The Impact of Host Societies on Immigrant Diasporas

To what extent are the political and or cultural activities of a diaspora determined by the host society?

Immigrants into a new host society are often faced by a number of challenges when they first come into the host country, particularly with reference to the pressure to assimilate and integrate in the new cultural and political environment in which they find themselves (Lalich, 2006). At the same time, they may feel the need to remain connected to their root culture (Lalich, 2006). The pressure to adopt the new culture while also remain rooted to their own culture is often a paradoxical situation in which the diaspora often finds itself in the host countries; and this paradoxical situation is made more complex by the possible social exclusion from the mainstream population due to racial, ethnic, or religious grounds (Lalich, 2006). The specific ways in which the host society determines the activities of the diaspora may be linked to political activities both in the host society as well as the home society and cultural activities, which may see diaspora assimilating in language and other cultural contexts with the host society. The question is related to the extent of the impact of the host society on the diaspora.

It is difficult to say that the cultural and political activities of the diaspora are completely driven by the host society because evidence from literature and empirical studies on this issue suggests that diaspora is affected by both the host society as well as its home country in its political and cultural activities and in turn affects both the home and host societies through transnational flows of culture (Park, 2004; Abdelhady, 2008; Levitt, 1998; Adamson, 2012). It is argued that while the host society does impact the political and cultural activities of the diaspora, particularly through the process of assimilation which the diaspora needs to do in their new environment, there is a limit beyond which it does not impact these activities because the diaspora retains affinity for homeland and home culture.

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A diaspora is seen by some scholars as an imagined community, which has to be constructed and is not really a result of a mere crossing over to another country (Adamson, 2012). Diasporas have also distinguished from migrant communities because of their collective memory of their homeland and the shaping of their identity by the idea of the homeland (Safran, 1991). Even if the definition of diaspora has been broadened, the link between the diaspora’s identity and the identity of the homeland is an important part of the construction of diasporas, and has implications for the political and cultural activities of the diaspora. Because diasporas are constructed and not resulted from a simple boundary crossing exercise on the part of the immigrants, the construction of diasporas have a political element and the diasporic identity itself is a means of “asserting a political identity, which can be taken up by groups as a source of empowerment” (Adamson, 2012, p. 32). Diasporic politics is used as a way to unite disparate networks of immigrants into a more coherent transnational identity network that exists at the international level (Adamson, 2012). Therefore, the diaspora itself can be seen as the result of a political process; it can be argued that such a political process will be impacted by the politics of the host society and that the political processes involved in theh creation of a transnational identity network will also impact the home country. The question is how far the political activities of the diaspora are determined by the host society.

Host countries tend to determine the cultural and political activities of the diaspora through cultural and educational policies which are aimed at encouraging integration and even assimilation of diaspora cultures into the dominant culture (Petrova-Mitevska, 2004). Host societies have an interest in the intellectual and cultural prowess of diaspora groups as these can help to maximise national expertise and resources, which leads to the adoption of specific policies that can be assimilationalist or integrationalist in nature (Petrova-Mitevska, 2004). Of the two, the latter is more controversial because it seeks to exercise restrictive control of national language education and voluntary suppression of cultural elites within the public domain; example can be seen in the policy that was followed by Finland towards the Kurdish diaspora (Petrova-Mitevska, 2004). In such restrictions, the cultural activities of the diaspora becomes limited or restricted. Assimilation is oppressive and requires the diaspora to assimilate into new cultures even at times give up on attributes essential to their ethnic identities (Pile & Thrift, 1995, p. 10). There is no cultural give and take in assimilation as it is a demand by one cultural group that the other should assimilate with that group’s culture (Schwartz, Unger, Zamboanga, & Szapocznik, 2010). Therefore, through the process of assimilation policies, the host society may determine the cultural actions of the diaspora. Evidence however shows that even where assimilationalist policies are strictly applied, they do not lead to complete obliteration of the home cultural practices amongst the diaspora (Petrova-Mitevska, 2004). The reason for this may be that diaspora is related to diffusion, which necessarily requires the intermingling of the attributes of the home and host cultures. Therefore, even where assimilation may be applied as a state policy, the construction of diaspora as a process of diffusion would mean that the members of the diaspora remain connected to both the home and the host cultures and political values. This may lead to the host culture indirectly impacting the political and cultural activities of the diaspora to include impacts on the home society as well.

