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Thoughts on integration – 3/3 Germany

a wide angle landscape with a light blue treehouse on the left, a small pond, a street in front, power supply lines and a double rainbow

Thoughts on integration: 1/3 China, 2/3 Spain

I am back. But I am not simply back. I am part of a family. The type of almost cliché family I never thought possible or relevant for myself. My partner, his two kids, my dog and myself live in a small house in the city with a big garden. In a movie, this could be the end of the story, but luckily it’s the beginning. It’s a grounding, a connection and another form of growth, responsibility and possibility – a home base, a place where I get supported and encouraged and vice versa; that shapes my second attempt to integrate into Germany.

I am back. But the I that left 15 years ago isn’t the I that returned. The person who left desperately searched for validation as there was none to find inside. While this person painted a shiny persona on the outside, inside, they searched and struggled, suffered, abused and got abused. The person partied, doubted, loved and lost the constant war against themselves repeatedly. Over time layer by layer of self-doubt and pain got peeled off. I learned about dignity, forgiveness and grace. I grew into myself and shrunk the layers of personas meant to please a world that I didn’t see as one that’d find me worthy of love and acceptance, let alone support; I found myself, my everchanging form. I might never stop changing, but the person who returned felt more at peace with themselves. For the most time, I peacefully rest in the inevitable change.

I am back. But the country I came back to isn’t the country I left. At first glance, it changed in 15 years, which is true, but what changed to a much more significant degree is my connection with that country and the world at large. Not only do I see it with different eyes, but those eyes are also much more open, seeing things I never saw before. I understand more and keep learning about history, politics, people, possibilities and shortfalls. I see more connections, broader connections, into the past, the future and around the globe; I see trauma, judgements, genders, queerness, races, classes, nationalities, and religions and how they all play a part in society. Part of being at peace with myself was that it opened up resources to let the war on the outside in, to see the racism, face the sexism, the climate crisis and all the other terrible things big and small which are going on. And with that, I am on a journey to find my place, role, and purpose.

“God is change.
Shape god.”

Earthseed – Octavia Butler
At the museum "Hamburger Kunsthalle", dancing with puppets. 
Life sized costumes as a group with me in the foreground striking a pose with my grey scarf wrapped around my head.

That I back also means I am not new. I don’t start at zero or less than that. As a white person, I came back to a rich country from which my passport, my engineer’s degree and my family are. For the nuanced challenges around friendship, community, and belonging, I have agency to a considerable degree. On a big scale, I, too, face an overarching crisis affecting everybody.
The pain and suffering I experienced along the way are real, and I do not want to diminish or inflate them but use them as an entry point to connect to find empathy and compassion. Because what is it all good for if not to know and therefore see suffering and to do what one can to alleviate the suffering of others, to understand that every little gesture counts?
That could be the purpose of our human life: to understand suffering and that we all suffer in many different ways. We are in this together, and we can choose whether to ignore and add to the suffering or to reach out, connect and alleviate the individual suffering through the community as much as possible.

While integration into China and Spain had challenges regarding Germany and my experience, it’s in the nuances, and I realize there’s a lot I can do. And that is what, to me, successful integration is about. To know one’s worth in society and the freedom and agency to act without fear.

Blurry view of a crowd of people.
The march on women's day in Hmaburg

And this is where I see a vast difference between myself and people who came here generations ago or just recently. They are denied my understanding of successful integration – often with the accusation of not being integrated well enough. And then I think of the pain, loss, trauma and difficulties people faced to come here as if this would not already have been a more evident commitment to this country than anything I have ever done. Why make it impossible to integrate by expecting the skin colour to change, by asking them to deny customs, language, traditions and culture (which aren’t in conflict with the German constitution) when they’ve already left their families, homes, roots behind and all they have are often painful memories. Why leave people in fear and limbo for years, adding to the complex and draining situation they are already in, and then acting surprised that they didn’t develop an exuberant love and gratitude for the country that keeps rejecting them and keeps them in poverty even after generations?
With the evident constitution, which Germans must be reminded of painfully often, there are rights and duties. Some people struggle to understand that those are connected. I see people demanding their (wrongly perceived) rights (Covid highlighted some ugly examples) but ignoring their duties towards society. When it comes to people not instantly read as German, some expect them to fulfil all the responsibilities without getting the rights a citizen has.

Let’s go back to how I defined successful integration for myself:
Realize one’s worth in society and the freedom and agency to act, shaping this society without fear.

There are so many factors in this definition that people are denied. They are kept in fear, and they are shown that they aren’t seen as worthy but as a burden and based on that, there’s no agency and freedom to shape their own lives, let alone shape society.
My point is that despite seeing arguments that integration failed, it often didn’t fail because the people who came here didn’t want to integrate but because they were denied integration in a thousand ways by the ones demanding it. And those shown around as examples of successful integration made it despite the additional obstacles.

What are your experiences and reflections on integration? Share them directly with me!