By Jade Frost
After our class’ harrowing experience with the tour guide on Friday, I was particularly yearning for this session, because we had the pleasure of meeting Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz. When we all had shuffled into the room and sat down at the table, Ergün-Hamaz set the tone by saying, “I didn’t prepare a PowerPoint presentation with pictures, because I want you to listen to my story and my narrative. I read about the tour that you guys had, so I want you to pay attention to my story.” After hearing this, I was quite elated that our class was finally going to hear a narrative of Turkish people in Berlin that was not going to be misrepresented.
Ergün-Hamaz was born in the late 1970s in Berlin. Both of his parents came as guest workers from Turkey in 1965. He and his family actually lived in our cozy town of Wedding for a short while before they moved to a more predominately White area in Charlottenburg due to his father’s job with the civil service. This was an exception since there was a German law that mandated Turkish people to live in certain areas like Kreuzberg, Neükolln, and Wedding rather than areas that are predominately White. Ergün-Hamaz went on to discuss how he and his brother’s education was very different in their new neighborhood. The White teachers in Wedding often assumed that Turkish children were dumb and taught them the bare minimum. In their new neighborhood, however, the students received a more advanced education.
Their peers isolated Ergün-Hamaz and his brother, because they were Turkish. So, as he grew older, Ergün-Hamaz became interested in Hip-Hop. He said, “I liked Hip Hop, because it was a culture of resistance.” He talked about listening to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and watching Beat Street. His reasoning was not that Turkish people are the same as Black Americans, but that both cultures experienced oppression and developed a commitment to resistance. In Heinz Ickstadt’s “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap,” he states, “Turkish-German rappers (in Berlin and elsewhere) have indeed appropriated especially black cultural assertions of protest and of difference to articulate their own difference from a dominant and hostile German culture” (572). Along these lines, hip-hop in Berlin was a vehicle through which Turkish Germans could begin to reclaim Germany for themselves. Ergün-Hamaz, under the name Sesperado Lyrical Guerilla, even began to write hip-hop lyrics. While he no longer writes and performs rap, he continues to use Sesperado as a stage name for various other kinds of performance.
As far as the “dangerous 36 Boys” that our misinformed tour guide told us about, here is the real story. There was a young Turkish woman who was attacked and beaten in Kreuzberg by a Nazi gang. The Turkish community in Kreuzberg was enraged by this, and started to carry knives and baseball bats to protect themselves and their neighborhood. They wanted to send a message, “Don’t fuck with us! This is our neighborhood and we protect our own, so don’t think about it!” These groups weren’t formed to create tension within the community, they were formed to protect and keep their community safe. However, racist interpretations of these communities cause them to be primarily interpreted as extremely dangerous.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, things changed. The problem was that Turkish-Germans were excluded from Germany’s reunification narrative. White Germans were telling Turkish-Germans to go back to Turkey, and would rant about the Turkish-Germans “taking” all of their jobs. In “‘We Don’t Want To Be the Jews of Tomorrow’: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11,” Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann claim, “With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a chaotic social environment and cheap labor from East Germany led to mass unemployment in the Western part of Berlin” (50). During the same time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was published, and continued to skew the narrative of Muslims. This book, along with the end of communism, led to the scapegoating of Muslims. When 9/11 happened, the Turkish-Germans and Muslim community were under suspicion again. As Yurdakul and Bodemann point out, 9/11 “cast a dark shadow on all Muslims in Germany and at the same time paradoxically perhaps, intensified anti-semitism” (51). The Germany government sent records and files of all Muslims or people with Muslim-sounding names to the FBI.
Still, Turkish Germans have consistently resisted such racist efforts to dangerously misrepresent their history and culture. Along these lines, Ergün-Hamaz discussed his membership with Phoenix, where he began to participate in anti-racism and empowerment training sessions. It’s important to point out that these trainings do not necessarily teach people how not to be racist. Rather, they focus on how we are all racialized. For this reason and many others, Ergün-Hamaz said that we should be aware of the implications of using the term “people of color,” because it is important to not blanket other races experiences as the same. Phoenix’s work reminded me of Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti’s “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” in which they write, “The knowledge that mattered to them is tied to concrete experiences articulated within the context of thinking and acting in a community with others” (89). It is the knowledge the communities develop and disseminate that matter.
Now, Ergün-Hamaz has finished his Master’s degree and has written a book, Die geheimen Tagebücher des Sesperado (The Secret Diaries of Sesperado), which he wrote for the minority audiences who may be empowered by his experiences. He is also continuing his work with Phoenix. I am truly grateful to have listened to his story and to hear a narrative of the Turkish-Germans that was told with passion and complexity. It was in this session that it really hit me why we are here. Throughout this trip, we have listened to narratives about what it is like here from those who have been marginalized and oppressed. We are here to find these often hidden spaces and listen to these often hidden and silenced narratives.
Jade Frost is a rising junior at Colorado College from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is double majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and English Literature, with the hopes of becoming a journalist or working at a publishing firm. She is involved with Black Student Union and The Cipher magazine on campus. Jade’s hobbies are reading, creative writing, binging on Netflix, going for drives, dancing spontaneously and hanging out with friends and family. She enjoys discussing topics such as Black feminism, women with disabilities, and social constructs. Her favorite TV Shows are Law and Order: SVU and Gilmore Girls, and her favorite movies are Love & Basketball and Mulan. Jade loves pretty much all types of music, but her top hits are “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah, “Video” by India.Arie, and “A Change is Gonna Come” covered by Leela James. Jade is excited for this course, so she can learn and discover new things.