Reading reflection for Arrival City and Figure of the Migrant
1. This was not very far into the first reading, but for me, this couple of sentences brought to mind many things, “In my journalistic travels, I developed the habit of introducing myself to new cities by riding subway and tram routes to the end of the line, or into the hidden interstices and inaccessible corners of the urban core, and examine the places that extended before me. These are always fascinating, bustling, unattractive, improvised, difficult places , full of new people and big plans.”
This quote continues on to speak to a larger point, but the first thing I thought of was simply that of exploration and the ability to “conquer” cities and urban space has a lot to do with the ability to be mobile. Though my experience living abroad was vastly different than an refugee or what we traditionally think of as an immigrant, one of the things that I always remember was my arrival in the city of Prague. I was jet lagged, exhausted, and the realization of what I had done and where I was started to hit me. I had a brief moment of panic and then decided the first thing I needed to do was go find the nearest metro station or tram line and just start riding. This, more than anything else – the ability to navigate a strange new city full of people speaking a language I didn’t yet know and trying to match the rhythm of the flow of people around me was the thing that first propelled me towards feeling a part of the city. A city is easier to both get lost in while also being part of something at the same time.
I saw this again when I made a friend here in Berlin (who arrived here as a refugee) and spent a great deal of time wandering the city together. He spent all the time he could wandering and figuring out the public transport and figuring how to move with the flow of everything around him.
The author went on to say (about urban space / cities) that this is where “transition from poverty occurs, where the next middle class is forged, where the next generations dreams, movements, and governments are created” and that urban spaces are where we should be investing our efforts. While I can point out that cities are not all sunshine and roses – certainly while there is transition from poverty, cities are also the sites of homeless camps (such as Seattle) and large homeless populations, cities ARE where this transition can also happen. In the refugee encampment that I worked near, it was placed in a more suburban area and many chose to spend their days traveling to a more urban space to spend their time. Conversely, urban spaces are easier to move around in. There are more resources available and you generally can get by significantly easier in a city without the expense of a car, for example – while cars are generally more necessary in suburban or rural spaces. Especially in cities (such as American cities) where public transport is barely existent.
In regard to migration and cities – places like “Arab Street” (Sonnenallee), “The International District”/”Chinatown” (Seattle), “Japantown” (San Francisco), “The Italian Market area” (Philadelphia), etc rise up within cities. This isn’t something generally found in rural or suburban areas.
2. I was really interested in the idea of being “stuck” and unable to transition from rural to urban throughout this article. Again, I am not an immigrant and AM of a priviliged class but there are certain points that I relate to on some level and feel universal. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. I grew up in our first home with at least a hundred acres of forest behind our yard and then when I was around 12 years old, we moved to another house with more land and we were surrounded by 10 acres of cornfield. I was one of those kids/teens that was constantly getting into some sort of trouble and I always felt that my only escape would be to move to a large city. (Which I eventually did, a few times over, and that’s where I found the opportunities I wanted.) So when they describe the frustration of the children of immigrants living in Villages in France, on some level I understand and can feel this. The point of departure, for me, is when they go on to discuss issues of networking and connection. It seems obvious and yet it didn’t occur to me that cities, with all the people surrounding you – are harder to connect and build a network of support in for those who are not native to the city. I wonder how it is for immigrants in a city like Seattle which is know for the “Seattle Freeze” (which I’m still not sure I agree with).
3. I was given pause for thought when the author discussed issues facing the Turkish community in Kreuzberg. Having discovered and been spending a lot of time thinking about and researching “Arab Street” / “Little Gaza” / “Little Damascus” (the names given to Sonnenallee) I had hopes that the Arab community would grow roots here and become part of the fabric of the city of Berlin. Aside from never really being “German” in the eyes of white Germans, the author details several other issues facing the Turkish community in Berlin that I was unaware of. It really reinforces the point that even creating your own community and your own space (“your” being a particular set of people) in addition to being within a country for several generations doesn’t guarantee your place within the culture as a whole or earn acceptance within the borders of a country. When I knew that I would be in Berlin this Summer, one of the things I was excited about was exploring Turkish markets and eating Turkish food – in my mind, Turkish culture is a part of Berlin and Germany. I’ve realized that this is very much an outsider perspective though one that continues to baffle me. I struggle often with this idea of identity and cultural backgrounds because *I* have not felt particularly tied to having an American identity. And this is something I’ve come to realize is something of a privilege (having not been questioned about my presence anywhere, and having the freedom to go pretty much anywhere, identity and “background” isn’t something I’m forced to contend with every day.)