Conundrum of the diaspora

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Synopsis : The conundrum of the diaspora all over the world is well known. They can not forget their mother country from where they immigrated to the new one and can not completely assimilate into their adopted country so they stick to their own culture, language, food and mannerism no matter where they live making them less assimilable.

People now a days emigrate to other countries in large numbers because they want a better life than they have in their own countries. They do so in several ways. Some go to study in other countries, get the permanent residency that eventually leads to citizenship so they decide to stay there permanently. Others get married to a foreign national and go to live with their spouse in a country other than their own .Still others apply for the asylum status because they are fleeing their war ravaged countries that may lead to citizenship of that country later.

So there are many ways and reasons why people emigrate and leave their home country behind. Often they emigrate to a country very unlike their own where the culture, the language, the political system, the educational system and even the landscape is very different from what they leave behind not to mention the religious majority, new rules and laws that may be different from what they were used to.

This difference brings in its own set of problems that is the subject of this blog today. It is called the conundrum of the diaspora.

Let us take the example of the United States that is called the country of immigrants. People from all over the world have settled there and have brought with them their culture, their languages, their food and their religion with them. They will usually find a large number of their former countrymen there so they feel secure in their company where they can speak in their language and eat the food they were used to.

They build their own places of worship where their fellow compatriots congregate. They build their own clubs where they socialize and often find their future spouses. They open their stores where they can buy the food or spices that they used when they were in their home country. They open schools where their children can study in their native language taught by their native speakers. You will see the Spanish language schools where the teachers are Spanish speakers.

They live in a new country now they call their own but want to maintain strong ties with the country they left behind through the language, food, clothing, religion, festivals remind them that they have not forgotten their identity and want to maintain it as much as possible.

Thus you will find a large community of Filipinos where they only speak in their language, where they have stores where they can buy Filipino food, community centers where they can meet other Filipinos and churches where they can go to listen to their own Filipino padres.

This is true of many communities of people who have tended to live together in some parts of the country just so that they feel comfortable with their own people and culture. They also help each other with jobs, with affordable houses, with temporary accommodations for the new arrivals, with religious and other social services, with many other things to make the new comers feel at home so they create an enclave of their own and tend not to mix with people who are different and are from other countries. The melting pot theory is therefore just a theory because people of different background, culture and ethnicity do not melt into the pot because they do not want to.

These are the so called off the boat people who have just arrived in their new country and find everything strange and alien to their own country and culture so it is quite natural for them to look for their own people they feel comfortable with.

You will thus find the Indian communities, the Filipino communities, the Latino meaning the Spanish speaking communities, the Japanese communities, the Irish, the Italian, the Jewish communities etc. scattered all over the country. They even have their own newspapers, newsletters, blog sites, dating sites etc. to help each other out.

The Japanese workers who lived in Hawaii and toiled in the pineapple fields and other such farm work invited the Japanese entertainers from Japan to sing for them or dance for them so that they could still feel being a part of Japan. Similarly the Filipinos invite the entertainers from their home country and have TV channels where they show the latest soap operas that are flown in daily in DVDs that are then played.

Indians have built huge temples where the Hindus congregate and worship while the Sikhs have built their Gurudwaras to serve their religious needs. The Moslems similarly have built mosques in many parts of the country.

If you go to New York, London or Sydney, you will find many restaurants run by the immigrants who cater to their communities and import the spices and other food so that you can have the authentic Indian or Japanese or the Filipino food. Food is one thing people find very hard to give up and try something new that they are not used to.

The conundrum:

Now let us see the effect of this self-imposed isolation in their new country and their culture and everything else. The first hurdle to overcome is the language which most people find very hard to overcome. The parents who do not speak English have a hard time learning it even after staying in their new country for many years so they feel more comfortable living in their segregated communities where they speak their native tongue. You will find large communities in southern California for example where they only speak Spanish and have Spanish language TV channels and schools.

This inability to over the language barrier has something to do with the age and the educational level of the person. Older the person who has a low level of education, harder it is for him to learn a new language.

