Today, I feel German: A reminder of sorts, for all the days I don’t
Text: Henry Lyonga Njimapie
K nees bend, eyelids and bodies fold, flower petals cave in curious anticipation of the unknown. Every day, we fold and bend and cave towards what we know in fear of what we don’t. Why?
Before I proceed, you should know that I am black and only a first-generation immigrant. Therefore, it is not completely lost on me that my feelings on this subject of identity will be met with resistance, disagreeing opinions and questions, all of which may emerge because “Today, I feel German” will be considered by many an atypical declaration. These are not feelings I am allowed to claim ownership of, because possessing such can easily be mistaken for the denouncement of one’s very own traditions and heritage.
I am a first-generation immigrant from Cameroon who moved to Germany some 12 years ago. Learned the language, went to high-school then university, is considered integrated, assimilated, but I cannot publish a poetry book without state permission. On one-hand, I am expected to adopt, to become, to move away fully from who I was to be acknowledged and awarded social capital in the face of the nation but still, to many, I must justify my voice, my rights, my place in the nation because I am different by design.
But in the name of the love and family we share, I would like to say this out loud: Today, I feel German! Do not be alarmed, my words are not of menacing character, they were not uttered in denial of my true self and heritage, nor were they said to cause you to question your God-given nationalist identity. They were uttered to serve a specific purpose. The purpose of liberation.
Freedom, to those whose very existence ignites heated national and international conversations on their legitimacy to share in the bounty of a Nation’s stake, with every wave of immigrant influx. It was said myself and to my friends who share in the same experiences of being black and a minority in a sea of vastly homogenised people. It was said to remind myself that I am home no more, and that home is not one place but the community you build and keep and cultivate over time. Today, I feel German, also means that I am aware of all the times I walk through the streets of Berlin feeling like an imposter because I have been told I do not belong.
I am writing this because today, I refuse to answer the questions ‘where are you from?’ and ‘why are you here?’, questions I get asked almost every other day. I live in an adjective-filled world, one where black is placed before everything I am and suddenly what everyone wants to talk about is the adjective, the black, the immigrant, the male and not about the person that lives within. These questions have led to the birth of even more questions that cause me to question my own identity, like: who am I, here, now in this place; how much freedom of self and place do I hold claim of; is an assimilated man still a true black man; or am I too far removed from who I used to be? I have no answers to these questions, but I know what I feel inside.
Today I am German, I am like you, not a minority, not black, not an immigrant, just a person who feels and thinks and does and here is why.
Waking up every day to that truth that, I am part of the www.spacebase.com work family where women run the world, lead operations, manage marketing teams, oversee projects better than some men. Where everyone is as different as clouds that give way to sunlight and yet so similar in ways beyond comprehension as we all work towards the same goal, which is to present our clients with unique off-site locations to help improve their creativity and services as we grow with them and reach new heights.
When I squeeze my way through Berlin’s transit every other morning at 7am to get to the Humboldt campus in time for class, I feel one with the nation because I have been given the chance to study at one of Germany’s most sought-after elite institutions, walking in the path, following in the footsteps of W.E.B Dubois, Angela Davis and many more who have walked through these very Humboldtian hallways. Therefore, like them, I too belong.
I feel German, when my niece who is only five-years-old, tells me she will grow to become a police officer. I feel a sense of pride and hope in that, she may well be of the generation that finally gets it right. One that finally learns that we are all humans: therefore, we ought to only be judged not by what we look like but what we bring to the table for the betterment of the community. A community not born of citizenship alone, but one that is born by personal, individual feelings of belonging.
When I meet my friends for an evening beer to discuss future endeavors and hopes and dreams, dreams only made possible by hard work, dedication and the vastness of opportunities presented by this great nation Germany, I realise how fortunate I am to have been given such a unique opportunity to thrive and flourish.
The point is, I feel German because I love Germany. The conversation starts there. It begins with me allowing myself the chance to see beyond what I am, with the awareness of this new space I now accommodate and with you accepting me for who I am. The conversation begins with a space for peace. The kind of peace that ‘is the dance of an open mind when it engages another equally open one’. The peace that lets us cherish in the truth that ‘we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond’. What a world this will be when human possibilities are freed, when we discover each other, when the stranger is no longer the potential criminal and the certain inferior. Today, I feel German just means you are welcome to invite me to break ‘wurst’ and toss ‘bierkrugs’ with you to celebrate our shared similarities and differences as we relish in each other’s company while championing one another to singular and collective greatness.
Henry Lyonga Njimapie is a poet and MA student of American Studies at the Humboldt University Berlin.
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