Naujoks (2017) emphasises on the transnational political impacts of the political activities of the diaspora saying that “legal and national affiliations in one part of the world can affect opportunities and actions in another” (p. 200). With relation to political activities of the diaspora, there are specific ways in which the host society impacts the diaspora’s political activities, and by extension also the politics of the home countries; diasporas have been known to have impacts on the transnational politics in their home countries through remittances of democratic values to home countries in some instances and building international relations (Naujoks, 2017). At the same time, diasporas are involved in political activities in the host country when naturalised immigrants and ethnic interest groups also influence the politics of the host society (Naujoks, 2017).

Apart from political influence through the diaspora, the host society may also have impact on the cultural activities of the diaspora and by extension on the home society.

Apart from political influence through the diaspora, the host society may also have impact on the cultural activities of the diaspora and by extension on the home society. These influences can be felt through social remittances by the diaspora towards their home communities. These social remittances are derived from cultural diffusion, which is one of the consequences of migration of people from one cultural space to another (Levitt, 1998). Social remittances can be described or characterised as “ideas, behaviours, identities, and social capital that flow from receiving- to sending-country communities” (Levitt, 1998, p. 926). Research on how social remittances are developed shows that these are a part of the processes of construction of diasporas where migrant communities develop social resources for the development of immigrant entrepreneurship, formation of community and family, and even political integration in the home countries where the political values may be different from the values that they knew in their home countries (Levitt, 1998). When diasporas develop these new ideas and behaviours as a way of coping with the new challenges placed before them in their host societies, they also transmit these to the home country through their migrant networks (Levitt, 1998). Thus, while the host societies push the immigrants into developing certain ideas and behaviours as a way of cultural and social assimilation and coping, they also perpetuate the conditions that lead to the transmission of the ideas and practices developed through cultural diffusion in the host societies to be remitted to the home societies (Levitt, 1998). While one part of the impact is through the home societies or the conditions therein leading to the determination of the diaspora activities, another part of the impact is through the political processes of the diaspora itself, where it transmits the new behaviours and ideas through the ‘transnational migration circuits’, that are developed because the immigrants are still connected to their home countries while they also develop connections in their host countries (Rouse, 1992).

The phenomenon of the diasporas being connected to their home countries while also becoming more attached to their host countries has been seen historically as well (Sheffer, 2003). This phenomenon is an important part of understanding how far diaspora is affected by the host society in their cultural activities and in what ways the host society is not able to impact the activities of the diaspora. One study based on the Lebanese diaspora finds that while Lebanese Americans have become attached to their host society, they still construct visions of their homeland and also have a relationship with it; reconstruction of the homeland involves the immigrants in the process of invention, revival, and restoration of cultural symbols, practices, and institutions of their imagined homeland (Abdelhady, 2008, pp. 54-55). To some extent, the diaspora holds on to the imagined homeland also because the new environment of the host country can be hostile or alien, which may make Lebanese immigrants want to find solace in the literature and movies from their home countries (Abdelhady, 2008). However, even second and third generation immigrants are impacted by the imagination of the homeland, which means that even though host society may impact the level of attachment, it does not take away the affinity of the diaspora for the homeland. The synthesis between the host culture and the home culture was explained by a participant in Abdelhady (2008) study, a middle aged housewife who lives in Paris: “Because we are a mixture between East and West, we have both, and we want to remember that. This [Lebanese decorations] reminds us that we are from there. We cannot forget. We see both cultures, but you have to keep your roots before you can add another culture” (p. 60). Therefore, there is an extent to which the diaspora is impacted by the host culture in its own cultural activities and the line appears to be drawn at a point where the diaspora is able to retain parts of its own cultural identity while also assimilating in the culture of the host society.

