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3.3: Identity and Migration

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    Cross-cultural adaptation

    Those who have the day-to-day experience of living in the culture are likely to have a quite different experience from tourists. This might involve learning and using a second language, coping with bureaucracies, finding out how things get done in that culture, making new friends, and a host of other issues and potential difficulties that everyone living in that culture – native or foreigner – experiences. This process of adjustment is often referred to as acculturation, the learning and adapting of at least some of the values, norms, and behaviors of the new culture. This may be an easy process, or long and difficult. That depends on many factors, including one's age, educational level, familiarity with the language and culture, reasons for relocating, support structures available (friends, family, coworkers), and the degree of difference between one's home culture and that of the new residence. Acculturation can be fragmented; that is, one might adapt to some parts of a culture and not others. Ward and Rana-Deuba (1999) distinguish between psychological adjustment (emotional well-being) and sociocultural adaptation (the ability to function day-to-day in the target culture). While psychological adjustment is largely dependent on personality and social support, "sociocultural adaptation, measured in relation to the amount of difficulty experienced in the performance of daily tasks, is more dependent on variables such as length of residence in the new culture, language ability, cultural distance, and the quantity of contact with host nationals" (Ward & Rana-Deuba, 1999, p. 424). While both forms of adjustment are present during initial contact with the new culture, normally sociocultural problems steadily decrease over time. Psychological adjustments are more variable.

    The process of acculturation can vary as well depending on the purpose of the contact, such as colonization, trade, evangelism, or education. It can also depend on the length of time the contact lasts. A scholar who has studied acculturation extensively, John Berry, has identified four principal modes of acculturation (Berry & Sam, 1997). Assimilation is the loss of one's original cultural identity by acquiring a new identity in the host culture. The goal is to become indistinguishable from other people in that culture. Adapting to the host culture but maintaining the identity from one's native culture is integration. This kind of bicultural identity is likely to provide the most successful and satisfying acculturative experience. In some cases, individuals prefer no close contact with the host culture. In this mode, separation, the individual maintains his or her native identity with minimal adaptation to the host culture, although the individual may choose for practical reasons, such as employment, to adopt particular aspects of the host culture (speech, dress). The fourth mode of acculturation is marginalization, in which individuals have a weak identification with both host and native cultures. This can lead to alienation and a sense of abandonment. An additional mode of acculturation was identified by Richard Mendoza (1989). He labeled this cultural transmutation, in which an individual chooses to identify predominately with a third cultural group, such as youth culture or gay/lesbian groups.

    The history of immigration in the United States also ties to the way that race has been constructed. The metaphor of the melting pot has been used to describe the immigration history of the United States but doesn’t capture the experiences of many immigrant groups (Allen, 2011). Generally, immigrant groups who were white, or light skinned, and spoke English were better able to assimilate, or melt into the melting pot. But immigrant groups that we might think of as white today were not always considered so. Irish immigrants were discriminated against and even portrayed as black in cartoons that appeared in newspapers. In some Southern states, Italian immigrants were forced to go to black schools, and it wasn’t until 1952 that Asian immigrants were allowed to become citizens of the United States. All this history is important, because it continues to influence communication among races today.

    Getting Critical

    Immigration, Laws, and Religion

    France, like the United States, has a constitutional separation between church and state. As many countries in Europe, including France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, have experienced influxes of immigrants, many of them Muslim, there have been growing tensions among immigration, laws, and religion. In 2011, France passed a law banning the wearing of a niqab (pronounced knee-cobb), which is an Islamic facial covering worn by some women that only exposes the eyes. This law was aimed at “assimilating its Muslim population” of more than five million people and “defending French values and women’s rights” (De La Baume & Goodman, 2011). Women found wearing the veil can now be cited and fined $150 euros. Although the law went into effect in April of 2011, the first fines were issued in late September of 2011. Hind Ahmas, a woman who was fined, says she welcomes the punishment because she wants to challenge the law in the European Court of Human Rights. She also stated that she respects French laws but cannot abide by this one. Her choice to wear the veil has been met with more than a fine. She recounts how she has been denied access to banks and other public buildings and was verbally harassed by a woman on the street and then punched in the face by the woman’s husband. Another Muslim woman named Kenza Drider, announced that she will run for the presidency of France in order to challenge the law. The bill that contained the law was broadly supported by politicians and the public in France, and similar laws are already in place in Belgium and are being proposed in Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland (Fraser, 2011).

