You want to change the image of Germany.. the story of the first black woman in the German parliament

After a deadly racist attack, Awet Tesfaisos (Eritrea) considered leaving Germany. Instead, she ran for parliament under the slogan “Courage to Change” and won membership in the German parliament (Bundestag).

The New York Times publishedThe New York TimesThe story of an Eritrean girl who lives in Germany and whose life is turned upside down. Having planned to leave the country because a “racist extremist” had shot people who appeared to be “foreigners”, Oet Tsivaisos was shocked by the reaction she faced in her workplace to the attacks that just killed nine people.

When she watched her colleagues in the law office making coffee and chatting as if it were just another day in the office, she felt like she was living in a different world from her white colleagues.

“I felt like my back was against the wall and I couldn’t go on,” Tesphaisos told writer Ian Bateson.

Oet Tsivais decided that obtaining German citizenship would be the best way to help change the way Germans look (French)

Courage to change

Less than two years after the deadly attacks in Hanau in February 2020, Ms. Tesfaisos was elected to parliament for the Green Party, campaigning with the slogan “Courage to Change” and becoming the first black woman in Germany to win a seat in the Bundestag.

Tesfaisos, 47, was born in Eritrea and arrived in West Germany as a child in the 1980s, at a time when Germany was still divided. In the more than 3 decades since then, Germany has gone through a massive transformation: unification and the arrival of millions of new residents, with the country becoming the world’s second largest destination for immigrants after the United States.

During that period of rapid change, Germany also made it easier for foreign-born residents and their German-born children to become citizens, but obstacles remain.

Since last September’s elections, there have been negotiations to form a “center-left” governing coalition that would include the Social Democrats and the Green Party led by Tesfaisos.

remove barriers

If that coalition takes power, one of Ms. Tesfaisos’ goals will be to remove some of the barriers to naturalization, such as restrictions on dual citizenship, which prevent millions of people from voting and prevent German policies from reflecting the country’s ethnic diversity.

In addition to such policy changes, Tesfaisos said she also wants to use her national profile to show people who are like her and “don’t look German” that they have a place in state society and politics.

She also hopes that her new appearance will encourage more Germans to accept the fact that many avoid and which remain a taboo for many politicians, to say that Germany is a country of immigration.

A quarter of the population is of immigrant origin

“When a quarter of the population is of immigrant background, you really have to close your eyes to say it’s not,” she said, adding that the feeling that society was completely unprepared to accept her and her family became especially acute in the days and weeks after the Hanau attacks.

Many of those shot in Hanau were German citizens, such as her 10-year-old son, and some were viewed as foreigners because of the color of their skin.

She said that the idea of ​​eventually confronting her son if she failed to respond to the attacks came to her mind over and over again as she contemplated running for parliament, “I wanted to say that I didn’t go to work and only earn money when he asked me what I did to stop it. I wanted to be able to say I tried to improve his future.”

Baerbel Bas (C) speaks after being elected as new president of the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on October 26, 2021, during a constituent session of Germany's new parliament at the Bundestag in Berlin. - Delegates of the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) sit for the first time following the September elections, ushering in a post-Merkel era that is more female, younger and more ethnically diverse. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)Running for parliament was her way of being able to say that she tried to improve her son’s future (French)

Politics..a possible solution

Tesphaesos was one of many non-whites who considered leaving Germany after the Hanau attacks, and she and her husband, who is also a lawyer, considered moving to Belgium. But in the end, she didn’t think anything would get better by leaving. Deciding to double down on her role in politics as a potential solution, she began to transform herself from a local player into a national figure.

She first entered politics a few years ago when it became clear that the far-right AfD would enter city council in Kassel, the city where she lived and worked as a lawyer, dealing mostly with immigration issues.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow more than a million immigrants into the country led to the AfD’s rise across Germany. Mrs. Tesphaesos wanted to confront this growing force head on.

“When the AfD entered city council, I wanted to be the first black woman to sit there as well,” she said.

Tesfasios began working on Kassel City Council in 2016, where she supported anti-discrimination legislation, informed by her firsthand knowledge of how racism affects everyday life in Germany. She stated that the owners of the apartments used to reply to her that there was no apartment for rent when she mentioned her name, but they replied to her husband in the affirmative.

Even before graduating from high school, she had decided to pursue a career that would pay off some of the help she received growing up from teachers and church groups, and applied to study law with the intention of majoring in refugee issues.

After graduating from college, she passed two grueling government exams required to practice law. But her professional success hasn’t stopped her from wondering if she’s really part of German society, because people still speak to her a lot in English, and automatically assume she must be a foreigner because of the color of her skin.

Will you become a German citizen?

Twenty-five years ago, she was faced with a very important decision in her life: Will she become a German citizen? She did not think that citizenship would change the way people view her. “My surroundings don’t see me as German whether I have a German passport or not,” she said.

She eventually decided that obtaining German citizenship would be the best way to help change the way Germans look. The image of ‘Germany’ did not arise today, and perhaps not yesterday either.

Inspiration of non-white Germans

Anna Duchem, journalist and survivor of the Rwandan genocide, who is one of the few black women regularly invited to discuss racial issues around the German language, said Tesfaisos’s election to parliament could help inspire other non-white Germans to push for better representation in the field. general.

Tesfaisos hopes her new patriotic appearance will help children from immigrant families see what they can achieve in the future. But it also wants Germany to recognize the change already underway. She stressed that Germany changes with people’s change, “This is normal and cannot be stopped. I want us to choose this change with our activity and not be satisfied with it happening. Change comes one way or another.”

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