Final Journal Entry: What additional learning have you gained through the process of finishing your research project? What aspects of our program are still on your mind two weeks later?
A lot of the completion of my research project involved doing research regarding policies in Berlin (and in Germany overall) that are intended to help migrants integrate. This process meant that I read through the full text of many policies, press reports, and government documents regarding these policies and their effects on populations. I have done some work similar to this here and there for a few projects in high school and earlier in my college career, but I was very unfamiliar with the legalese and formatting of documents like the EU Directives I have been reading through in the past two weeks. I learned a lot about the history of citizenship policy, integration initiatives and procedures of asylum throughout the EU, but particularly in Germany.
These past few weeks of research have really allowed me to start connecting the dots between policy changes and the impact on individuals, which is exactly what I had wanted to do in the first place! I’m not sure if I discussed this in any previous journals, but I think my interest in creating those direct connections between policy and people was inspired by an article I read in a geography class which creatively traced the journey of a papaya as a commodity. (Here is the link to the article, I really enjoyed it: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2004.00441.x/epdf ) For my final write and presentation of my research I did not choose to explicitly connect individual migrants that I met to specific policies and instances of community action like I had planned to originally, because then I think I would have either had a too narrow lens, or I would have written a twenty-page paper (like Ian Cook did in his papaya paper). But, at least in my mind and in this journal, I’ve been able to connect preliminary readings from spring quarter and policies that I have recently been reading to a conversation I had with Ali, an asylum-seeker from Iran who does administrative work at the garden. Ali and Sophia and I talked for a long time about asylum procedures in the EU compared to seeking asylum in the US, as well as the history of German and US politics, and I’m now seeing where all of his arguments were coming from. The research I’ve been doing since the last week of the four week program in Berlin have helped fill the gaps I noticed in my conversations with folks at the Coop Campus and around the city, and I really appreciate being able to see all the information come together to create this web of cause and effect and feedback in regards to our program and my project. But I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface, and I would love to continue doing something with this research in the future, even if it connects more to the economic side of things (since that is my major).
Since I’ve been back home in the States, I’ve really been struggling to describe my time in Berlin to my friends and family, and I’m getting the sense that a lot of my friend and family don’t know exactly what to say in response to what I tell them. Just a few days after I got back to my family’s home, we took a trip to visit my extended family. I talked about attending lectures at these Humboldt, sightseeing all over Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden, and excitedly rambled about working at the Coop Campus with refugees from all over the place. My relatives could easily understand why I would go study at a German university or do tourist-y things, but many of them didn’t seem to understand what I was doing working at the Coop Campus, or had very little understanding of the refugee crisis overall, and how it is not an isolated issue. Just a day after I had talked all about my experiences in Berlin, I was watching the news with my uncle when a report about people who had died while attempting to illegally cross into the US from Mexico came on. My uncle made a pretty insensitive comment about the people trying to cross the border, and another relative asked (rhetorically) what it must be like for them to try to travel in the conditions they did, but the conversation immediately shifted to something trivial as the television was switched off.
It was really hard for me to remain calm during conversations like this, because some of my family couldn’t connect my work helping people who were fleeing the terrible conditions of their home country to this news report of people who were also fleeing the terrible conditions of their home country. It felt as if as soon as I stopped talking, after my allotted two hours of time to talk about the refugee crisis in Europe had expired, the problem was erased from their minds. I understand that, for many people, it is emotionally exhausting to always be thinking about large-scale issues that individual people can do very little to help with, but I absolutely do not see that as an excuse to not continue a dialogue about them, especially when there are people who are so willing to discuss them. Of course, the handful of people I’ve talked to who insensitively dismissed the issue, or ignorantly missed the connections between illegal immigrants in Europe and the US, are not 100% of the people that I have talked to, but I was still a little saddened by the attitudes of a few people I spoke to when I came home.
I’ve been thinking about something Sharon Otoo told our group when she came and spoke to us at Humboldt. I liked it so much that I wrote it down in my journal (which actually ended up being more for notes and drawings than deep reflection, but there’s some moments of reflection here and there). Sharon said that “racism is a mountain…and I’m chipping away at it with a toothbrush…but if everyone works with their toothbrush in the same direction, we can eventually make a dent”. Those words stuck with me through these past two weeks talking about my time in Berlin, driving through insanely affluent white neighborhoods in Texas, going to a wedding in rural Washington, and wandering around Portland, Oregon again. I think a lot of big problems can be tackled in the way Sharon Otoo envisions our fight against racism, so I can’t let a few people who don’t or won’t understand what it is I was doing volunteering in Berlin stop me from doing it.
I feel like I have to keep talking about it, to everyone I meet, so that people will start picking up their toothbrushes to make dents in the racism, classism, discrimination against Muslims, and fear of change that is embedded in this issue of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants. I hope that our group’s time in Berlin and our publication will, if nothing else, start to make a little dent in these mountains.