Forschungsprojekte von Urmila Goel/ Religion

The 70th anniversary of John Matthew: On “Indian” Christians in Germany

published in: Knut A. Jacobsen and Selva J. Raj (eds., 2008), South Asian Christian Diaspora: Invisible Diaspora in Europe and North America, Farnham: Ashgate, 57-74 (as pdf).
This online version lacks the notes and bibliography.


In this article the 70th anniversary of one male migrant from Kerala is taken as a framework to provide some insights into the lifes and experiences of “Indian” Christians in Germany. The Christians from Kerala form the largest part of “Indian” Christians in Germany as in the 1960s and 70s young female nurses where recruited there by Catholic institutions. Since then a “Malayalee community” has developed in Germany and the anniversary was one of many meeting points of them.

The article uses the tools of social and cultural anthropology to draw a picture of “Indian” Christians in Germany. Theoretically it bases on theories of racism and othering. Besides the history of migration to Germany it describes different strategies of the migrants to deal with experiences of racism and othering there. In doing so not only the perspective of the migrants and their children but also that of the “white” Germans is illustrated with the help of participant observation at the anniversary. The article models from the empirical material a picture which is arbitrary, biased and at the same time typical. It is a tool to gain more insights into the lifes of “Indian” Christians in Germany.

A church service in the community centre

A summer day in the year 2006: in the community centre of a small West German town a mobile altar is set up below the medals and trophies of the local Schützenverein. Nuns in their full habit busy themselves in preparing everything for the service. The young priest talks over the details of the service with the daughter of the man, whose life will be honored with it. She knows the community centre well, her parents celebrated their silver wedding here and she her wedding party. The hall is decorated for the occasion of the 70th anniversary of her father. At long tables a hundred or so of guests will be seated in a few minutes.

The priest begins the service in German. He explains that it will be held according to the Syro-Malabar rites and describes these a bit. He is from India or more precisely from Kerala, just like the nuns, the one who celebrates and most of his guests. The priest has been in Germany for a few years. His parishers are the migrants from Kerala, who belong to the Syro-Malabar denomination. There is also a priest for the Orthodox denomination located somewhere else in Germany and several priests from India working for the (“white”) Roman Catholic Church. On Sundays and the major Syro-Malabar festivals like Easter and Onnam (the harvest festival) the priest offers Syro-Malabar services in Malayalam. These services are well attended, the migrants from Kerala come and bring their children along. Their religion and its performance forms an important part in their lives.

This service for the 70th anniversary has been prepared by the priest together with the family of the one to be honored. While it mainly follows the Syro-Malabar rites the latter have been careful to introduce German songs and prayers since among the congregation there are also “white” Germans and others unfamiliar with Malayalam. Most of those present participate actively in the service, join in the songs and the prayers. The participation of the “Indians” in both the German and the Malayalam parts is however higher, some “white” Germans do not seem so comfortable with the unfamiliar rites. The daughter and the son are joined by a “white” friend in the intercession. I am surprised at the big attendance by “Indians” and “white” Germans alike at the communion.

Attending the celebration as a participant observer

During the service I follow the others in what they are doing. For me it does not matter whether the service is in Malayalam or in German, I do not know the rites in either. I live in a secular “white” German environment and am surprised both by the religiosity of the “Malayalees”, the migrants from Kerala, and the local “white” Germans. There are otherwise hardly occasions where I meet so many practicing Christians. In my field work on migrants from India in Germany and their children I have already met and interviewed many Christians, but this is the first time I participate as an observer at one of their services.

My research interests cover the experiences of othering in Germany and their consequences, the establishment and functions of own ethnicised spaces, in particular of the “second generation”, and the history of migration from India to Germany in general. Currently I am working on the research project “The virtual second generation”, which analyses how “Indians of the second generation” use an ethnically defined internet space to negotiate their ethnic identities. Theoretically I refer to constructivist approaches of social identities and theories of racism and othering. I question essentialist notions of social identities and communities. A term like India is anything but unambiguous, it refers to an idea of something which is linked to the Republic of India but does not necessarily mean the same. “Indians” are those who are believed to come from and belong to India. “White” are those who in the racist structuring of the modern world possess the “white” privileges. Christians are those who are believed to be members of a Christian denomination.

