Research interests:
educational responses to linguistic diversity; linguistic identity; bilingualism; second language teaching

Bilingual identity revisited

Posted: January 8th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: multilingualism, research | No Comments »

During my candidacy exam, I was asked about my conceptualization of my bilingual identity. I wrote a very brief blog post about it then, but I would like to revisit the topic in light of a book I recently finished, Becoming multicultural: Immigration and the politics of membership in Canada and Germany by¬†Triadafilos Triadofilopoulos. This well-written, well-researched book looks at the evolution of immigration policy in the two countries in which I am a citizen: Canada and Germany. The main argument for looking at these two case studies is that both country’s policymakers have changed the respective country’s immigration policies dramatically over the course of the last 100 years due to pressures to align their policies with their collective image of the countries as liberal democracies. Reading this book has provided a strong background for the work I am currently doing in understanding how universities prepare teachers for refugee education, starting with research I did as a visiting scholar at the University of Hamburg in June 2016.

The book also confirmed many observations I had growing up. As a child of immigrants, I always had a sense of Canada’s immigration history. My dad was sponsored by distant relatives who had come decades before, so I was familiar with Canada’s recruitment of strong labourers and land sales in an effort to cultivate the land prior to WWI. My dad¬† came in 1950 and my mother came in 1961. Both represented a different wave of immigrants who were leaving war torn Europe, but who encountered strong negative feelings against Germans post-WWII. Later in my work I met newer immigrants from a variety of different countries, so over the decades I got a sense of how Canadian immigration law had changed.

My encounters with German immigration laws were more sporadic and timed with my personal trips to Germany. As a child, I met a young “Turkish” girl, who was actually born of Turkish parents in Germany at a time when her citizenship was not recognized by either country, rendering her stateless. This was my introduction to the German policy of jus sanguinis – citizenship based on descent. What I didn’t realize at the time was the my father’s German citizenship, despite having been born in Poland, was also a result of this policy. He had always explained that Catherine the Great had wanted workers for Poland and promised the Germans she recruited that they could keep their language and their religion, but I didn’t realize that they also kept their citizenship as Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans). Years later, I discovered a document among his old papers that indicated his family still had to be naturalized upon resettlement in Germany after World War II, but I have not investigated how rigorous that process was.

Unbeknownst to us, but consistent with jus sanguinis, I inherited German citizenship at birth. My parents became Canadian citizens in 1967, Canada’s 100th birthday, like many others. For them, that meant they automatically gave up their German citizenship, but as a baby, already born with Canadian citizenship, my German citizenship remained. Had I known, I could have avoided getting a visitor’s visa when I lived in Germany after high school. However, it wasn’t until one of my children was going on study abroad that someone asked me the right questions to discover my claim on German citizenship.

Interestingly, I inherited only from my father. Sometime in between my residence abroad in the 80’s and my children’s in the 2010’s, the law that allowed German citizenship to be passed on only through the paternal line was changed. Not only did my children inherit citizenship, European at that, I was offered the opportunity to purchase birth certificates for them. Imagine, they weren’t even born there, but they hold a birth certificate AND a passport from a country they have only visited.

This experience of dual citizenship, unearned and very beneficial, has provided me with empathy toward those without a home, citizenship, and a place to feel secure. I see my own research as a small part of learning what it takes to create a new home, new citizenship, and a new place to feel secure for those who seek refuge among us.