The following piece is my translation of Barbara Rugholm Gravesen's piece in Bagsværd/Søborg Bladet, 04.05.10.
If it elicits any positive response, I'll let Ms Gravesen know about it. I think it's a fine article and very thought-provoking.
Fra Borgen til Biblioteket
On Monday 19 April, 50 Gladaxse residents braved the cold and met up in the main library to hear Socialist People's Party MP Özlem Cekic tell her story. She had just rushed from a parliamentary meeting, but caught her breath quickly and delivered a fantastic account of how one could find the satisfaction and motivation to change one's life and make a difference.
It all started with 40 sheep and a house
Özlem's father was a sheep herder in Turkey and travelled to Finland when Western Europe was seeking workers inthe 1970's. Özlem and her family followed two years later, when she was two years old. Ahead of them lay a hard existence where her parents worked incredibly hard to fulfil their dream of enough money to retire to their home village and buy 40 sheep and a house.
However the next step for the Cekiz family was Denmark. Several families from the Cekiz's home village lived in Copenhagen, and you could buy Turkish foods and vegetables. So the family moved to a tiny apartment in Norrebro. Özlem's parents worked as cleaners in state schools, and like other 'guest workers' lived a parallel existence to the rest of Danish society. Özlem and her brothers were very alone and eventually the situation became so intolerable that all the children were sent back to Turkey by their parents.
In Turkey they lived for two years with their grandmother, a practical and highly respected woman who knew neither the year of her birth nor how to write her name. She had given birth to thirteen children, seven of which had survived, and had adopted six more. She was a remarkable woman and is still Özlem's idol.
The shoe department in Føtex
Özlem didn't thrive in Turkey and missed her parents terribly. She came back to Denmark as a ten year-old and started in a 'reception' class in a Danish state school. The following years were mostly spent struggling with the Danish language and trying to be 'Danish'. Not being accepted and being bullied awoke her fighting spirit.
A part-time job in the shoe department of Føtex became crucial to Özlem's development. Here she learnt more Danish language (and a Danish sense of humour) than the state school ever suceeded in doing. Føtex was therefore responsible for an important part of Özlem's integration, and is why the supermarket chain has a prominent place in her autobiography. So that's the explanation for why a socialist seems to be praising 'corporate capitalism'.
Marriage as a lottery
After finishing school Özlem was married at the age of 18 - an arranged marriage. As Özlem says, this type of marriage is a lottery - 'a few win, I lost'. The marriage eneded in divorce and the repossession of their house. Fortunately it also produced a son. So there followed a time as a single mother but also a period of commitment to social and political engagement.
After the divorce Özlem thought, 'from now on I'll live as I want to', while she struggled with serious financial problems and worked for a temp agency alongside a job as a child psychiatry nurse in a hospital.
Fortunately as a single mother she found a new quality of life and a burning desire to be actively involved in society socially and politically. She also found the love of her life and had two more children.
In 2007 Özlem was elected to the Danish Parliament as the first woman with an immigrant background. She holds the posts of Danish Socialist People's Party spokesperson for Social Issues and Mental Health. She is extremely active in the ongoing societal debate on poverty, mental health, equality, and integration.
Özlem remembers the moment when her father suddenly realised that his daughter had beeen elected to the Danish Parliament. He said 'Imagine that this has could actually happen, Özlem! We were only cleaners!'
The invisible success
Özlem's story stops here for the moment. A story of how you can change your life and make a difference in spite of cultural and social barriers. If you are given a chance. Özlem's story was gripping and the public asked questions and discussed issues until eventually the library had to close. It was a fantastic debate about being a foreigner in Denmark, about role models, and about Denmark's integration policies.