    1. Some people who support the law argue that part of integrating into Western society is showing your face. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
    2. Part of the argument for the law is to aid in the assimilation of Muslim immigrants into French society. What are some positives and negatives of this type of assimilation?
    3. Identify which of the previously discussed dialectics can be seen in this case. How do these dialectics capture the tensions involved?

    There are many reasons why people migrate to new countries, including the need to find gainful employment for oneself and one's family. The book Global Woman (Ehrenreich & Hochschild, 2003) describes how millions of women migrate in order to support their families, moving from the global south (Philippines, Sri Lanka, India) to the north (North America, Europe and Middle East) to work as domestics:

    Mexican and Latin American women are the domestics for U.S. women; Asian migrant women work in British homes; North African women work in French homes; Turkish women in German homes; Filipinas work in Spain, Italy, and Greece; and Filipino, Indian, and Sri Lankan women travel to Saudi Arabia to work (Martin & Nakayama, 2010, p. 311).

    Such migrations raise many troubling issues. In addition to the main issue of social injustice and cultural loss, Ehrenreich & Hochschild point to the ironic fact that often women in such situations are forced to leave their own children in the care of others while they tend to the children of their employers.

    Filipina nanny in Canada
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Filipina nanny in Canada

    Added to the emotional toll these women endure from being separated from their families and cultures, they may not find social acceptance in the host communities. Typically, domestic or manual migrant laborers are treated differently from intellectual workers or business professionals. Migrants from the same country might be treated differently in the host culture:

    Class issues often enter into the picture. Sometimes immigrant workers are seen as necessary but are not really welcomed into the larger society because of their class (which is often fused with racial differences). And sometimes the discrimination and class issues result in conflict between recent migrants and emigrants from the same country who have been in the host country for a long time. (Martin & Nakayama, 2010, p. 339).

    In the US, for example, Mexican workers who have achieved middle class status, and therefore some degree of acceptance in mainstream white US society, may take a dim view of the arrival of undocumented Mexicans, since their arrival may jeopardize their own standing (see sidebar). A crucial factor that affects social acceptance is not just the identity and status of the migrants, but as well their numbers.

    Old & new immigrants: not always a good mix

    Mexicans have come in increasing numbers to work in the carpet plants in the Southeast [USA] and in the meatpacking plants in the Midwest. This has led to tension between those Latinos/as, who have worked hard to achieve harmony with whites and to attain middle-class status, and the newcomers, who are usually poor and have lower English proficiency. The older Latinos/as feel caught between the two—ridiculed by whites for not speaking English correctly and now by recently arrived Mexicans for mangling Spanish. This resentment between old and new immigrants has always been present in America—from the arrival of the first Europeans.

    Martin & Nakayama, 2010, p. 339


    In addition to those leaving their home country in order to better themselves and their families economically, many migrants leave in order to escape regional or national danger or deprivation. Some leave to escape discrimination due to their ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation. In some cases, migration may be limited to individuals, families, or small groups, as may be the case with political activists or members of small religious denominations. In other cases, there may be mass immigration due to extreme conditions of hardship or widespread political or religious persecution. In the 19th century, for example, large numbers of Irish families migrated to the US due to the potato famine, as did many Germans to escape political prosecution after the failed 1848 revolution. Discrimination towards minorities, leading in some instances to ethnic cleansing, can lead to mass migration. Large numbers of Rohingyas, Muslims from Rakhine State have left Myanmar (Burma) to escape mistreatment.