I am part of my field of observation in so far as I am marked as an “Indian” in the German context because my father migrated from India to Germany. Although he is neither from Kerala nor a Christian from childhood on I had contact with “Indian” Christians. They lived in the neighborhood, they were active together with my father in the Indo-German-Society, I met them at seminars and made friends among them. Since 1997 I have also repeatedly done field work among and have written about them. This 70th anniversary I attend both as a friend and a researcher.

The celebration I describe has taken place, but the representation I make here is my modelling of it. It is neither representative of the “Indian” Christians in Germany nor is it a unique case. I use it to illustrate aspects of the life of people thus categorized. Writing an ethnography I use the tools of social and cultural anthropology to approach the topic of “Indian” Christians in Germany. The one whose birthday is celebrated, lets call him John Matthew, is both unique and typical for the others who have migrated from Kerala to Germany. Like the celebration I model his life without intending my model to represent his life. I anonymize him as much as possible. Those who discover the “real” John behind this modeled John should be aware of my distortions of his life, his actions and the celebration.

Taking John’s anniversary as the framework for this article, I do introduce a gender bias into the analysis. The main migration from Kerala to Germany was female. To be true to this particular migration history I would thus have to focus on the nurses, their reasons to migrate, their experiences in Germany. John is doubly untypical, as not only is he a male migrant but he is also one of the few who came on his own. Most others came to Germany as the husbands of nurses who were settled there already. It was by chance that John’s anniversary not only took place just at the time I had planed to write this article but that it also offered me such a suitable framework for it as it illustrates not only the role of religion but also the interaction with other “Malayalees” and “white” Germans. Such a framework could also have been provided by the anniversary of one of the nurses, though it would probably not have been the 70th as they are younger. If it had, for example, been the birthday of John’s wife Mercy, that probably would have been very similar, in particular the service could well have taken place as well. The difference, however, is that John has a different position in the “Malayalee community” than Mercy. He is one of the spokespersons. Like in the “white” German society there are among the “Malayalees” much more men in such positions than women. There are also female social workers, presidents of associations and journalists, but the men – in my outside perspective – dominate in these functions. The latters’ voices seem to be heard most, they also speak for the women, just like in this article. This is a shortcoming I am aware of and hope to keep it as small as possible.

The life of John Matthew and the “Malayalees” in Germany

John’s children organized much of his 70th anniversary. They asked his friends and relatives to contribute short texts on their friendship to John. Out of these and his curriculum vitae they made an album documenting his life in Germany, which they present to him at the celebration. His daughter, whom I will call in this article Asha, gives a short speech in which she sketches major events in his life and welcomes people related to these such as his and Mercy’s witnesses to marriage, his secretary, colleagues and long-standing friends. The local “white” parish priest, in whose congregation the family is active, is also present, but needs to leave soon after as he has to attend the local parish fair.

John migrated 1966 to West Germany. He is originally from Kerala, studied and worked in Mumbai and came from there to the “West”. Like other migrants from South Asia to both Germanies in this period he came on his own, was well educated, wanted to know more about the world and improve his standard of living. In contrast to the migrants from more urban and middle class backgrounds, who came from well-off families, one motivation of John’s migration was furthermore to support his family in Kerala financially. Many rural families in Kerala depend on the remittances of migrants to finance the education and marriages of younger siblings. Thus there has been a long history of inner-Indian and international migration among “Malayalees”. This migration is not predominantly male, many young women go abroad or to other parts of India to be able to support their families. When thus in the 1960s the Catholic church recruited nurses and trainee nurses in Kerala to help meet a shortage of health staff in West Germany, they found many woman and their families willing to take the opportunity. This willingness came at the beginning of my research as a surprise to me. I have experienced much of India as a patriarchal society in which the movement of women is controlled and restricted. That families in such a system agree to an international migration of their teenage daughters seemed a contradiction to me. The explanations I got in my interviews was that on the one side there had already been a long tradition of female migration and on the other the Catholic church as recruiter was seen as a guarantee for the well-being of the daughters.

