(I have a feeling I may have already written about this, but no matter.)

I’ve just been browsing through the Denmark community on Livejournal and there have been a few posts alluding to Denmark’s prejudice against Muslims and Middle-Easterns. Apparently the current government wanted to block them from coming into the country through their open-door policy, but because they’ve signed treaties that say “don’t discriminate”, they’ve had to apply the policy to everyone. So now all the first-worlders (i.e. US, Canada, Australia) are crying foul because they’re finding it hard to migrate.

As much as I empathise with their struggle, because immigration  is a right pain in the arse, I can’t help but be amused at how naive they are. “I’ve stayed in Denmark for a year! That should count, right?” “I have British permanent residency! Why wouldn’t they consider that?”

Dude, immigration anywhere is hard. You don’t necessarily get special privileges based on your past experience. Just because you went there on exchange, you think you should get a free pass at migrating? Ha! I was born in Malaysia, raised in Malaysia, educated from kindergarden to pre-tertiary in Malaysia, represented Malaysia everywhere…and I am still not a citizen. So what hope would a really short-term stay be? As for permanent residency – being a permanent resident myself, it’s pretty much like being in a perpetual in-between state. No one really knows what to do with you. There’s clear rules for foreigners, clear rules for citizens…but PR? You might as well be dealing with space aliens.

Immigration isn’t really the crux of my concerns, though – I’m not looking to migrate permanently to Denmark, and they’ve changed the system so that it’s the school that makes the first move anyway, so it’s a little less hassle visa-wise. What I am concerned about, though, is the Danes’ perception of “brown people” – anyone that looks vaguely Muslim.

It seems the main issue Denmark has with Middle-Easterns is that they don’t want to integrate with the local culture. They won’t learn the language, they won’t take a job, and they’d rather stay in their own communities. That is not the Danish Way, and so we must limit immigration.

Well, from my experience, it’s pretty hard to integrate when your culture is looked down upon and everyone thinks you’re up to no good. I remember being bullied by both teachers and students alike (more the teachers, really) in primary school just for being Bangladeshi. Hardly anyone wanted to be friends with me genuinely because I was this “other”; particularly an “other” that was getting press for “robbing our houses and stealing our women”. I could speak Malay better than many Malay people, but that just made me even more a target for ostracization – “how dare you be better than me in my mother tongue?”. (and yet, when you speak in your own tongue or some other language, they get upset because you’re “not embracing the national language”. Go figure.)

Learning languages is a hard skill as it is, anyway. I’m on my 4th week of learning Danish and so far I can tell you what goes in a house, who some of your family members are, what sounds animals make, and what I think about things (either “smuk” or “grim”), and maybe count to a thousand. But I still have to refer to my homework (hjammelbaejder!), and my accent (which is either Indian, British, American, or Weird depending on who you ask) will still be obvious. Try having to pick up enough to survive a week the first day you arrive in the country! I didn’t even get to practice my Swedish when I went to Stockholm because everyone just responded in English anyway. What if they just never found anyone to practice with? What if no one wants to communicate with them in the first place? I admire anyone that is able to pick up a strange second language, particularly one so different from their own, especially if they had to learn a whole new writing system together with that. It’s damn difficult.

So now you’re in a weird land, you’re experiencing massive culture shock, you can’t talk to anyone and no one wants to talk to you anyway because they think you look funny. Who would you turn to? The ones who’ve done it before you – the other people who moved from your country to here. They understand you best. They can help you through it. They can help you get used to the local culture, while keeping your roots. They’ve been there, done that, started T-shirt factories. Instant community. Instant knowledge. Massive support. It’s not surprising, then, that you’d spend more time with the people that understand you best – and who just happen to come from your same neighbourhood back home.

As it is, Danes (and oddly enough, Brisbanites) have this reputation of being insular – they hardly become close to anyone they haven’t known for ages. And they think the migrants aren’t integrating enough?

I’m all for integration; I love diversity and feel that multicultural societies are a great thing. However, there is a difference between integration and assimilation. Integration allows people to be themselves; they are accepted for who they are and yet still allowed to participate fully in the community. Assimilation, on the other hand, demands that participants conform to a certain expectation and that they leave their own cultural values behind, because it is “irrelevant” or “inferior”. Many of the people who complain about immigrants’ non-intergratedness are really calling for assimilation – “our culture is so much better than theirs anyway, why won’t they change? Oh, they just aren’t compatible”.

If you want people to integrate into your society, accept them as they are. Don’t make them give up their core selves just so they can fit in.

Hmm, I’m learning Danish, I’m learning how to cycle, and my values are pretty similar to the Danes. However, I still have some Asian values I hold on to. Do I have to get rid of them to be “integrated”? Or will I never be integrated into Danish society anyway because my skin is brown and my last name is Arabic?