Monday, October 09, 2006

On Leaving The Old Homeland

Emigration is now so commonplace that people tend to take a lot of things for granted. Reading this tells us how the world has been revamped and reshaped as a result of continuous population movements from the time man got serious recording his history.

Yes, there are tedious well-articulated requirements imposed not only by the homeland of the √©migr√© but also by the prospective host country – such as passports, visas, authenticated certificates of one’s circumstances of birth, marriage, etc; and even financial requirements. Quite daunting and at times costly hurdles.

But beyond these, I suspect many immigrants are not predisposed to confront and resolve issues relating to the intangible things required of them beyond the legal requirements for entry and permanent residency.

And the Philippines as a country for one is in such a vulnerable situation, gleaning from the number of its citizens leaving the country, literally in droves, either as temporary workers or as immigrants. I had intimated in a previous blog that FilAms in my very limited circles of relatives and acquaintances willingly give up only that part of their Filipino-ness that allows them to get by in their new environment, but tenaciously clinging to those that do not grate on or openly conflict with the social or political milieus of the adopted country. And this accommodation has not much regard to years of residency or citizenship. In other words, the length of stay does not necessarily dilute this concessionary view.

We could easily come up with a generally acceptable definition of what an immigrant is and one which would be generally acceptable:
An immigrant is someone who intends to reside permanently, and not a casual visitor or traveler. Immigration means "in-migration" into a country, and is the reverse of emigration, or "out-migration.

And we could pick from the following acculturation strategies (created by John Berry) that are opened to immigrants as possible choices:
1. assimilation – replacing one’s previous identity with that of the new host society.

2. integration – refers to the capacity to access aspects of the dominant culture, while simultaneously retaining an ethnic identity.

3. separation(segregation) – the group also retains its own culture, but does not want to have contacts with the dominant one. And segregation refers to society’s policy of exclusion.

4. marginalization – implies losing one’s cultural background, but being simultaneously denied access to the dominant culture.

While many may have criticized the model above as relying on simplified assumptions, critics concede it does amply define the capacity of immigrants to make choices.

Given the above, where do we stand as immigrants in other countries?

But first, of late attention has been focused on Mr. Jim Paredes, a third of the popular Filipino singing group, Apo Hiking Society, who with his entire family migrated recently to Australia. Attention deserved not necessarily because Mr. Paredes typifies the Filipino immigrant, but more because Mr. Paredes is a high-profile celebrity in a country that celebrates and enshrines celebrity-ness in its workaday life. And a little consequent furor erupted when a local article from a personal interview came up with a headline adjudged not factual, stating that Mr. Paredes had given up on the old homeland.

Then the other day, I got hold of the October ’06 issue of Filipinas magazine where in a feature Mr. Paredes journalizes his and his family’s experiences in Down Under. He delves essentially on the more mundane aspects of living in a new community in a new country, “concessions” he and his family have had to accede to, like doing housework, marketing for foodstuff, eating new food, etc.

Because he chose to delve more on the inner or interior changes of the family’s personal behavior, rather than aspects of its social behavior, his following statement on emigrating proved both interesting and revealing:

You got to leave things behind, and the most important thing to leave behind is the mindset you had back home.

Taking and understanding mindset in its strongest sense could mean a lot of giving up.

Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

A mindset, in decision theory and general systems theory, refers to a set of assumptions, methods or notations held by one or more people or groups of people which is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviours, choices, or tools. ...

How much of Filipino-ness does one leave behind to be able to adapt well to the new environment?

While it may not translate to giving up on a country, it could entail a lot of giving up on one’s ethnic and cultural uniqueness. And as the integral demand of assimilation process of acculturation above, not only giving up but replacing one’s previous identity with that of the new host society.

And once one elects citizenship of the host country, the issue of allegiance starts to kick in it being a requisite in the oath of citizenship which succinctly defines the duty a citizen owes to the country. Acting as yet another thorny issue to be delved into and resolved by the immigrant.

And in our continuing search for the identity we are assuming or want to assume in our adopted country, one notices some reservation or reticence a Filipino may harbor in this journey toward self-actualization.

Thus, one can notice that many FilAms view with askance at the idea that he is expected to assimilate, resulting possibly from a dread that may have been engendered by the oft-quoted charge other compatriots have leveled about other Filipinos becoming more American than the native Americans.

Given the seeming complexities detailed above, an immigrant may opt for integration as the more acceptable path. Or maybe try to get lost or seek comfort in the hazy and often controversial world of multiculturalism, which in the US critics have blamed for cementing disunity in the community and slowing down education growth among minorities, among other things.

The question is somehow how the rest of the population views this choice. Thus, while integration allows equal access to everybody without regard to race or color, the continued retention of one's ethnic identity could appear as coming out from the separate but equal playbook, and encouraging division along ethnic lines. And perpetuating the uncomfortable practice of having hyphenated Americans.

8 comments:

  1. Canada is perhaps the only country in the world with a Multiculturalism Act enshrined in its constitution. In a country that had been accepting immigrants from the various parts of the world, the departure from a largely European based culture to one that recognizes the sensitivities of people from different cultural backgrounds was imminent. The decision to pass the multiculturalism act was the result of a survey conducted by the government among all its citizens in 1988.

    The Canadian Heritage website has this to say :

    “The Act acknowledges multiculturalism as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society with an integral role in the decision-making process of the federal government. Designed to preserve and enhance multiculturalism in Canada, the Act seeks to assist in preserving culture, reducing discrimination, enhancing cultural awareness and understanding, and promoting culturally sensitive institutional change at the federal level. Federal institutions and agencies implement the Act by incorporating sensitivity and responsiveness to the multicultural reality of Canada into their programs, policies and services”.

    As I was playing with three people from a vendor group that participated in a charity golf sponsored by my company last week, the topic of discussion came to the issue of immigration. I found out that the three Caucasian folks I was playing were all born in England and immigrated to Canada when they were less than 10 years of age. They all lost their accents, still keep in touch with relatives back home, rooted for England during the last World Cup. They’re just like me although I came when I was in my early thirties. Is there anything that would make me less Canadian than them?

    In a nutshell, we are all immigrants in this country. As the former Prime Minister Paul Martin said – “ we are a country of minorities”.
    It is grossly hypocritical to insist on a unicultural society when the immigrants that come yearly to fill in the population shortage to sustain the country’s economic viability are from countries of different cultures. Is it fair to demand that they forsake their cultural values and attachments? Were the immigrants from England told to do so? The multiculturalism act affirms the fact that while we are engaged in the arduous task of nation building, there is nothing wrong with celebrating our respective cultural heritages.

    There is richness in diversity and the economic progress of the country over the years since the act was passed is a testament to the success of the policy. Canada is the only G8 country with a budget surplus. Yes, it is possible to have a common goal and a shared vision without abandoning your cultural identity which is ingrained in your being , something that cannot be altered nor taken away from you. Yes it is possible to have a sense of tremendous loyalty to a country that was so generous in accepting you, provided you free health care and afforded you the quality of life you dreamt for your family and did not ask you to forsake your roots.

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  2. Hi, BW:

    If multiculturalism works in Canada then I applaud it. But the fact that avid opposing sides exist here in the US regarding the multiculturalism issue reveals the status and extent of its progress.

    What could be the causes?

    Culling from the statements on multiculturalism in the Canadian context related by your comments, one would be hard pressed not to laud them. They are all commendable and it would be difficult to find anybody opposing them.

    One challenge I can advance in its application to realities is the extent of multiculturalism either country professes, encourages, and implements. Requirement of one common (official?) language for everybody? Need for multi-tiered educational processes to accommodate different cultures? Accommodations in areas requiring public participation, such as languages required in ballot measures, government forms, government services, etc.?

    Another equally strong challenge I can discern is the differences in size and diversity of the countries involved. The US is now a country of over 300 million people, taking into account illegal migrants, comprising of many first generation immigrants coming from every conceivable country in the globe, gravitating around densely populated urban areas where ethnic and cultural pressures and frictions are inevitable by-products.

    Any further thoughts?

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  3. What you’ve pointed out is true Amadeo in that the population base, demographics and the immigration policies of Canada and the U.S. are quite dissimilar. The threat of illegal immigration from Mexico is one that would erode the positive aspects of immigration. In Canada, the threat of secession of the French speaking province of Quebec is one that challenges the unity of Canada if not its very existence. Two referendums have been done in Quebec and the separatists lost in both occasions albeit by a slim margin. It is for this reason that the Federal govt found it indispensable to promote the Multiculturalism Act, that the French speaking of Quebec can maintain the status quo of its being a distinct society to encourage them to stay and be part of the Canadian confederation. The official languages of Canada are two – French and English. All government offices are required to provide full services in both languages at any govt office or agency.

    The immigration policies of the US and Canada are totally different. Canada accepts about 250,000 new immigrants every year to cover for the population shortfall. Canada’s birth rate is inadequate to sustain its economic growth. A large part of the quota are independent immigrants – educated and skilled people who are likely to find jobs and settle down easily. Independent immigrants need only to prove that they can support their family for 6 months and in absence of a show money, pledge of support from relatives is required by the government. The Multiculturalism Act in a way cushions the difficulty of immigrants to transition into a new environment. The government encourages minorities to set up their own cultural centres by giving them tax breaks on the expenses. The federal and provincial govts ( in Canada provincial govts holds more power) work and in hand to promote equal opportunity and diversity in the workplace.

    As an example, the federal govt requires that all companies must submit a report on the ethnic origin composition of their workforce. Once an employee is accepted the federal questionnaire is filled up for submission to the govt. The province of Ontario for example had legislated that photos are not required when filing an application for employment.
    Minorities are encourage to participate in the political process. Already we are seeing a lot of minority politicians both at the provincial and federal level. And the govt must walk the talk. The present Governor General of Canada is a woman - Michealle Jean, an immigrant from Haiti. The past Gov Gen was Adrienne Clarkson, a woman as well and an immigrant from Hongkong. It is not to say that they were hand picked for heir gender. These women are achievers in their own right and their race nor gender had not hindered their success in their respective professions. As Gov Gen, they are Canada’s official representative to Queen Elizabeth, Canada being part of the Commonwealth.

    It’s not easy to assess where the disconnect might be as in the case of the U.S. All I know is Canadians have been asking themselves the question – What is a Canadian ? Upon self-examination, people feel that no particular race or creed has ownership of the nation.
    We are different but we are in this together and our unity will make this country the best place for our children. A Canada Day celebration typifies this. No tanks, no warplanes but people representing the various ethnic groups speak about their contributions that made the country proud.

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  4. Interesting stuff BW. What's the deal with Europe? Why does it seem so many of their emmigrants are disaffected and disgruntled? What are they doing wrong as compared to the apparently successful Canadian model? Or does Europe have a similar problem as we have in the US, with large emigrant enclaves filled with under-educated and under-privileged? Of course, we seem to have more jobs for ours than they do for theirs, so that seems to be a plus for us.

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  5. Phil, I can only assume that established European countries like England, France, Germany for example consider themselves “original” and therefore xenophobic when immigrants come to their countries and want to “change” things. There is an overwhelming sense of pride for these countries to preserve the purity of their culture and race. They insist on uniculturalism because they have an established history and identity and the founding fathers of their nations, the tribes and lands where they came from are today nonexistent and simply pieces of historical information. Contrast this with countries like the U.S. and Canada what were founded by pioneers, predominantly from European countries which are still in existence.. These pioneers came to North America to establish a new world, to found a country that would provide a better future for their children, and a civilization that would surpass the ones where they came from. In very real sense, Americans and Canadians who built their countries are still suffering from the stigma that they took the land of the native Indians. Today, the Canadian government is still paying lease money to thousands of acres of land from the First Nations
    ( native Indians). Given this scenario, the subject of restrictive immigration for the US and Canada may look strong legally but weak on the moral side. At some point, when immigration becomes a fact of life and inevitable, multiculturalism might be one way to mitigate the tension and foster some sense of unity as a nation.

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  6. BW, I MUST take issue with your intimation that restricting immigration might be morally questionable for the USA. The Plains Wars are over, lets finish with the mea culpas and move on. Native Americans were warlike amongst themselves, and used to raid and fight constantly among each other. Another "group," my Euro ancestors, came along and pushed them aside, a human story that has been repeated countless times through history all over the world. The US is now the 3rd most populated nation on earth, and much of the growth is from illegals. Are you saying we have no right to manage who enters our own country? And we sacrifice this right because of our questionable past dealing with the natives? I don't know BW, you seem to be pushing the envelope with that one. Clarify please?

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  7. Phil - restrictive immigration does not imply only the illegals. I am 100% in support for not allowing illegal immigration to the U.S. I am referring to a much broader and equitable immigration policy that does not encourage illegal entry. For example, the U.S. can be open to independent or selective immigration of people with skills and education, gauged by a point system and needs of the state they want to get into . In absence of such a policy, the only way people can legally enter is through a family class petition or as a contract worker visa. We know how the latter is being abused by creative lawyers who work hand in had with lobbyists and politicians. Sadly, the immigration enforcement in the US had broken down largely due to partisan politics, when local enforcement agencies are not being given the authority to enforce fueled by the political game in the quest for immigrant votes.

    The U.S. accepts 50,000 immigrants yearly through a lottery system amongst countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. I see the lottery ad being advertised in Toronto. I don’t know how they qualify people but if it’s a lottery, all you really need is for your name to be drawn.

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  8. Here's interesting data on foreign-born residents in the US, from 2000 to 2010:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_the_United_States#Immigration_2000_to_2010

    By 2010, while Canadians in the US will account for 2.3% of foreign born, Filipinos will account for 4.2%. Of course, all figures are predicated on legal migration reportage.

    Interesting to note that by 2010, foreign-born residents will total 40.5million. That's about 12% of the present total.

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Welcome. Your comments are appreciated.