So far there has been little systematic research on migrants from India to Germany. Reliable statistics about them other than the number of Indian citizens (43,566 in 2003) and an estimate by the Indian Embassy of the PIO (Person of Indian origin) card holders (ca. 17,500) do not exist. Desai and Punnamparambil were the first to publish on the topic, but they hardly meet academic standards. The majority of publications have been rather journalistic than academic or students’ thesises of varying quality such as my own early texts. On the migration of several thousands of “Malayalee” nurses to West Germany there is even less literature available and the statistics are even more unreliable. Punnamparambil offers some information, Goel gives a short overview of the migration history, and Fischer and Lakhotia discuss the life of “Indian” nuns in Germany. Adding to these there are several magazines for “Malayalees” produced in Germany such as Meine Welt, Ente Lokam, Wartha and Rasmi. All four are edited by migrants from Kerala, the first three by current or former social workers employed by Catholic institutions. The latter are also the publishers of these three magazines. Except Meine Welt all the magazines are written in Malayalam. I have been part of the editorial team of Meine Welt, analysed Wartha, have conducted interviews with several social workers, nurses, husbands and children of them as well as attended seminars and festivals as participant observer. On the observations made thus this article is founded.

When John came to West Germany in 1966 several “Malayalee” nurses, some of them nuns, lived there already. They had been recruited to work in Catholic hospitals and homes for the elderly. They were sent by their families or convents to send remittances back and return after some years. Some were directly recruited by the Church and migrated in small groups, others followed friends or relatives to West Germany. Most of them had thus contact to other “Malayalees” when they arrived, the Catholic institutions provided them with some support and ethnic as well as religious infrastructure. This was necessary as when they came most of the nurses had little knowledge of Germany and German, felt alien in the strange environment and some were faced with exploitative working conditions. The racism they faced was not so much direct and brutal as more institutional, subtle and exoticizing. So, for example, the nurses were portrayed as the ever smiling “Indian angels”, who were naturally kind and caring reproducing thus the “white” German stereotypes about “Asian” women. Most of their names were changed in their pronunciation to fit German articulation. The full force of institutional racism hit when in the late 1970s unemployment rates in West Germany had risen and there were enough “white” nurses who wanted to work in the health sector. The authorities, especially in the federal states where the Christian Democratic Party formed the government, refused to extent the work and residence permits of the “Indian” nurses. The social workers employed by Caritas or the dioceses supported the nurses in this case like they had done before when there were problems with their employers or in the families. Several memorandums against the refusal of further permits to stay were formulated, these gained some media coverage but no political success. Only the nurses resident in the more liberal states like North Rhine-Westphalia and those married to German citizens could stay. The others had to return to India or migrate further to Canada, the Middle East or elsewhere. Thus a concentration of “Malayalee” nurses in North Rhine-Westphalia developed. The disregard for the effects of the policies on the individual migrants was clearly illustrated when twenty years later there was again a shortage of nurses and some of those who were sent away in the 1970s were re-recruited, this time however under the condition that their families were not allowed to join them.

