field far and wide. There are dozens of young people now. There is a whole new exciting generation of immigration background, young people who are already taking this country by storm. I think it is promising and exciting and holds well for the future. Even if they have obstacles they are already far enough that I think they are going to succeed. They possess an exciting dynamism, that Sarrazin can´t stop. When they show their success, the rest of Germany will understand. I think Germany will respect success, the people and what they have accomplished.

Education is considered to be one of the most important tools for integration. Do you think education is the major problem that remains to be solved in Germany?

I think it´s a big one, maybe it´s the main one; comparing the German experience with the American experience regarding relatively uneducated immigrants, the rigidity of the labor market poses a big problem, too. The qualification system here is so extensive, in many fields more than necessary. In America many people of immigration background succeed to start small businesses in areas that don´t take very much education. People move up from being kitchen help to owning a restaurant. People move up from doing nails to owning a nail shop. People move up from all kinds of such trades. Whereas here you can hardly move up in any of those trades because it takes so much schooling. I don´t think we should have doctors who don´t know what they are doing or engineers who don´t know how to build bridges. In the United States it surely doesn´t take so much education to do many of these crafts as people are getting in Germany which, I think, creates bottle necks. So, yes, education is a problem, but I also think the fluidity of the labor market is an important issue and something I am looking at.

Do you consider language competence to be inevitable?

Language competence actually is important. People, who don´t learn the language, are always outside of society, so I think focusing on language competence is a good thing; however, there are two sides to it. One side is to create an expectation and the other side is to give people the tools to meet the expectation. Germans at least speak about “fordern und fördern” (“demand and support”); as long as you keep the balance right, then I think language competence is a good thing.

Do you think a society needs a major cultural guideline, a so-called “Leitkultur”?

When people think about this, they tend to think it´s an either-or choice between very stark extremes. Either you are going to have difference all the time with no common national unity, or fragmentation, one extreme in people´s mind. The other extreme they have in their minds is “no difference”, a “Leitkultur” and that means no Turkish, no Chinese, no difference. I think the best position is somewhere in the middle for any country that is a successful immigration country. You can´t really succeed with all the differences all the time, because you do need a sense of the country. It is Germany after all, it is not the United States, it is not Canada. But you cannot have “no difference” either because then people feel left out and suppressed, angry and alienated. So the question is: what´s that middle way? And in the United States of course we made many mistakes over the centuries. We had our Sarrazins, we had slavery, we often get it wrong, but in the periods when we got it right, we had a very interesting middle way. At home, in your family, in your neighborhood and where you worshiped, you could do it your own way. You could be as different as you wanted to be: Turkish, Italian, German, Jewish, whatever. But when you came out into civic or political life or at the work place you were equal under the law. What group you came from did not play a role. When you go to work, you don´t say, I am here to work as a German American, you say I am here to work as John Smith. When you act in politics, it is a little bit different, but you don´t do it as a German American. You do it as a Democrat or a Republican. In Germany and in Europe generally the state recognizes groups and differences in a way that I think makes it harder to create a pluralistic society.

In the United States, people can express religious and cultural differences in private life, whereas public space has to remain a neutral zone. In which way, do you think, is this organized differently in Germany or Europe? Can you give examples?

The German State gives financial support to religious institutions such as the Catholic and Protestant Church. In the United States you can be Turkish American at home, but when you get to work no one says you are Turkish American. When you interact with the government, no one says you are Muslim. You interact as a citizen. And I think that difference between civic, public and political life and private life is a very useful distinction, because it allows people to have the advantages in the freedom of difference, but also to be equal under the law in civic life.

This means in consequence: no money for the Catholic Church or for any other religious group?

The unit that matters in public life is the individual, not the group, so people feel so much of a need to assert their group. They do Latinos matter in politics and there are Latino organizations that influence politics. But ultimately in the US, if you want to succeed as a Latino you can; here, I think it´s harder. I am not saying that America is better or does it all right. Germany has some things that we don´t provide such as good English classes. But, I think we have a tradition where you can be different and still be part of the family, not just tolerated as a group that we accept living there for now. German Americans were German Americans. They were not Germans, whom we happen to tolerate now. I think that is because of this strange combining of private and public. Just being a guest doesn´t work. As guests, they never are going to be comfortable. Tolerance is not enough. You have to let people become part of the family. These young people of Turkish background that I see growing up are part of the family. Maybe no one exactly admits it yet, but this next generation of politicians, and academics and professionals are part of the family. So, it´s a question of accepting that reality.

erstellt am 27.5.2012

AUDIO-Recording

Germany´s need for foreign workers comes into conflict with its fear of difference. Highly-qualified workers are our century's equivalent to colonies of coal and iron and minerals. Every country needs them to be strong. Every country also fears difference, maybe even greatly. So that´s the place I am looking. How does Germany reach out to those highly-qualified people? How is it making them welcome?

AUDIO-Recording

Just being a guest doesn´t work. As guests they never are going to be comfortable. Tolerance is not enough. You have to let people become part of the family. These young people of Turkish background that I see growing up (in Germany) are part of the family. Maybe no one exactly admits it yet, but this next generation of politicians, and academics and professionals are part of the family. So, it´s a question of accepting that reality.

AUDIOs © Andrea Pollmeier