Equity & Diversity

Identity Blurred for Many Immigrants

May 10, 2005 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

See Also

Return to the main story,

The Great Divide

National identity can be tricky for immigrants in Germany, even those with German passports like the Celikkol family of Berlin.

“I personally believe that I belong here,” says Nilgün Celikkol, who left Turkey with her family at age 7 and attended Berlin’s E.O. Plauen Elementary School in the 1970s. “I don’t feel like I’m a guest-worker child; I feel like I’m an immigrant.”

That doesn’t mean Celikkol, who is married with two school-age daughters and is a university-educated teacher’s assistant, thinks of herself as German.

In her Berlin bedroom, with its poster of U.S. actresses Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Ilke Celikkol plays the violin.

“If someone asks me, I say I’m a Berliner,” she says one day in her comfortable flat, over a classic Turkish breakfast of feta cheese, olives, Turkish tea, various breads, Turkish sausage, and other fare.

She and her husband, Ibrahim, an electrical engineer also born in Turkey, believe that some Germans still have a hard time accepting Turkish immigrants, even those who speak excellent German and seem fully integrated, like this family.

Referring to their German passports, Ibrahim Celikkol says: “That doesn’t mean much to the Germans. It’s just a piece of paper.”

He tells of his building’s maintenance man, a “very average German” who for a decade lived one floor above the family.

“For 10 years, he never said hi to us,” Ibrahim Celikkol says. “He didn’t even look at us.”

Finally, the family moved to his floor and made an extra effort to get to know him. Now, they’re on friendly terms, and the maintenance man even brings the family gifts at holiday time.

“It only took him 15 years,” Ibrahim Celikkol says.

Sitting in a classroom at Hector Peterson comprehensive school, a group of 15 students share their feelings about identity. Nearly all were born in Berlin, though most of their families come from abroad, especially Turkey.

None of the students from immigrant families calls himself or herself German.

“I don’t feel like a German because since I was young, I grew up as an Arab,” says Iman Mesallam, a 16-year-old whose father hails from Jordan, her mother from Syria. “The upbringing is totally different.”

For instance, “you’re not supposed to have a boyfriend,” she says. “It’s not supposed to be that way with Muslim girls.”

For Goran Obradovic, an 18-year-old, the immigration came a generation earlier. His parents, like him, were born in Berlin, but his grandparents came from Yugoslavia.

Even two generations in Berlin aren’t enough for Obradovic.

“I feel Yugoslavian,” he says, “not German.”

Related Tags:

Coverage of cultural understanding and international issues in education is supported in part by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Uvalde Schools Aren't Defined by One Tragedy. Here Are Key Moments in Their History
The schools of Uvalde, Texas, have a rich history that goes beyond the tragedy that occurred at Robb Elementary in May.
2 min read
Students walking in the streets of Uvalde, Texas participating in the 1970 Uvalde School Walkout. Pictured bottom right in numerical order are Mary Helen Canales, Lee Lugo, and Alfred Santos.
Students walk in the streets of Uvalde, Texas during the 1970 Uvalde School Walkout.
Courtesy of Voces Oral History Center at The University of Texas at Austin
Equity & Diversity Letter to the Editor An Educator Shares Lessons on Inclusivity From Preschoolers
Discussions involving equity, discrimination, and privilege resonate with preschoolers, writes an educator in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Anti-LBGTQ Hate Online Rose Sharply After Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Law Passed
The rhetoric centered on false accusations about the "grooming" of young children, a study finds.
4 min read
Collage with an androgynous person covering their face and surrounded by screaming mouths.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Equity & Diversity Wisconsin District Bans Pride Flags From Classrooms, Pronouns in Emails
The superintendent said the decision, which is facing pushback, was reaffirming a policy that was already in place.
2 min read
Flags are displayed as the Newberg Education Association gathers with community members ahead of the Newberg School Board vote on whether to ban Black Lives Matter and Pride flags at the school, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, in Newberg, Ore.
Flags are displayed at a community gathering in Newberg, Ore.<br/>
Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP