20 Jun 2016

Migrant groups. Good or bad?

Whether a pair of migrants befriend each other or a neighbourhood has a density of a particular ethnicity, such as in Chinatown, migrants are drawn to each other. As humans, we like to find people similar to ourselves. Migrants, in an environment surrounded by the unfamiliar, are often drawn to the familiar. Migrant groups, or migrant cluster groups, can provide this familiarity.

Large migrant groups such as in Chinatown are common in major cities. Labelled as such, we know in that area we expect a wide variety of Chinese food and shops, and a concentration of Chinese migrants. Other nationalities gather with a similar density in particular suburbs or neighbourhoods in cities. Why do migrant cluster groups happen and what are they good/bad for?

Familiarity and a sense of connection for the migrant. 
1.       Language. I admire those who speak a second language. The familiarity of your native language may be a comfort to speak with others while in your adopted country. It can also be an effort.  An AuPpair said that it was strange to switch from English to Finnish when her boyfriend visited her in New Zealand. "I had to think hard to adjust to the different sounds again."
2.       Accent. My name Ellie is heard as Allie in New Zealand. My name is regularly spelt wrongly even though I try hard to emphasise the 'e' sound in a New Zealand way. Horray when they get it right (which is often when the listener is an immigrant).
3.       Humour. Countries have their own sense of humour. When interviewing for my book, the English interviewers made me laugh as they related their sad tales with sarcasm and humour.
4.       History. References to your country of origin may be based on the moments of history big enough to be celebrated on certain days. Memorial day/ Independence day/labour day and what these days represent.
5.       Food. The love of a good cup of tea, hamburgers in the States, curries in India.
6.       Culture/the social norms. The way you meet and greet people, subjects that are acceptable to discuss, etc.

Missing family and friends. A fellow migrant can empathise with the challenges of being an immigrant, both emotional and practical. These can include:
1.       The feeling of isolation, disconnection and homesickness. If the members of a cluster group are not just migrants, but come from a similar area or background, they can reminisce together about their lives and alleviate homesickness.
2.       The members can share and analyse the differences in the people and systems (employment, education, health, politics, law enforcement) between the host country and their adopted country, and find efficient ways to operate within these systems.

If members of the migrant cluster speak the same language they can have a rest from making sure they are understood in their pronunciation or vocabulary. This is discussed more in my book , The Emotional Challenges of Immigration. 

For native-born
  1. Native-born may want the economic and cultural benefits a migrant influx can bring, and enjoy the diversity, but  not want the negative effects. NIMBY (Not in my backyard.)
  2. Native-born of the host country may perceive immigrant cluster groups as threatening a lifestyle they were brought up in, want to maintain,  and pass on to their children.
  3. The immigrant cluster groups may be  claimed to be the cause of the present past and future challenges of the host country.
  4. When looking at immigrants as a group, it is easier to be negative about them and take action on the group (racial tension, holocaust, ethnic cleansing.) It is harder to hate an individual or your neighbour. 
For the migrants
1.       "Little India". By having people around who speak the same language, the migrants may make less effort to learn the host country language and customs.
2.       The empathy may evolve into a negative outlook, focusing on what is wrong with their host country rather than what is right.
3.       This negative outlook may cause them a sense of isolation, lack of appreciation of what the country has to offer, and less connection with it.
4.       There may be a feeling of what am I doing here? I have left India and now I am living in a “little India.”

Migrants will gather together and seek familiarity. Most of them are adventurous and motivated to have a good lifestyle in the country in which they are living. The more they are welcomed as individuals, the less they will need the support of migrant groups.

1 comment:

  1. Great work Ellie, and so important. As a profoundly social species, the loneliness resulting from a sense of disconnection and un-belonging can be devastating. In my experience, simply knowing we are not alone in our loneliness can be powerfully therapeutic.