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  • Imagined Homes: Soviet German Immigrants in Two Cities
  • Natalie Ward
Hans Werner . Imagined Homes: Soviet German Immigrants in Two Cities. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2007. 297 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $29.95 sc.

This book seeks to examine the ways in which a multicultural receiving society (Winnipeg, Canada) influenced the ways in which the tension of being a newcomer to Winnipeg dissipated into a general sense of belonging (4). Werner tries to emphasize the immigrant and host society's perceptions of each other. He also attempts to better understand the German immigrants' social and cultural integration, while taking into consideration the immigrant experiences that both helped and hindered the process of immigrants coming to feel "at home" in a new city. Werner does this by comparing ethnic Germans in Winnipeg with those who immigrated to Bielefeld, Germany.

Werner divides his book into four sections: 1)"The Setting," which discusses the immigrants, receiving cities, and the perceived "value" of immigrants; 2) "Putting Down Roots," which covers the self-reliance of immigrants in Winnipeg and the settling of the welfare state in Bielefeld; 3) "Reproducing the Community," which examines family strategies, religion, and linguistic differences and struggles; and, finally, 4) "Participation," which discusses the ways in which immigrants developed their membership in the receiving society, defined here as participation in the political and social arena.

The process of immigrant integration to both cities took place during the Cold War. Immigrants to Winnipeg left Europe because of its proximity to the Soviet Union and the threat they felt that implied. Winnipeg had been receiving German immigrants since roughly 1914, something that Werner contends "left a lasting impression on the city's collective memory" and was central to its history (51). Those migrating to Bielefeld did so during a lull in the intensity of western and Soviet animosity, but they were entering a different kind of complex situation, arriving as they were in the aftermath of World War II. Werner refers to the war as having been "traumatic [for Bielefeld] and [it] shaped the city's outlook towards the integration of newcomers" (52). Migration to Winnipeg began earlier, in 1947, peaking between 1951 and 1955; by 1961, 5,700 ethnic Germans had arrived (6). By the time ethnic Germans began arriving in Bielefeld over two decades later, there were no ethnic Germans emigrating to Canada with which to compare them (6). To compensate, Werner made the decision to compare the two waves of immigration, regardless of the difference in time.

Werner contends that issues of political and social citizenship, which he defines in his introduction as "a sense of membership in a new national and local society," are generally complex, but are even more so in a country as ethnically diverse as Canada (4). Werner argues that the critical difference emerging from the two cases is derived from the migrant's perceptions of their new homes. Individuals who [End Page 191] entered either city had two very different imagined trajectories of their future lives. Winnipeg immigrants chose a receiving society where they knew they would be a minority population, while those immigrating to Bielefeld went where they believed the receiving society would match their sense of who they were, which he describes as "going 'home' to Germany" (7).

Werner concludes that the difference between the conceptions of "who belonged" created two reactions from the immigrant groups. In Bielefeld, identity was polarized, the only possible identities being the host society's definition of what it mean to be "German" or a foreigner, a stranger. Ethnic Germans seemed to fit neither mold. In Winnipeg, multiple identities were possible for immigrants, since they were just one of a number of ethnic minorities in the city. Life in Winnipeg allowed for a wider range of religious, regional, and class identities, in many ways allowing the ethnic German immigrants to devise their own identities (230).

The use of comparison as a means through which to examine the different life experiences was explained by the author as the best way of understanding how the ethnic German case substantiates (or modifies) theoretical perspectives (5). Citing Nancy Foner, he argues that comparisons over time periods offer ways of understanding...


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pp. 191-192
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