    The Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh and Thailand, countries located nearby. This is the normal pattern for refugees, that they tend to relocate to areas close by their home countries. This is for practical reasons, namely ease of migration and likely cultural similarities. Many refugees prefer to stay close to home in the hope of repatriation after a short period away. In other cases, families may be separated and want to stay close to enable family reunification. Sadly, hopes that refugees' stay will be temporary are often disappointed. Many temporary refugee settlements become semi-permanent. Displaced Palestinians, for example, have lived in refugee settlements since the Six Days War in 1967. Long-term refugees can be found in many other regions, particularly in Africa. The quality of life in refugee camps varies considerably. Generally, however, available services will be significantly inferior to those available to permanent residents of the country. Schools may not be available, and there will often be substandard health care. Refugees are not usually permitted to work. Given the adverse conditions, it's not surprising that refugee settlements often become sites of strife and hopelessness.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

    The relationship between refugees and permanent residents is often problematic. The local populace may resent public resources being used to support groups of refugees. There may be fears that frustrated refugees well resort to crime. Occasionally, there are rumors about refugees bringing in diseases. In recent years, a new worry has emerged, namely that refugees are harboring terrorists in their midst. The large influx of refugees to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern and some African countries in 2014 through 2016 contributed to the backlash against immigrants that led to protest movements and the rise of anti-immigrant political parties in Denmark, France, Germany and other countries. In some cases, backlashes against refugees have led to discriminatory actions, such as not allowing refugee children to attend public schools. Sometimes, refugees are exploited as cheap labor, or women are tricked into working in the sex industry. In recent years there has been violence directed against refugees in some countries. In Germany, for example, built or designated refugee homes have been set on fire by arsonists.

    Organized efforts to help refugees exist in many countries. In some cases, these are organized by national governments, often in cooperation with international groups such as the international Red Cross or the UN Refugee Agency. The help may come in the form of food, clothing, and housing. Occasionally, social and medical services may be offered. Educational and cultural resources are provided less often. As it is uncertain how long refugees will be present, there is often no long-term planning for their possible integration into the host country. At a minimum, one should expect to have schools available for all children. Ideally, training should be provided to enable future employment either in the host country, or wherever the refugee may end up living. Training in English, for example, is crucial in virtually any country, for use as a lingua franca in the host country, but also as an important factor in employability.

    Some governments and NGOs have come up with innovative ways to provide language and cultural training. Today, phones provide a lifeline for many refugees. They provide a vital way to connect to families and friends in the home country as well as those in the host country or on their way. A report from the European Union Institute for Security Studies stated:

    Migrants are linking up online to cross borders and meet their basic needs. They are using smartphones to share tips and geo-positional data as they cross North Africa. They rank and rate Afghan people-smugglers, trying to hold the criminals accountable for the safe transport of family members. On Google they share tips, such as to avoid exploitative Istanbul taxi drivers or evade new EU border controls. (Parkes, 2016, p. 1)

    The kind of device that migrants use will vary with the individual and place of origin. One account has shown that of young Syrian refugees, 86% owned a smartphone (Parkes, 2016). A number of mobile apps have been developed by NGOs and government agencies to help migrants in a variety of areas, including language learning, cultural integration, and practical day-to-day living. Some apps aid in the process of migrants making their way through intermediate countries to their final destination. InfoAid helps refugees in Hungary, while Gherbtna is aimed at Syrians newly arrived in Turkey. The Mobile Legal Info Source helps navigate Turkey’s legal system. The Crisis Info Hub offers support for new arrivals in Greece.

    Mobile devices can provide tools and services which can ease the transition into the culture, but they can only go so far in helping the adjustment process. Ultimately, the situation of refugees depends on the reception they receive in the host country, the living conditions provided, and on the opportunities available for living a healthy and meaningful existence. For refugees eventually granted asylum and permanent residence, the struggle is not necessarily over. Individuals will need to go through a process of transitioning into the new culture, not always a smooth, easy, or quick process.

    Contributors and Attributions

    Language and Culture in Context: A Primer on Intercultural Communication, by Robert Godwin-Jones. Provided by LibreTexts. License: CC-BY-NC

    3.3: Identity and Migration is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Tom Grothe.