13 November 2005

The transnationals

Immigrants have not remained the same over the years. They have changed from one generation to another, becoming more modern in their outlook to immigration and what it means to their current generation. Compared to the once-in-a-lifetime moves that the earlier immigrants had made years ago, the contemporary immigrants are likely to move back and forth between their country of origin and the new host country. Thereby, creating an entire generation of transnational ethnic communities moving around the world.

However, these transnational ethnic communities tend to split the socio-economic and political loyalties among migrants, creating an imbalance in the societies they migrate to, and slowing down the process of absorption and integration I had written about in my previous posts. These transnationals (that’s the nomenclature used to categorise them) tend to organise themselves around their own ethnic communities, obviously relying on a common language and a common cultural heritage.

There are other changes as well. According to Rina Cohen of The Institute of International Affairs of the B’nai Brith Foundation, Canada, which studies the immigration of Jews into Canada, “In most cases, transnationals become bilingual and bicultural, but different communities may exhibit various levels of cultural separatism in relation to the host society.” In a chapter titled, The New Immigrants: A Contemporary Profile, she writes:

“Individuals who took part in large immigration waves in the past never fully cut off their bonds with the homeland. However, they rarely returned. Due to the financial and technical limitations of the time, these bonds primarily lasted in the cultural and sentimental domain, and were seldom manifested in active shuttle movement or intensive communication across borders. Economic ties with countries of origin were demonstrated through periodic monetary remittances to both relatives and charitable organizations. Although many of the immigrants of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fostered the dream of return to their homeland, for most of them, in reality, it never happened and settlement in the host countries was a once-in-a-lifetime, irreversible process. Thus, integrating into the host community was a necessary element in a successful process of immigration.”

Today, there is something else to be factored in. And that’s technology. With the developments in telecommunications and the Internet, the transnationals have taken on another hue. No longer is it necessary for them to travel anywhere physically. The technologies allow the transnationals – or anyone, for that matter – to be in more than one place at one time. Which means maintaining physical and social links with their country of origin is now that much easier.

All this is, of course, changing the socio-economic and political order of both receiving and sending countries.

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