Mies van der Rohe

Nice to honor Ludwig Mies van der Rohe‘s birthday today with a Google doodle. Remembering Mies van der Rohe also fits with reminding forced emigration by German, especially artists, avantgardists, musicians, and of course the Jews who managed to do so, before World War II, an issue that I have been reflecting about lately through my course on Create Nonfiction focussing on immigration.

Interestingly though, Google highlighted the National Gallery in Berlin, his last building opened in 1968 and probably not his most practical when it comes to its function as a modern art museum: All exhibitions are in fact below the ground, bunker-like. Probably a case of function follows form. Here, the word Google had to fit into the building! His Chicago skyscrapers, the Barcelona pavillon, are all works that have been much more influential, interior and landscape shaping.

I like the building though. Transparent, simple. Remember, it was built next to the Berlin wall, effectively shutting off a society.


Borders: Abandoned

Borders. Who crosses them? How do you pass them? How long does it take? How much does it cost? Do you have to walk, drive, swim, fly? Can you cross a border? Where is the line, exactly? What is in between? What was the last line I crossed? How long did I stay in between: One foot on one side, the other on the new terrain.

Borders are fascinating. I remember myself standing on one side of a border, I don’t recall if I was looking over the strait of Gibraltar, or just observing the next meter through the poles marking the border, to Spain, actually Britain, or the United States of America, simply being amazed by the pure physical fact of looking into another country, another world, another life. At some point, someone came and said: Here is the line. And here I am, staring across the Rhine, to France.

You can develop a relationship with a border (like in Luis Humberto Chrosthwaite wonderful short story, in Instrucciones para cruzar la frontera). Border: female or male? In German, she is female. Die Grenze. I like that. She invites you, she becomes distant, you adore her, you hate her, you get to know all her wrinkles, you grow old.

What happens, if she suddenly leaves you? From one day to another. What happens to the lines on the maps?

Doesn’t the border continue to live in your head?

I love these images by Josef Schulz. He photographs abandoned border stations in Europe. Poetic, lonely, and fragile.

Thanks to Ronny at Kraftfuttermischwerk for discovering them!

Creative Nonfiction: Immigration

I am very excited to join the course Issues in International Creative Nonfiction: Immigration at the University of Iowa starting this Monday! It’s an international distance-learning course, part of their International Writing Program.

Some of the books we are going to read are Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, What is the What by Dave Eggers, Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. More on the program here. I am looking forward to working with Stephanie Elizondo Griest and my good friend Mariana Martinez!

Here are a couple of thoughts to start off with:

I am a migrant. Yet, with my G4 diplomatic visa, an eight-cubic-meter box containing my life thus far, my arrival to a new country, this time the US, previously to Mexico, to Morocco, (how do you call migrating back to your own country after many years?), looked quite different from the millions of immigrants arriving, far too often, just barely with their lives.

From the individual to the general, some numbers: an estimated 214 million international migrants worldwide. Migrants: the 5th most populous state. Migrants and remittances: an economy of US$ 440 billion, bigger than Belgium, Sweden, Portugal.

Immigration depends on the point of view. From your point of view, I am an immigrant. From mine, I emigrated. This tells me something very important about migration. It is about understanding: you, myself, your culture, my culture, and the culture we form together. Border cultures in Tijuana, Tangiers (the Interzone!). The melting and separating of nationalities in cities with a stream of international workers, New York, Washington, Berlin (Berlin could classify for border culture as well, some would even argue still).

In Germany, immigrants were considered guests, the so-called guest workers, in the expectation that they would return once they’ve done the job. Suddenly, policy makers were surprised when they didn’t. Turks, Italians, Greeks, they all build a new home in the country they came to work in. Maybe they thought of going back, some do, but what about their kids, their kid’s kids? Considering immigrants as guests excluded them. It also started to challenge the concept of nationalities: one passport, two passports, three passports? (Great column by the Economist)

I only have one passport (a very good one when it comes to visas, not like a Colombian, or a Pakistani). But what is my identity? German (I might even precise south-western German) grown, shaped in Tijuana, Mexico, then Berlin, Morocco, Washington (which, I must say, is not = US, especially in a workplace that is predominantly Latin). Why do I enjoy Japanese and Korean movies? Why do I read more Latin American than German literature? Why do I listen to German electronic music?

How does this all fit together?

And finally, in which language do I write? I don’t know. Each language sounds different. I start in one, and end in another. The same poem sounds different in German than in English than in Spanish. Words migrate, have to migrate.

Hopefully, I’ll be posting some of what I’ll be writing on this blog.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on immigration, on the texts to come, on whatever related. Definitely look out for some posts and thoughts, images, on immigration, borders and related issues.