In his 2017 documentary ‘Im Land Meiner Kinder (In the Country of My Sons)’, artist Darío Aguirre manages to capture the fears, intimate perceptions and experiences of many migrants when they begin adapting to life in Germany.
When my partner arrived in Germany and elections were looming, posters of far-right parties appeared in our neighborhood. They were openly xenophobic. At first I thought I would tear them off one by one, I felt ashamed and unable to explain such xenophobia. But I realized that accepting its existence and admitting hostility from one sector was necessary, rather than trying to deny or hide it from my partner.
Darío, in your film you show posters of a naturalization campaign by the German government; a declaration of love to all foreigners, as you state in your movie. Dual citizenship, something that German law, based on ius sanguinis, does not allow, is discussed from time to time, especially with regards to the children of immigrants. Your status as an Ecuadorian privileges you, since you were not forced to renounce your Ecuadorian nationality. Were you afraid of having to renounce your Ecuadorian nationality to acquire the German one?
Aguirre: I think I was afraid of facing a bitter moment, having to submit to rules that would again force me to withdraw emotionally from my new home. Extending the option of dual nationality to people who have been productive members of German society for years should be taken as an act of respect for the diversity of a country. Despite the fact that I did not have to give up my Ecuadorian nationality, it still hurts me (now, as a new German) that there are friends who do not have the same rights that I had.
Your film manages to reveal the intimacy and everyday German customs so intimate - and sometimes unpleasant - that you have to be a foreigner to be aware of them. You also reveal your own adaptation process. After reaffirming yourself as a German, have you been reborn as an Ecuadorian too?
Aguirre: Reinventing has been a much stronger permanent process since I arrived in Germany, I try to be vigilant when I go to extremes. I have been reborn in the sense that now I see my home country from a different perspective, with a more critical or analytical than before; and that is good. Towards Germany, I keep that observant and curious outlook of a foreigner. I have learned to take advantage of each world.
In the relationship with your German in-laws, the fears that every father will feel for the future of his daughter married to a stranger are manifested. However, their xenophobia towards you seems to finally assume it with an honesty that moves. After showing your documentary, have you received feedback from German parents reluctant towards "mixed" marriages?
Aguirre: The truth is that I have not received any feedback about it and I think that has to do with the fact that the dialogue about strangeness focuses not only on my origin, but, more so, on my perspective of life as an artist, which, for him, was incomprehensible. This became a positive surprise for me because in this way the prejudices that we generally have against those who we define as strangers, become relative.
Your in-laws - half jokingly - seem to understand your film as a contribution to the naturalization campaign. Despite being German, not speaking the language perfectly nor being white, will always force you to explain yourself. Have you found a strategy to deal with it?
Aguirre: Depending on the day I answer differently. Sometimes when they ask me where I am from, I say “From everywhere”, and then I am more specific. I know that it is something that will continue to be repeated, and also that it will happen to my children because of their surname. But I am sure that at some point it will no longer be a topic. Now we are working to accelerate the process, and the curiosity for the things that unite us will be the center of the conversations, not the origin. In the meantime I will continue to take it with humor.
In your interview with the burgomaster of Hamburg you try to extract a few words from him about how to be German without being recognized as such by German society in everyday life. The burgomaster appears to not understand what you mean. Do you feel that the essential question about the need to build a German multi-ethnic society is no longer answered with the forcefulness of German President Christian Wulff when he affirms that “Islam is part of Germany”?
Aguirre: What Christian Wulff said on that occasion was an important step towards generating a debate about diversity in Germany. But I think that this speech must be preserved permanently, projected in all its different aspects, and should neither be linked to specific events nor should be used by politicians only. I think that as a society we must defend and spread cultural richness and diversity as a human good, imbuing those closest to us with respect for others. My only intention with the question "If I go out, am I still German or not?" is simply to show for a moment the expectations of an ordinary citizen from politics, and to show me where I am today. From my reading, the Mayor of Hamburg doubts for a second as I ask him if I was going to be seen as German. I feel it is a doubt we both shared. But the road continues and the scene becomes a evidence of a time in which we all question how to live in harmony within a society that has different ways of thinking and acting.
German President Christian Wulff in 2010 sparked a controversy over assimilation integration by declaring that "Islam is part of Germany." Today, 12 years later, the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party – which the press and established parties initially tried to ignore, has the approval of a considerable sector of the German population in rejecting those statements; and, with an ultra-nationalist and more elaborate discourse, they can torpedo reflections on a multi-ethnic society and on German nationality. Do you feel that a dialogue on German identity with German ultra-nationalism, as represented by the AfD, is important today?
Aguirre: Every attempt at dialogue is important, above all with the voters of this party who, from very early on, should be motivated to exercise the interrelation between history and our present. It is a deeper and more complex social problem that has to be solved layer by layer, and is connected to education and the relationship of these citizens to politics. So yes, dialogue is linked to educational processes.
To close, did you apply for dual citizenship for your child?
Aguirre: It was not yet necessary.