Back in the 1960s John was one of the few “Malayalee” men, who had come on their own. He had contact to other South Asian migrants and also to the nurses. One of them, Mercy, he fell in love with and married. She had come to Germany through a priest in 1968. They married in Germany thus depriving their respective families of a big celebration in Kerala. More than 25 years later their daughter Asha tried to make up for this by marrying her “white” German boyfriend according to all “Malayalee Christian traditions” in the hometown of John. For the “community” and friends in Germany they organized there, in the same community centre, a wedding party afterwards. Asha was one of the first of the “second generation” to get married and she was still breaking a taboo by not marrying a suitable boy from the same “community”. In the 1960s and 70s the taboo was even bigger and only few of the nurses married “white” Germans or other “Indians” living in West Germany. Those who took this step risked to be othered by the other “Malayalees”. Thus it seems that in the 1970s most nurses had an arranged marriage in Kerala.

By this time they were attractive spouses on the marriage market as they were settled abroad with a good income. Their husbands were accordingly mainly graduates. Through the marriage they gained the right of residence as spouses in West Germany. For the first few years they, however, were not eligible for a work permit. They were thus forced to stay at home while their wives earned the money, were more familiar than them with the country of residence and its language. Few of the men used this forced pause from employment to qualify themselves further, most looked after the household and the children who were born soon. This forced change in gender roles was experienced by many as a degradation. In extreme cases it led to alcoholism and domestic violence. A refuge from the enforced social isolation, and something also the nurses longed for, was to found a number of sports, religious and cultural associations. Both the nurses and their husbands participated in these associations, creating a space of their own, where they were the norm and could exchange experiences without much need of explanation. Here they could remember their “home” Kerala and feel at home. Thus the “Malalayalee” infrastructure in West Germany was further developed with the men in the position of most spokespersons. The nurses engaged themselves also in the “white” German congregations, went to the local services, took their families along and worked there as volunteers. Once the children were old enough Malayalam schools and dance classes were installed to preserve the “Indian culture” among them. They were taken along to the “Indian” masses and introduced to “Indian Christianity”. Many, however, experienced this as an ordeal as they understood little of the Malayalam and the rites. When the husbands were finally eligible for a work permit, they had been out of work for several years and since their Indian qualifications were not recognized in West Germany they had to enter the labor market in the less qualified sector. They in many cases joined the same hospitals as their wives, but mostly in less qualified positions. The nurses in the meantime progressed in their careers as far as the health system with its social hierarchies and inherent racist structures allowed them.

John did not experience the degradation in the economic field as much as the husbands who joined their wives. He was able to work until his retirement in positions related to his Indian qualifications. Once he tried to re-emigrate to India with his family, but after working a year in Northern India, he decided to go back to West Germany. Other families resettled in India, sometimes one spouse stayed in West Germany to earn and the other went back. Yet others migrated further to Canada or the Middle East. Back in Germany John like most of the other migrants was engaged in voluntary work for the “community”. His motto in this was (as that of many others as well as the Catholic institutions): “integration into the German society and preservation of the own culture”.

An academic intervention: information, irony and assimilation

In his effort to both improve integration into the “white” German society and preserve the “Indian culture” John is active in the “community”, acts as an advisor to other “Malayalees”, writes articles, gives presentations and networks much. In the course of this he heard about the work of the psychologist and researcher in educational science Paul Mecheril and got interested in it. John’s special wish for his 70th anniversary was that Mecheril would give a presentation there.

Paul Mecheril’s parents are like John migrants from Kerala. Being born in the 1960s he is one of the oldest members of the “second generation”, to use this form of labeling for the children of the migrants. He was thus also one of the first to enter a professional career and is by now a senior researcher at university. His research interests are in particular the analysis of concepts of “national” belongingness, the situation of the “second generation”, intercultural processes in education as well as methodological questions in the analysis of social differences. His research is highly complex and not the usual fare at a 70th anniversary. Mecheril thus articulates the impossibility of his task at the beginning of his presentation.

When I now summaries his speech, I will describe his main points, refer occasionally to his published work and illustrate his arguments with my own empirical material. Thus like the whole celebration also the presentation of Mecheril will in the following be modeled and thus reinterpreted for the purpose of this article. The fact that Mecheril was the guest speaker at this occasion was a lucky coincidence for me as on his theories much of my analytical work is based.