The example of the Korean American diaspora can be taken here to illustrate the extent to which the host society has influenced the cultural activities of the Korean American diaspora and the extent to which the influence is not felt. Park (1999) writes about the making of the Korean American culture using terms like ‘grafting’ and ‘suturing’ to explain the evolution of the Korean American culture in a way that sees the diaspora adopting cultural and political values of the host society as additions to their own and not as a way of supplanting the existing cultural values that Korean Americans think are important to them. The process of adopting host country’s values is explained by Park (1999) as a synthesis between the Korean and American traits of the Korean diaspora. The Korean diaspora uses terms like ‘drinking different water’ to explain their movement from Korea to America, but they also use terms like ‘Drinking good water’ to explain proper Americanised values (Park, 1999). Korean American diaspora has adapted to the host culture without letting go of their Korean heritage and the extent to which Korean Americans have adopted the foreign culture in the host country heterogeneous because there are different levels of transcultural assimilation amongst the Korean Americans (Park, 1999). Park (1999) explains the different levels of adoption of host culture on the basis of the extent of adoption of positive and negative attributes of American and Korean cultures, where level of adoption of specific attributes is thesis (Korean), anti thesis (American) and synthesis (Korean American) (Park, 1999, p. 289). Therefore, four levels of adoption of American values are seen amongst the Korean Americans where the individuals within the community show the adoption of different values and synthesising of these values with the Korean culture. Some Korean Americans cannot speak either Korean or English fluently, in which case there is more negativised cultural assimilation where neither trait is positive. Some Koreans may adopt negative American and positive Korean attributes, which is considered within the diaspora to be an intermediate level of Americanisation (Park, 1999). Negative traits from the American culture could be materialism and arrogance. At another level, members of the diaspora may adopt some positive attributes of American culture and discard the negative attributes of the Korean culture; for example, adoption of a more feminist approach to family values and structures (Park, 1999). The highest level of synthesis between the two cultures is where positive attributes of both American and Korean cultures are adopted; such as, the greater desire to contribute to taxes (Park, 1999).

Park (1999) was able to demonstrate how within a diaspora, there is no homogeneity in adoption of host society’s culture. The need to assimilate with the culture of the foreign land works with the need to retain root culture works to influence the members of the diaspora to adopt host society’s culture in different levels. This also shows that while the diaspora is affected by the host society’s culture, it does not completely separate itself from the home culture.

Indeed, the continuing links with the home society may also mean that the cultural synthesis between the host and the home society is not limited to the diaspora alone and also impacts the home society and the host society through the diaspora (Park, 2004). The diaspora is located in the middle or the in-between of the home and the host society and it remains active in the social settings of both the home and the host societies, thereby influencing the cultures in both societies (Park, 2004). The influence of Korean American youth is given by Park (2004) to illustrate the point that the youth influences the transnational flows of popular culture in both the host and the home societies.

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Despite the impact of the host society on the cultural activities of the diaspora as seen in the example of the Korean American community discussed above, the impact is not to the extent of completely changing the cultural practices of the members of the diaspora. The process of diaspora making is such that diasporas are constructed when immigrants seek out those who are also from similar national, religious or linguistic background (Lin & Robinson, 2005). As such diasporas are often constructed on the basis of ethnicity and language and evidence indicates that host societies have not been able to impact the diasporas cultural activities to the extent of bringing about complete cultural assimilation and the diminishing of the ethnic networks (Lin & Robinson, 2005). Lin and Robinson (2005) provide evidence for their argument that the impact of host society does not lead to the complete cultural assimilation using a case study of ‘ethnoburbs’ of Chinese immigrants in the United States. Chinatowns are now increasingly found in American suburbs, and their growth in suburban America is challenging assumptions related to spatial and cultural assimilation of Chinese immigrants in the United States (Lin & Robinson, 2005). It is argued that contrary to the common assumption in literature related to immigrant culture that greater cultural assimilation with the host society’s culture takes place with time and increased geographic and socioeconomic mobility of immigrants from the inner city into the suburbs, which eventually leads to the decline of immigrant ethnicity, the ethnoburbs of the United States show that even with time, geographic and socioeconomic mobility, Chinese immigrants have not completely let go of their home culture and language (Lin & Robinson, 2005). Research on the Chinese ethnoburb of the San Gabriel Valley region of Greater Los Angeles suggests that the members of the Chinese community continue to use Chinese language and form ethnic connections even amongst the next generations of the Chinese Americans who are born and raised in the United States. This indicates that the extent to which host society influences the diaspora is limited especially in terms of the diaspora’s language and ethnicity affiliations, in which the influence of the home culture remains strong even after assimilation in the host society.

