It is Friday morning, and I am listening to yet another debate on the radio about the immigrant generation that arrived in Denmark 30 to 40 years ago. They were primarily from the Middle East, with some arriving as guest workers and others as refugees. This debate keeps returning to their failures as parents and their inability to help their children navigate the challenges they would face in their new host country.
The perpetually negative narrative about this generation of immigrant parents is a source of irritation to me and to many other young parents. I feel that these debates are projecting the failures of the past on us. We are collectively presented as one group of people and as just one entity, namely a product of the ghettos and their attendant social problems. Even though many of us never grew up in a ghetto or experienced the social problems being debated, we are all grouped together by our ethnicity and dark features.
Many of us identify with a different story than the one the media chooses to tell over and over again. It is a story about a shift in identity, perception and sense of belonging that has occurred among the descendants of first-generation parents. I think that we need to talk about this ‘other story’ in order to achieve a balance in how we are represented in Danish society.
I do recognise that many children born to this constantly-debated generation suffered emotional and cultural neglect at the hands of their parents, who were themselves at a loss in their new host country. Denmark was clearly very different from the villages in Turkey and the refugee camps in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine that these parents arrived from. Some of them never entered the labour market or learned to speak Danish. They were placed in social housing that became densely populated with guest workers and refugees from the Middle East. This contributed to their isolation from Danish society.
The first wave of migrants were certainly abandoned by a system that was unprepared to help them adapt to their new home or assist them with their personal problems. The system failed them, and they, in turn, failed their children. Many of these parents never attended school events or parent teacher meetings. They failed to support their children with their homework or encourage them to develop a hobby.
But years later, despite their childhood scars, many of these children have become successful university graduates. They are doctors, teachers, authors, politicians and public speakers. They make up the new generation of parents who are dedicated to their children’s wellbeing, activities and development. They spend time attending school events, meetings and outings. They drive their children around during the week, organise play dates and help them with their homework, strengthening their sense of identity and belonging in Denmark. Why is no one pointing this out as well?
I crave debates about the young parents that represent me and my success story as a parent. Not that I have been perfect in any sense – like everyone else, I am just learning and growing as I go – but I wish I could see and hear programs about these modern-day parents who have made different choices and created a new path for themselves. How they successfully turned their childhood struggles into their strengths. How their personal histories gave them the determination to rise above their disturbing social inheritance.
I refuse to be kept in the shadow of the past generation’s mistakes and history. We have created our own history and our own present. We have actually moved on. But it seems that there isn’t the political will to talk about that other side of the coin. The Danish media seem to be interested only in telling a single, one-sided story about the descendants of the migrant generation, and in keeping all of us in the shadow of that past. Some politicians also have an interest in constantly focussing on negative stories of Danes with immigrant ancestry in order to sow division that they can harvest at election time.
The media’s constant focus on the shortcomings of the first parent generation fails to give us an authentic picture of Denmark in 2017. It also projects negatively upon the young generation of parents, who are stereotyped as coming from a group suffering from cultural ignorance, fanaticism and social ills.
How long are we planning to talk about this past generation and their failures? Denmark must also see and hear about the resourceful, well-integrated new generation. Yes, we are here, and we take pride in being part of Denmark and in bringing up the next new resourceful generation.
I would like to conclude with a quote by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in which she describes “the danger of a single story”. I think that the kind of danger she addresses applies to us in Denmark:
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
It is my wish in 2017 that we recognise the other, untold stories about the descendants of the troubled first parent generation, because these stories matter, and because they are worth telling. M