As Mecheril does not know John personally he approaches him through one of his texts and starts the speech with an analysis of an excerpt. In this John describes himself as “I am a Third World man” and then goes on to assert “Otherwise I am a totally developed man”. Mecheril interprets this as an account of a “black” academic, who comes to Germany, is no longer recognized as an academic and instead is reduced to being “Black” in the eye of the “white” Germans. In analyzing the text Mecheril discovers three strategies to deal with this degradation: firstly, provide information to the “white” Germans, secondly, use irony to deal with the degradation and thirdly, assimilate as much as possible.

The attempt to provide information assumes that the experiences of othering and racism are founded in a lack of knowledge on the side of the “white”German society. This strategy presumes that discrimination will diminish with reduced ignorance. John like many others has pursued it all his migrant life. Many of the associations which have been formed aim at the provision of “correct” information to the “white” German society as well. But John does not only pursue this path, in his text he also uses irony to deal with the degradation faced. He describes, for example, how his front garden is even tidier than that of his “white” neighbors and still he is considered an “underdeveloped” man. Mecheril argues that irony is a perfect tool for those who are considered migrants. It allows them to bring together inconsistencies and ambivalences in their daily lives, to deal with the paradox of their lives which is created through ascription and discrimination. In my field research, especially when analyzing the internet portal, I have also come across several instances of irony used to cope with and express experiences of othering. Mecheril adds that there are also other means to deal with the inconsistencies, in the extreme cases these can be alcoholism and aggression. As was discussed above, several “Malayalee” men have taken this path when they could not cope in a more productive way with their lives in Germany. Mecheril then focuses in his analysis on the tendency of self-assimilation, on the attempt to become more “German” than the “white” Germans. Part of this is to keep the front garden even tidier than the neighbors, another is to teach the children to be everything but “uncultivated”, to behave differently than a “foreigner” or “guest worker”, i.e. not to fulfill the stereotypes of the “white” Germans. To this strategy one could also add the tacit acceptance of the “Germanization” of “Indian” names, which many nurses have given, or the generally displayed pressure on the “second generation” to perform well in education. This process, however, conflicts as Mecheril illustrates with the aim of conserving the “Indian culture”, which is one of John’s aims as it is of other “Malayalees”. How can one self assimilate and conserve the own culture at the same time? And how are the members of the “second generation” supposed to do so?

Underlying these strategies is the prevalent believe that “Everyone is the architect of his or her own fortune” as Mecheril argues. It is the belief that one can oneself counter the experiences of racism and othering, that these are results of ignorance and not of power asymmetries. Mecheril, however, despite the festive occasion questions this believe. He argues that there are structural differences in the German society such as those due to racism which restrict the scope of the individual’s agency. He argues that accordingly self-assimilation cannot be successful. However much the “Malayalees” try to blend in, they will never be accepted as “Germans”, they will always stay the other. Mecheril thus finishes his presentation with quoting another text of John in which the latter describes “My world is the world between Germany and India”. Mecheril follows this idea and suggests that this space in between should be inhabited and developed. He argues that the unquestioned belongingness to one “national” context has been lost in the course of migration and that one has to deal with this.