To conclude, the host society does determine the activities of the diaspora in both political and cultural respects to some extent. However, the diaspora remains connected with the home society and the culture of the home, which means that there is a diffusion of cultures and this diffusion affects the cultural activities of the diaspora where it adopts some characteristics from the host society while it also retains the characteristics of the home society. Because the diaspora does remain connected to the home society through networks, the host society has an indirect cultural and political impact on the home society through the diaspora. Research has indicated that the diaspora leads to diffusion of democratic values learnt from the host society in the home society as well. Therefore, it cannot be said that the impact of the host society in the determination of the diaspora’s activities is absolute in nature. What can be said is that the host society has significant impact on the cultural and political activities of the diaspora but at the same time, the diaspora is also impacted by the home society and holds on to the culture of the home society through language, literature, and other activities. What this may be characterised as is diffusion. The process of diaspora making involves construction or reimagination of the home culture and therefore, even with rigid assimilating policies, the host state is not able to completely divide the diaspora from the reimagination of the homeland.

References:

Abdelhady, D., 2008. Representing the homeland: Lebanese diasporic notions of home and return in a global context. Cultural Dynamics, 20(1), pp. 53-72.

Adamson, F., 2012. Constructing the diaspora: Diaspora identity politics and transnational social movements. Politics from afar: Transnational diasporas and networks , pp. 25-42.

Lalich, W., 2006. The development of Chinese communal places in Sydney. In: Voluntary organisations in the Chinese diaspora: Illusions of Open Space in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Shanghai. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 169-199.

Levitt, P., 1998. Social Remittances: Migration Driven Local-Level Forms of Cultural Diffusion. The International Migration Review, 32(4), p. 926.

Lin, J. & Robinson, P., 2005. Spatial disparities in the expansion of the Chinese ethnoburb of Los Angeles. GeoJournal, Volume 64 , p. 51.

Naujoks, D., 2017. The Transnational Political Effects of Diasporic Citizenship in Countries of Destination: Overseas Citizenship of India and Political Participation in the United States. In: D. Carment & A. Sadjed, eds. Diaspora as Cultures of Cooperation.

s.l.:Palgrave Macmillon , pp. 199-221.

Park, K. Y., 1999. The Cultivation of Korean Immigrants on American Soil: The Discourse on Cultural Construction. s.l., Institute for Korean-American Studies, Inc..

Park, J.-S., 2004. Korean American youth and transnational flows of popular culture across the Pacific. Amerasia journal , 30(1), pp. 147-169.

Petrova-Mitevska, E., 2004. Diaspora cultures, Vienna: Committee on Culture, Science and Education .

Pile, S. & Thrift, N., 1995. Mapping the Subject. In: Mapping the Subject: Geographies of Cultural Transformation. London: Routledge.

Rouse, R., 1992. Making Sense of Settlement: Class Transformation, Cultural Struggle, and Transnationalism among Mexican Migrants in the U.S. In: N. Glick-Schiller, L. Basch & C. Blanc-Stanton, eds. Toward a Transnational Perspective on Migration: Race, Class,

Ethnicity and Nationalism Reconsidered . New York: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Safran, W., 1991. Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return. Diaspora, 1(1), p. 83–99.

Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L. & Szapocznik, J., 2010. Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65 (4), pp. 237-251.

Sheffer, G., 2003. Diaspora politics: At home abroad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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