Vortrag: Neither Invisible nor Silent: Historizing and Conceptualizing Asian Germany

Dr. Kien Nghi Ha (University of Tübingen)

May 1st 2024, 4pm in 282 Dwinelle Hall, Department of German, UC Berkeley

co-sponsored by Department of German Studies, Department of Asia American and Asian Diaspora Studies, Asian American Research Center, and the Institute of European Studies.

The term “Asian Germans” goes back to the anthology “Asian Germans. Vietnamese Diaspora and Beyond” (2012), which was re-released in 2021 as an extended edition. In my lecture I will outline the history of Asian immigration to Germany and discuss the cultural-political concept of the self-designation “Asian German”. This term reflects historical experiences with anti-Asian racism, which, in addition to exoticization and social exclusion, is also linked to massive racist violence such as the pogrom in Rostock-Lichtenhagen (1992) against the Vietnamese community.

The concept of “Asian Germans” also represents a self-constructed form of cultural and political identity that recognizes the diversity and differences within the Asian diaspora and offers solidarity and cooperation on this basis. But there is also the fear that this concept is too broad and over-arching to address specific concerns of certain immigrant communities, which are mostly based on national and religious identifications. Some efforts have recently been made to establish Asian German Studies as a new research direction. Instead of reproducing the dominant White view of the German majority society this scientific approach aims to center Asian Germans and their perspectives. Against this background, I would like to finally discuss the question: What is Asian German Studies and what scientific and socio-political potentials are associated with it?

Dr. Kien Nghi Ha, cultural and political scientist, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies of the University of Tübingen and teaches Postcolonial Asian German Studies and Asian Diasporic Studies. He also works as writer and Berlin based curator on postcolonial criticism, racism, and migration in art institutions like the House of the Cultures of the World and Sinema Transtopia. His research was awarded with the major Augsburg Science Prize for Intercultural Studies among other grants and fellowships. He is the author and editor of more than ten books and numerous articles, including the ground-breaking anthology Asiatische Deutsche Extended. Vietnamesische Diaspora and Beyond (2012/2021). New editions: Asiatische Präsenzen in
der Kolonialmetropole Berlin. Localizing Decolonialization
(2024) and Anti-Asian Racism in Transatlantic Perspectives: History, Theory, Cultural Representations and Social Movements (contracted
for 2025).

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Association for Asian American Studies Annual Conference “Asian American Studies in the 2020s”, Seattle, 25-27.04.2024

Panel: What is Asian German Studies? : A Transatlantic Conversation on Social Movements and Field Formations
This panel examines the formation of Asian German subjectivities and invites a transnational dialogue with Asian Americanists on how to engage in comparative and relational analyses of Asian diasporization and racialization. Each paper takes up a pivotal moment that has shaped how specific Asian German communities come to understand their social-political position in Germany, including the Korean migrants who fought against discrimination in the 1960s, the two landmark cases of anti-Vietnamese violence that sparked a struggle for inclusive memory politics, and the global expansion of social media that has facilitated transnational communication, networking, and shared spaces for cultural representation, knowledge production, and community building.

Bringing these examples to bear, the panel seeks to expand the scope of Asian Diaspora Studies to include Europe. Keenly aware of the intellectual hazards of engaging with US-centered approaches, we are, on the one hand, inspired by the development of AAAS and the Asian American Movement that helped found this field, and, on the other, critical of the hegemonic potential for US scholars to dominate and usurp our work. With excitement and trepidation, we enter this discussion with the hope of exploring and developing a common ground on how to study geographically dispersed Asian Diasporas and their multilayered and dynamic relationships within a transnational context. Cultivating a transatlantic exchange among scholars who work in the emerging field of Asian German Studies and who are situated at different sides of the big pond or West lake, if you prefer, we offer an opportunity for critical, trans-regional, and interdisciplinary engagement.
Chair: Lok Siu (University of California at Berkeley)
Panelists: Zach Ramon Fitzpatrick (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Kien
Nghi Ha (University of Tübingen), You Jae Lee (University of Tübingen), Suin Roberts (Purdue University, Fort Wayne)
Discussant: Tessa C. Lee (Wheaton College)

The Betrayal of the Model Minority: Korean German Activism against Discrimination
You Jae Lee, University of Tübingen (you-jae.leespam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de)
When the Federal Republic of Germany recognized itself as a country of immigration in the 1990s after a long period of ignoring it, and the focus was now on the integration of migrants, Asians, especially Koreans and Vietnamese, were often held up as model minorities of integration. Yet South Koreans were at a particular disadvantage during the period of guest worker recruitment in West Germany and were exposed to structural discrimination in the world of labor and everyday life. In particular, as far as their legal residence status was concerned, they had to fight hard for it through public struggles from 1977 to 1980.

Because of these experiences of discrimination, the first generation of migrant workers placed great value on the good education of the second generation. The second generation has largely followed the wishes of their parents and managed to enter the German middle class through high school diploma and university graduation. In this respect, the history of Korean migration to Germany is exceptional and exemplary. However, the second generation, in solidarity with other Asian Germans, refuses to accept this role model. On the contrary, they criticize in the last decade that the demand for good integration is a wrong approach. It is not up to the migrants if they fail in integration. Rather, it is the German majority society that must fundamentally change. This paper describes the struggles of the first generation of Korean Germans for their political interest and the activism of the second generation as part of a broader Asian German movement.

Disremembered and Unacknowledged: Anti-Asian Racism Before and After German Reunification
Kien Nghi Ha, University of Tübingen (nghi.haspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de)
On August 22, 1980 two young Vietnamese Boat People were murdered by organized Neo-Nazis in Hamburg. Despite being the first officially documented racist murder recognized by a German court since 1945 this case was actually forgotten by the media and the civil society until 2012, when it was rediscovered by chance. Institutionalized racism is also a decisive factor to understand the pogrom in Rostock-Lichtenhagen against Roma refugees and Vietnamese contract workers, which lasted from August, 22-26, 1992. Reinforced by the social crisis within the German reunification process in the early 1990s discriminatory discourses and practices against racialized immigrants and asylum-seekers played a crucial role in the national political debate. These discourses were amplified in the mediascape and shaped the practices of local administrations and police forces.

I argue that the interaction of these institutions created an ideological and social climate in which racist violence was supported by broad sections of the German society and even enabled pogroms as the ultimate form of institutionalized racism. Its powerful effects shaped not only the events before and within the pogrom, but also its aftermaths like the largely failed police investigations and legal proceedings. Despite the immense societal and cultural-political importance of these events, the research and analysis are still emerging. The marginal status of both cases is also reflected in the delayed and contested public commemorations as well as in the marginalization of the perspectives of the victimized communities.

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