The neighbours take the stage

After this unlikely presentation at a birthday gathering the program resumes back to the “normal”. Not only the “Malayalee” family and friends of John present something but also his “white” neighbors. A group of eleven enters the stage, and honor with music and rhymes their long-standing friendship with John. He was one of the first “Malayalis” not only to build a big representative house in Kerala but also to buy one in West Germany, thus documenting his decision to settle down. A step few of the other “Malayalees” managed to take so early. Until the 1990s most believed in the “myth of return”, used their savings to build houses in Kerala and lived in flats in Germany. John in contrast has been living since 1982 in his own house. The neighbors and John’s family got to know each other through their children and have celebrated many parties together. The neighbors even traveled to Kerala in order to attend the marriage of John’s daughter Asha several years back. She married her “white” German partner in a church in Kerala, organizing a joint service between a Catholic and a Protestant priest. Already at this occasion the neighbors from Germany gave a presentation in honour of the occasion. At John’s anniversary they tell the story of their friendship, as musical background they use a Gospel song and also in their story they repeatedly refer to their common religion. While they are performing I remember that they actively participated also in the service before. Christianity seems to be one of the common reference points of John’s family and the neighborhood. Even if the language, food and rites are different, the religion to some extent makes the “Malayalees” less “alien” than other migrants. This distinguishes the experiences of the “Malayalee” migrants from those of others perceived to follow a different religion. Nijhawan, for example, shows how Sikhs face marginalization and racism in Germany on the basis of their religious affiliation.

When Asha announces the presentation of the neighbors she mentions their irritation with the speech of Mecheril. They have told her, that if everything he had said was true, then this was really bad. But they are sure that in their neighborhood such problems never existed and describe it as an oasis. John later in the program will say that one should discuss about what Mecheril has said, one should not talk about it as true or false but rather as a description of reality. He adds that the neighborhood is very special, that for 24 years they have had a great life together. This denial of the existence of racism and othering by the “white” neighbors as well as the attempts to appease their irritation by the migrants is typical for the German context. Racism as a structuring element of the society is generally denied. There is a general believe that the German society is homogenously “white” and that “migrants” are “foreigners” or “strangers”, who are different. Those who are constructed as the other are demanded to “integrate” and to adapt to the imagined German norms. The “white” Germans on the other hand are not considered to have a part in the construction of the “strangers”. In the cases where the “strange” is connoted with “positive” ascriptions such as the caring nurses, the exotic India or the nice neighbors the inherent racist structures of constructing the other and the declaration of the “white” Germans as norm are even less recognizable for the majority of the “white” German society.

While it was apparent to me that there exists a long-standing friendship between the neighbours and John’s family, not only their denial of racism irritated me. When they spoke of him they never used his given name John but rather spoke of Jon, a “Germanized” version of John, which links better to their local dialect. It did not seem to disturb them that everybody else at the anniversary called him John, for them he is Jon, like his daughter always had been Asa rather than Asha. She told me that her parents had never objected to this “wrong” pronunciation of their names. This might be understood as an attempt at self-assimilation, of blending in, of accepting the rules of the “host” society. On the side of the “white” Germans this renaming, which also many nurses experienced in the hospitals, can be understood as a disregard for the migrants and their children. Even the names have to be adapted to “white” German norms, the “white” Germans cannot be expected to learn the “Indian” pronunciation of the names. While John never complained, Asha at some stage started to assert her name in the “Indian” pronunciation. She told her neighbors and friends that her name is actually Asha and not Asa. Some have accepted that, others were not able to change the pronunciation they got used to, not all understood her motivation.

The performance of the “second generation”

As Mecheril has argued the attempt to self-assimilate in order to be accepted as German and to preserve the “Indian culture” in order to stay “Indian” necessarily leads to conflicts. The migrants struggle with this dual task and its impossibility. They experience daily that they are not accepted as equals by the “white” German society, at the same time they fear to loose their “Indian culture and values”. Being not able to succeed themselves, they set their hopes in their children. The “second generation” is given the task to both achieve a high social and economic status in the German society and to remain “Indian” at the same time. In all the associations and magazines, at all events a special attention is put on the “second generation”. In magazines like Wartha there are always several success stories about members of the “second generation”. In these the achievement of something (no matter what) outstanding takes the centre. Thus not only the successes in “Indian” dancing and singing are honored, but also achievements in academics, politics, German entertainment and even being chosen as a model for a charity poster depicting a starving child. The two members of the German parliament Sebastian Edathy and Josef Winkler, who both have a parent from Kerala, are claimed as part of the “community”, even if they never really participated in it and their parents lived isolated from other “Malayalees”. In the case of the anniversary this status of the “second generation” to be proud of seems to be transferred to Paul Mecheril. In the breaks several “Malayalees” approach him and ask him whether he remembers them, claiming him to be one of them.

