By Ximena Buller
Today I woke up very excited that we were going to meet Ika Hügel-Marshall, one remarkable and admirable woman and the author of the autobiography Invisible Woman: Growing Up Black in Germany, which the FemGeniuses are studying for our course. Born of an African-American soldier and a white German mother in 1947, Ika had to endure physical and psychological alienation because of being “different,”specifically because she is a non-white German. Ika faced prejudices and stereotypes from her childhood into her adult years. She is currently a teacher of gender studies and psychological counseling, focusing on intercultural teams and bi-national couples, and she has a degree in social pedagogics, publishing works that raise consciousness against racism.
For about two hours at Frauenkreise, we were given the honour of asking Ika questions that we had formulated together as a class the day before about her life, her book and Afro-German communities. During the session, Casey, another FemGeniuses, would ask the questions in English which were then translated to German by activist, author, and filmmaker Dagmar Schultz for Ika to answer. Ria Cheatom, Co-founder of ADEFRA and script Co-Author for Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, 1984-1992, was also in the room. She and Dagmar also contributed to the discussion. At first, it felt unreal for me to be in front of Ika, the person I had read a life story about, which included the struggles she had to endure as well as her achievements. She had become an icon for me, a representation of strength and an example of how people can accept and come to ease with their identity even though they have been rejected and bullied by society because of it. Her bravery is very symbolic and inspirational, thus it meant a lot to me to be able to have this opportunity.
One of the responses by Ika that I will always be able to recall was about her relationship with her family in Chicago. She mentioned that she was very happy to find her father and her big family in the U.S., an event many Afro-Germans could only dream of. She mentioned how she could just be Ika in Chicago around her family without having to worry about stereotypes or being judged. She told us how she and her family would grill, dance and sing without any worries. At the beginning, she found this very impressive because those stereotypes that people spoke about in Germany, such as the idea that all Blacks like to sing and dance, her family in the U.S. was embracing without being solely defined by them. This reminds me of a passage in Invisible Woman when Ika writes, “In the eyes of my teachers, everything I do-especially the difficulties I have in school, but also my successes, achievements, and all that I’m proud of – is a function of the colour of my skin.” During our discussion, she also told us that visiting her family “strengthened her” as a Black person, “healed her,” and “allowed her to deal with racism” in a different and healthier way. She had finally came with ease with her identity, and she said that although she felt comfortable being Black, she also felt comfortable feeling German.
This response relates to another question we asked regarding how her relationship with and responses to racism changed over the years. When answering this question, Ika mentioned that she had become more calmed and relaxed about the issue of racism and that “it is more important to face things than to take distance and try to ignore them.” She is now willing to accept other perspectives and contributions to conversations about racism, and she is able to respect these views, especially if they are coming from the minds of white people, whom she used to mistrust and avoid due to her anger.
When listening to Ika, one of the things that impressed me the most about her was the confidence with which she would answer all of our questions and her soft but energetic way of expressing herself. It was a great honour to meet her in person and be able to hear from her all those experiences that made her strong and make her an inspiration for other Afro-Germans. Although this blog is just a small taste of our talk, it is a demonstration of the kind of issues we discussed and the kind of role model she is. Thus, I encourage everybody reading this blog to look her up and learn more about her amazing life. For us, this was certainly an experience that we will cherish and that has inspired us to make a difference in the world as the strong-minded Femgeniuses we are!
Ximena an international student at Colorado College. She is from Peru, and will be a sophomore this coming year. She is currently undeclared, but debating between majoring in Anthropology or Sociology. She is very excited to be in Berlin taking a course with Heidi and through CC, because it has so far allowed for a unique learning experience.