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All it takes to become a Copenhagener is time
-The Copenhagen Museum
The longest conversation I had with a real ‘Copenhagener’ was with a young man named Mehdi. He worked at a cafe owned by his aunt who, like his parents, emigrated from Morocco years ago. For about an hour he leaned over my table, marking spots on my map, indicating where I should and should not go while in town. He had loads to share about the history of each attraction, from the original city walls to Christiana, to the cemetery in which Kierkegaard is buried.
I thought of Mehdi the next day while visiting the Copenhagen Museum (which, as you might guess, is a museum dedicated to the history of the city); the opening gallery is devoted entirely to the immigrants of Copenhagen, then and now: every day Muslims, Romanians during the 20th century, and Germans from the 16th and 17th centuries. One line read, “All it takes to become a Copenhagener is time”.
But that’s not how a lot of Europeans see it. From Germans resenting their large Turkish population to the Swiss and Italians fearing the influx of refugees from North Africa, many Europeans are terrified of and hostile toward (isn’t it usually the case that one follows the other?) “non-European” immigrants. I can’t prove this statistically; it’s simply a conversation I had again and again during my three week stay in Europe.
For all the ways Europe excels the US (and there are many, from universal healthcare to labor laws to respect for the environment) they seem to be, on this particular issue, as far back as Arizona, which in recent years has legalized racial profiling.
Similarly, Denmark has passed “tough” immigration policy in the last decade- and has since come under heat. This is why, I believe, the museum has decided to consciously voice the acceptance of people like Mehdi, to counteract the knee-jerk, xenophobic reaction against immigrants found throughout the rest of Europe.
Personally, I believe it requires no backbone to blame the poorest, most marginalized section of the population for your economic woes. Europe (and America) were OK colonizing countries like Morocco, but now can’t (under)stand the chickens coming home to roost.
Today’s audio piece is an amalgam of sound collected in Copenhagen: two street performers (one accordionist, one magician), Danish television, and the voices of Arab-Copenhageners protesting at a rally against the Israel occupation of Gaza. This I have never seen in the States (thanks PATRIOT Act). The only down side, from my perspective, is that the string of protestors had two halves: men in front, women and children in back… this is too complicated for a single blog post… I’m open to feedback via comments or e-mail.