Creative Nonfiction: Immigration


I am very excited to join the course Issues in International Creative Nonfiction: Immigration at the University of Iowa starting this Monday! It’s an international distance-learning course, part of their International Writing Program.

Some of the books we are going to read are Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, What is the What by Dave Eggers, Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. More on the program here. I am looking forward to working with Stephanie Elizondo Griest and my good friend Mariana Martinez!

Here are a couple of thoughts to start off with:

I am a migrant. Yet, with my G4 diplomatic visa, an eight-cubic-meter box containing my life thus far, my arrival to a new country, this time the US, previously to Mexico, to Morocco, (how do you call migrating back to your own country after many years?), looked quite different from the millions of immigrants arriving, far too often, just barely with their lives.

From the individual to the general, some numbers: an estimated 214 million international migrants worldwide. Migrants: the 5th most populous state. Migrants and remittances: an economy of US$ 440 billion, bigger than Belgium, Sweden, Portugal.

Immigration depends on the point of view. From your point of view, I am an immigrant. From mine, I emigrated. This tells me something very important about migration. It is about understanding: you, myself, your culture, my culture, and the culture we form together. Border cultures in Tijuana, Tangiers (the Interzone!). The melting and separating of nationalities in cities with a stream of international workers, New York, Washington, Berlin (Berlin could classify for border culture as well, some would even argue still).

In Germany, immigrants were considered guests, the so-called guest workers, in the expectation that they would return once they’ve done the job. Suddenly, policy makers were surprised when they didn’t. Turks, Italians, Greeks, they all build a new home in the country they came to work in. Maybe they thought of going back, some do, but what about their kids, their kid’s kids? Considering immigrants as guests excluded them. It also started to challenge the concept of nationalities: one passport, two passports, three passports? (Great column by the Economist)

I only have one passport (a very good one when it comes to visas, not like a Colombian, or a Pakistani). But what is my identity? German (I might even precise south-western German) grown, shaped in Tijuana, Mexico, then Berlin, Morocco, Washington (which, I must say, is not = US, especially in a workplace that is predominantly Latin). Why do I enjoy Japanese and Korean movies? Why do I read more Latin American than German literature? Why do I listen to German electronic music?

How does this all fit together?

And finally, in which language do I write? I don’t know. Each language sounds different. I start in one, and end in another. The same poem sounds different in German than in English than in Spanish. Words migrate, have to migrate.

Hopefully, I’ll be posting some of what I’ll be writing on this blog.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on immigration, on the texts to come, on whatever related. Definitely look out for some posts and thoughts, images, on immigration, borders and related issues.


2 Responses to “Creative Nonfiction: Immigration”

  1. 1 t.on.air

    Interesting article. As someone who lives between different cultures I also agree that I have different relationships to all the languages I speak (Vietnamese, English, German, French). It’s difficult to explain but I guess the choice depends on the situation and there are certain things that you can’t explain in other languages. Take German for example. Zeitgeist? Wanderlust? Beautiful words. In terms of immigration in today’s world, I’d say that everything is fluid. Why separate everything when we can mix them? This is, howerver, a somewhat idealistic point od view though. Thanks for your questions though. Keep up the good work.

  2. 2 georgneu

    Thanks for your comments. Quite an interesting mix of languages you have! I like the description of fluid for migration, immigration, emigration. Unfortunately, as you say, there are still to many borders!

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