As usual at gatherings of “Indians” in Germany the “second” and in this case also the “third generation” are given the stage. There are two professional dancers of the “second generation’ who perform adaptations of Bollywood choreographies. A ten-year old girl sings very professionally in Hindi and the five-year old son of Asha sings a German birthday song. It is Asha’s function to announce these contributions and she takes on the role of the entertainer small talking with the performers. She tells the dancer: “I knew you already when you were so small” and adds that this is exactly the same thing she was always told. Then she goes on to ask whether the dancers are dancing voluntarily or whether there was parental pressure to take up dance lessons. Asha thus refers to the fact that a high proportion of the “second generation” had to study dance or some other “Indian” form of arts, and the question remains open whether the children really wanted to perform or were forced to do so. The dancer answers vaguely that she “dances more or less voluntarily”. Similarly, Asha asks the young singer, whether she knows Malayalam, whether she can read and write. Also this is one of the symbols of preserving “Indianness” among the “Malayalees”. Other symbols would be to go to “Indian” mass and to marry an “Indian” spouse. Asha in guiding through the program takes the wishes and worries of the migrants seriously and at the same time shows the ambivalences of them, making her contributions slightly more ironic.

In fact the “second generation’ at this celebration (as at most other events) does not only perform according to their parents’ wishes, contributing to the imagination of being able to “integrate” successfully and conserve “Indianness” at the same time. The members of the “second generation” also perform on their own terms, according to their own needs and interests. Asha and her brother have prepared much of the celebration, they guide through the programme and shape it. They have organized the program, their voices are heard most of the time. It is not only at this occasion the “second generation” is doing this. Since several years they no longer just accompany their parents to events, they organize them themselves and create their own spaces such as parties, seminars, youth groups and internet portals. Here they develop what Mecheril has called the space in between. The way they do it, the strategies they follow in it are as diverse as they are. Many of them see like their parents the need to provide the “correct” information to the “white” Germans, other pursue paths of self-assimilation, yet others emphasize difference, many want to preserve “Indianness”, irony is often used. But even if the strategies are similar to those of the parents the contents are different, shaped to fit the needs of the “second generation”.

The paths they pursue are influenced through the framework provided by the “white” German society and their “Indian” parents. They have to react to experiences of racism and othering, have to deal with the given structures. At the same time they have to deal with the “values” and norms taught by their parents. Among these for most the Christian religion plays a major role. For them out of their German perspective India and Kerala are synonymous. They use the terms interchangeably. “Kerala” furthermore is for them defined through Christianity, many have no idea that also in this Indian state the people follow many different religions. There seems to be hardly any interaction in Germany with the few Hindu and Muslim “Malayalees”. Most members of the “second generation” regularly go to “Indian” masses in Germany. Many are active in either the “Indian” or the “white” German parishes as altar servers and volunteers (see special issue of Meine Welt 2/2005). Being Christians links them on the one side to the ideal type German, on the other it distinguishes them as their rites and teachings differ from those of “white” German Christians.

Celebrating together

During the programme John repeatedly wants to speak, but Asha always asks him to wait till later. His speech is then the last part of the program, the climax. He very emotionally thanks all the contributors, his family and the guests, and then takes them along on a journey back to his arrival in West Germany in 1966. He sings a love song for his wife and asks his son to recite his favorite poem. At the end of his speech he then does something he has done hundreds of times before, he starts singing a Malayalam song and asks the others to join in. For those unfamiliar with the song the text has been distributed with a German translation. Most of the “Malayalees” and also several other guests join in the refrain, the song gets ever faster, the singers are in high spirits and clap along.

