Migration, Language, and Space

My dissertation project focuses on the ways in which German-speaking Paraguayan Mennonite migrants to Canada construct spaces through language, and how these spaces in turn construct their identities. While research exists on German-speaking Mennonites who remain in Paraguay, very little exists about those Paraguayan Mennonites who have emigrated to and settled in Canada.
I am particularly interested in the 1.5 generation, or the generation of migrants who emigrated as children, and who did not necessarily have a conscious choice in the matter of migration. In order to examine issues of space and identity and how they relate to and are expressed by language, I will conduct oral interviews in two phases. The interviews, which will be to a large extent open-ended, will focus on participants? experiences of migration to Canada, including specific experiences relating to language.
In the initial phase, I will conduct one-on-one interviews with the participants. I plan to examine the data from a number of perspectives, including code-switching tendencies, use of deictics and place references, as well as narrative and conversation analysis. In a second phase, I will conduct focus group interviews with multiple participants at once, because I want to see how space and identity constructions change and may even become contradictory in a setting that calls for more co-construction.
This project is generously supported by an Ontario Graduate Studies Fellowship, a University of Waterloo President’s Scholarship, as well as the German-Canadian Studies Research Grant. I am extremely grateful to the Spletzer Foundation for helping me get this project off the ground.
Christine Kampen Robinson, PhD Candidate in German
University of Waterloo, ckampenr@uwaterloo.ca

The Memory of War and Trauma: Living with an Unspeakable Past

The aim of this oral history project is to obtain the life story of one Ethnic German female survivor of WWII who experienced significant trauma during the Soviet invasion of Eastern Europe. Multiple narratives, told over a period of time, will produce a rich and contextualized account of her life experiences before, during, and after the trauma of war and migration, as well as an unpublished memoir that she will be able to share with family and loved ones. This memoir will also be shared by German-Canadian Studies with the larger community and used for ongoing research and educational purposes.
Historical accounts of WWII and its aftermath tend to significantly understate the traumatic experiences of Ethnic German women, which were often internalized and unresolved, and remain invisible or silenced by society at large. Furthermore, oral histories, personal memoirs, and/or autobiographies tend to portray a preferred life narrative and to marginalize storylines that risk exposing one’s vulnerability. Many researchers emphasize that the most empowering experience for a survivor is to share his or her life story with respectful and validating witnesses, and that the community at large must acknowledge its responsibility to witness and learn from these silenced and marginalized stories. It is my hope to provide a safe space for one woman, who wishes to share her story more fully, to be able to do so with dignity, in the knowledge that the story she has independently carried over her lifetime needs to be collectively understood, validated, and honoured.
Elizabeth Krahn, MSW, RSW