The Filipinos who have lived in the United States for years still have difficulty in speaking good English so they prefer Tagalog or Tagalish.

Those immigrants who have high level of education and are young have less problems because most of them are fluent in English so they get preferential treatment to get a work visa. Many countries welcome highly trained and educated young people who are fluent in English because they get good jobs easily and assimilate into the new society faster with less culture shock than the older less educated people.

But the immigrants have one thing in common irrespective of their age and education. They miss the country they left behind so they look for their food, listen to their own music and look for a temple or mosque to go to, speak in their mother tongue with others while trying to adjust to their adopted country.

The old people who came in before the wave of young and educated immigrants have a particularly difficult time adjusting to the culture of the country and often insist that their children speak in their mother tongue at home, value the culture of the country they left behind and are indignant when their children born in the United States or other countries learn the American culture, or European culture they are not comfortable with. This is where the clash between the older and the younger generation comes to play in such families. The younger generation feels no connection to their parent’s country and adapt far quicker to their new country than their parents.

This clash was shown in a movie made about the Indian diaspora living in UK where the young daughter wearing skimpy clothes argued in its favor with her father who just shed tears at such behavior but could do nothing. Back in India people show respect to their parents, do not argue with them or wear skimpy clothes that are inappropriate in their culture. They do not smoke or drink in front of their parents as a sign of respect but in UK it is different.

Similarly in their culture they do not call an elder person by his or her first name as a sign of respect but in the Western countries like the USA or England or Australia, children may call their parents or grandparents by their first name. I have seen the students in our college in California call their professors by their first name and wear just bikinis in the classroom because the weather is hot.

So the conundrum of the diaspora is what to do when there is such a different culture and how to adapt? As I mentioned earlier, the younger people do it much better and faster and become fluent in the language and learn all the mannerism and behavior of others just so that they do not stand out and assimilate faster. This is expected of them in schools and later in their workplace.

One thing the immigrant parents get very anxious about is when their children start dating a person who is not of their own ethnic and cultural and religious background. Perhaps religion is the most aggravating factor because people try to hold on to their religion fervently and are extremely annoyed when their sons or daughters do otherwise. Imagine an Arab Moslem girl with an Israeli boyfriend or Hindu girl romancing a Moslem from Pakistan or other Moslem countries. This is very hard to swallow for the traditionalist so the conflict starts at home resulting in separations from the parents.

Then comes the political affiliation. If a girl who is registered as a Democrat starts a relationship with someone who is a Republican then the fireworks start early long before marriage which is not a bad thing.

It is a lot easier to date someone else than to change the marriage partner later that may come with its own set of problems.

The religion again raises its ugly head when a catholic girl marries a Protestant or a Jew so there are many issues the diaspora has to deal with that they find very hard.

In time many such issues mentioned above tend to become less of an issue if people learn to make compromises and settle down. It is just like sitting down in a sofa or lie down in a bed and find the most comfortable position so you adjust to it until you get comfortable.

In life many issues can be resolved if people are willing to compromise and develop an understanding of each other. I have seen this in Sydney where mini skirted Chinese immigrant girls speak in perfect Aussie accent and feel very Australian while their Chinese parents may not speak or feel that way. The younger generation accepts the changes and adjusts faster because they are willing to do what it takes to belong.

So the conundrum of the diaspora comes from the inability to do what it takes to belong to the new country and assimilate. Those who do not make the effort to assimilate are left behind in their segregated communities but their influence on the younger generation wanes over time. You will see a black woman from Cameroon speaking beautiful French and goes around in chic Paris fashion or a Kenyan girl speaking beautiful English in British accent reading news in the BBC.

In some countries like Holland they become parliamentarians or in the UK the mayor of a big city like London. They are the most successful immigrants.

I have never been an immigrant so I did not have to go through what the diaspora faces everyday but I have traveled around the world to know their problems and issues so I have full sympathy for them.

My earlier blog called The fear of melting pot has some of these issues covered so it is perhaps worth a look.