John and his friends have often sat together and have sung this song. They share several decades of friendship. The “Malayalees” in Germany have gone to church together, played sports together, played theatre, met at seminars like the annual Kerala Mela and have celebrated together in private. They have developed their own ethnic and religious infrastructure in order to have their own spaces, where they are the norm, where they do not feel alien. Their sense of “community” is great, even if most live predominantly in a “white” German environment. The gathering at the anniversary could be even bigger, if not at this same evening there was also one wedding and one silver wedding where many guests are invited to as well. So some have not come at all, others leave earlier or come later. Some guests have travelled from far away, others have busied themselves in the days before to help John’s wife Mercy to prepare the buffet. The “Indian” food has to be home cooked and plenty. The migrants and the “White” guests relish in it. Several of the “second generation” prefer the “non-Indian” food which is also available. After the program has ended, the close friends stay on to talk, sing and laugh together. It is their space they have created here.

Impressions from the 70th anniversary

The 70th anniversary of John Matthew is a singular event. By the coincidence of it taking place just at the moment I needed to write this article, I have taken it as a framework. I could also have taken this for another celebration, the meeting of some association or the interview with a nurse. All these would have been as singular as the anniversary and at the same time they would have been as typical. Instead of taking a member of the Syro-Malabar denomination, I might have taken one of the Orthodox or of yet another of the numerous “Indian” Christian denominations present in Germany. Although the “Malayalees” form among the “Indian” migrants in Germany the biggest homogenous group in terms of origin, language and religion, they are anything but homogenous. While their origin in Kerala, the language Malayalam, the Christian religion and the occupation as nurses unites them, otherwise they are very diverse, with many splits and opposing factions. Taking another event as a framework would have provided for the analysis potentially a different gathering, different rites and to some extent different people. Most certainly there would not have been a presentation by Mecheril, but very well there could have been participation by one of the members of the German Parliament. If I had taken a different approach and focused on the interview with a nurse, I could have focused more on the individual experiences of a female migrant. But in all approaches I would have come across experiences of othering and racism in Germany, even if most of the time they would have been narrated primarily implicitly. In so far John’s anniversary in its singularity is typical.

To bring this article to a close I want to refer back to Mecheril’s analysis. As strategies to cope with the othering experienced in the course of migration he identified firstly, the attempt to provide information about the migrants to the “white” Germans in order to cure misconceptions, secondly, to use irony in dealing with the prevalent ambivalences and thirdly, to attempt to become more German than the “white” Germans. He furthermore argued that the first and the third strategy, which are founded on the belief that the individual can counter the processes of othering, are bound to fail. The German society like most others is structured on the basis of social differences constructed by ideologies such as racism and heteronormativity. These cannot be changed individually. The “black” migrants will always stay the “other” no matter how much they inform about their ascribed “culture” and “background”, no matter how much they attempt to blend in. The female nurses will be confronted with gender stereotypes interlinked with racist believes. Thus, even though they were the primary migrants, who succeeded in the German society, they will be considered rather as victims of the system and their husbands than as agents in their own right. The members of the “second generation” will have to deal with the double othering experienced through the “German” society and their parents . They will have to deal with the norms of the heteronormative society, reacting to expectations by the “white” Germans and their parents about their sexual relationships . To name just a few consequences of the structuring of societies on the basis of social differences.

One refuge from these experiences is the one suggested by Mecheril, i.e. to inhabit and shape a space in between, a space which does not require unambiguous “national” belongingness, which takes account of ambivalences and inconsistencies. Even if this might not have been done consciously, one can identify several own spaces which have been created by the migrants and their children. In these spaces they can escape from othering for some time, here they are the norm, here they can exchange experiences with others having similar experiences to them. These own spaces can be temporary events like this anniversary or parties or permanent ones such as associations or internet portals. The strategies negotiated in these spaces will be as diverse as the people are. Christianity is one important part in the self-definition. The experiences of othering and racism are the results of their categorizations as “blacks” in Germany

© Ashgate/Urmila Goel, 2008