Teens (with ASD) talk about immigration, integration, segregation, and assimilation

Image: The Carpet Told Me, a screen grab from the film by Jeroen Kooijmans, Dutch artist. Click here to see a film loop.

The following is an edited transcript of part of a forty-five minute recorded conversation about The Carpet Told Me between seven teenage students with autism spectrum disorder (at Altra College) and Terry Barrett, the Artist in Residence at the Art Academy of Amsterdam (January, 2009).  

Terry: "Some of you saw this artwork already, so let's ask the ones who haven’t seen it yet what they see. What do you see?"

William: "I see a lot of blue that is probably water. I see a square in the middle that could be a carpet or something. I also see water plants and the reflection of the sky."

Terry: "Ramon, can you add something to that?"

Ramon: "I see a reflection of the area around the water."

Thomas: "It’s a carpet floating on water, but let me guess where it is. I think it's somewhere in the polder."

Terry: "Max could you add anything they didn't say already?"

Max: "I don't think a carpet would float on water by itself, so they obviously put wooden planks underneath it."

Terry: "Craig and Ali, can you add anything?"

Ali: "I think the artwork is a metaphor for immigration in the Netherlands. The Dutch tolerate other cultures."

Max: "That’s not 'immigration' that’s integration."

Terry: "There are a lot of good ideas here. Slow down. One idea is that the carpet is a metaphor. Do each of you know what a metaphor is?" (Terry notices that a student raises his hand.) "You don't know what a metaphor is? Ali, can you explain what a metaphor is?"

Ali: "A metaphor is something or an image, or a text, an artwork that represents something else than what you see it is. There is another meaning than the materials that you see."

William: "It stands for something."

Ali: "Yes. It stands for something."

Terry: "That’s very good, this is the smartest talk I've heard all week. And we have been working with different groups, with high school students, and young students. This is a good explanation of metaphor. And I think all artists are working with metaphors, so this is a really big idea."

Terry: "And, Ali, you said it's a metaphor for segregation of other people coming into the Dutch society?"

Ali: "Yes--for Dutch progressivism, for Dutch tolerance of other cultures."

Terry: "It's a metaphor for how the Dutch integrate other cultures in the society?"

Ali: "Yes, Amsterdam has more nationalities than New York."

Terry: "I heard someone say integration, immigration, and assimilation. Do those words make sense to you? Is the artwork about assimilation or is it segregation?"

William: "Well, immigration is moving from a country to another country, so I don't think it’s immigration. Integration is when you move from another country and you learn about the culture of the country you are living now and try to live like them."

Ali: "Integration can be a part of immigration, I think. First it starts with immigration then immigrants integrate into the major culture of a country. But segregation is not this because segregation is splitting immigrates from the native people, and I don't think that is what the artist wanted to show."

Terry: "I want to know, do you think that all immigrants in Holland are well integrated? Or are there still problems here with integration?"

Ramon: "Some are well integrated some are not. There will always be problems around integrating."

Max: "A lot of older immigrants don't speak the language and some even can't read."

Terry: "Other thoughts about culture in Holland?"

William: "Some cultures have different opinions about values and rules than the Dutch society. Most problem youths in Holland are from Moroccan origin. And we blame a lot of problems on them."

Ramon: "I don't really deal with this problem. I live in a small village. When I look out of my window I see cows. But a lot of my friends believe exactly what the media is telling them."

Terry: "Let's take all of these ideas back to the artwork."

Ali: "The artwork is making us and other people talk about this issue."

Terry: "The metaphor might be that the immigrants don't fit. They are not integrated into the landscape."

Ramon: "I see it like the carpet is very peaceful and alone in the water."

Ali: "It also can be that the Dutch accept another culture. The carpet is lying on our water. I don't see anything negative."

Terry: "I'd like you to write now. Have you ever felt like the carpet?"

The students write paragraphs and then voluntarily share them aloud. Their writings give rise to further comments in the discussion. 

About integration, Thomas, age 17, says, "My nationalism is strong but I am not a Nazi. I love my country like everyone should. It doesn’t matter to me if someone is a foreigner but they should love their country. Integration is important or else it’s all gonna crash."

Remen, age 15, says, "I have a Latin American father and I always thought that I was a native person but a week ago when I had a social studies class I read a sentence that people with one parent whose origin is Latin American are foreigners. So it was a shock because I always felt Dutch." 

Another student says, "When I’m on vacation in another country it feels like Holland is so small. I feel lonesome." 

Ali adds, "I feel like I am the carpet in my family."