Rethinking Europe

German Turks: The Third-Generation Surprise

Why third-generation German Turks feel a stronger bond with their parents’ or grandparents’ country of origin than do the older generations.

Credit: Antony Oliver www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Third-generation German Turks feel a stronger bond with their parents’ or grandparents’ country of origin than do the older generations.
  • It is understandably frustrating if someone’s name, their Muslim religion, their dietary restrictions or their attire are called into question time and time again. Who wouldn’t be annoyed if they were constantly asked “Where are you really from?”
  • Citizens of EU member countries who live in Germany and who have dual citizenship are mostly spared a legitimacy challenge. It seems reserved for descendants of Turkey.
  • Maybe those in Germany and the US who keep asking “where are you really from” should have their own DNA tested. The results might be surprising.
  • There needs to be a strong message by the political and civic leadership that emphasizes inclusion, pluralism and unity will continue to be important to overcome current societal fissures.

A new study by the Centre for Turkey Studies and Integration Research (Stiftung Zentrum für Türkeistudien und Integrationsforschung) at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany recently surveyed citizens of Turkish descent living in Germany.

According to the survey, approximately 89% of those questioned feel a strong or very strong connection to Turkey, while 81% feel that way about Germany.

More striking are the numbers for those who feel a very strong connection: 61% feel that way about Turkey and only 37.5% about Germany. Despite darkening political news from Turkey in recent years, this represents a significant increase in positive feelings for Turkey in the last several years.

Aside from a more heated debate about integration in Germany in the last several years, which was in no small measure also directed at Muslims and those of Turkish descent living in the country, another factor weighs in heavily.

Turkey loves you

The Turkish government has made it a foreign policy priority to reach out to people of Turkish descent who live in Germany. Among its different priorities, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs includes its role as “meeting the needs and bringing solutions to the problems” of Turkish citizens living abroad.

The underlying message? Germany treats you badly and does not really consider you a citizen of its country, but we do and we want to help you.

The third-generation surprise

What is even more striking in the study results is the fact that third-generation German Turks, who were born and raised in Germany, feel a stronger bond (or at least voice it) with their parents’ or grandparents’ country of origin than do the older generations.

To some degree, the surprising distance which third-generation German citizens of Turkish descent feel is also the result of frustrated expectations. To succeed in Germany professionally is a matter of obtaining specific qualifications. It is not just a matter of one’s family having lived there for a few generations.

Thus, the comparatively high percentage of young people of Turkish origin who either fail to finish high school and/or to complete an apprenticeship sets them up for a frustrating, low-wage work life.

However, that sense of frustration also spreads to a fair share of those who have succeeded academically.

Millennials are global citizens

That is not a surprise: Millennials and post-millennials are global citizens. They travel frequently (even if only in cyber space). They have friends and connections worldwide.

In addition, they are vocal about how they feel disrespected and mistreated in the country they have lived all their lives. It is understandably frustrating if their name, their Muslim religion, their dietary restrictions, or their attire are called into question time and time again.

Who wouldn’t be annoyed if their citizenship or their sense of belonging is constantly questioned? “Where are you really from?” is a question many are familiar with. It is hardly surprising that people who do not feel fully accepted in one place look to find at least part of their identity elsewhere.

To be sure, citizens of EU member countries who live in Germany and who have dual citizenship are mostly spared the same legitimacy challenge. It seems reserved for descendants of Turkey.

Like in the United States!

One would expect this to differ considerably from the situation in traditional immigration countries like the United States.

As it turns out, young people with a minority background, who were born and raised in the United States or acquired U.S. citizenship at some point in their lives, especially lament the fact that they have to answer the famed “where are you really from” question all too frequently.

The current wave of populism and nativist sentiments makes the situation more acute. Incidents where individuals who speak a language other than English in public or look “different” are questioned by their fellow Americans appear to have become more common.

Test your own DNA

This raises the question of whether a sense of belonging is being eroded for certain minority groups living in the United States and what impact this will have in the long term for individual families, their economic and personal well-being and the community at large.

In the end, almost everybody originates from somewhere else, which is especially true in the United States. The recent fad to discover one’s heritage through a simple DNA test shows that, when looking back quite a few generations, today’s Americans are a motley mix of ethnicities and nationalities.

Conclusions

Maybe those in Germany and the United States who keep asking “where are you really from” should have their own DNA tested. The results might be surprising and they will most likely have to adjust to the fact that they are not what they thought they were.

This simple, but effective exercise might lead skeptics to look at pluralism more favorably and embrace their own heritage in its entirety—even if it is part South American, Asian or African (instead of “just white”).

In addition, a strong message by the political and civic leadership that emphasizes inclusion, pluralism, and unity will continue to be important to overcome current societal fissures.

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About Susanne Dieper

Susanne Dieper is the Director of Programs and Grants at AICGS.

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