Thursday, December 24, 2009

Multiculturalism, Migration & Customizing National Identities.


      The French national identity theme that was much of the formula for Sarkozy's popularity which made him won the 2007 elections is brought on debate as to distract citizens from real issues as unemployment and rising budget deficit. Read it here 'Sarkozy returns to his political roots'. According to this article of The New York Times, Eric Besson, the minister of immigration and national identity, just opened three months debate for local government to define “what it means to be French.”. National identity and immigration are high issues in actual France where the largest immigrant community is conformed by Muslims.

       What does significance bring the way you are in the community where you live? I think much of the major problem of the US immigration reform is close linked with identity; the meaning of your identity and its effects on the community where you live.

        We’re naturally inclined to be what life invites us to be and we fit in it as if in a mold; as Ortega Y Gasset states in “The Revolt of The Masses” to describe the ‘mass-man’. [To start with, we are what our world invites us to be, and the basic features of our soul are impressed upon it by the form of its surroundings as in a mould. Naturally, for our life is no other than our relations with the world around. The general aspect which it presents to us will form the general aspect of our own life] (p. 41) And this is valid also when we migrate; when you move your surrounding your different identity is questioned. It seems to be natural that part of your identity suffers shifts when changing communities, ‘A sort of survival’ I heard an American friend to say when her foreign roots got lost in the family generation because of society hostilities at the time. Undoubtedly changing cultures would alter much of what you are, if you don’t, you may have strong reasons to keep tied to your roots and live dissociated and isolated from your surrounding.

        For some communities of diasporic cultures changing identities is never in the agenda forming ‘clusters’ of cultures into the community, the national identity of the adopted community is put into question. When that sub-community grows, cultural differences and social need surface.
Can you be called to be someone whom you don’t represent with your identity? In other words, can you be called to be a citizen of a country which national hymn, laws, culture, history and basic things like this you do not know or reject to assimilate in spite of the years of living there?

    In this study about Cultural Pluralism and Partial Citizenship, Jeff Spinner-Halev, in charge of the Department of Political Science in University of North Carolina goes deep into the problem of multiculturalism and tries to respond to the questions if multiculturalism threatens citizenship. He distinguishes types of multiculturalism: -thick multiculturalism or cultural pluralism, which is given where “the advantage of a society where group membership is prior to citizenship is that groups have a reasonable chance of maintaining a robust version of their identity”. This cluster community seek state funds for group separation as for the state give them support, financial or otherwise, to further their own goals, deeply threaten citizenship since people are not interested in citizenship not in making the state a better place to live. “Even the term ‘fellow citizen’ may strike them as strange. What they have are fellow Jews, or fellow blacks, or fellow Muslims, or fellow Sikhs. Citizen, however, are not their fellows.” -Inclusive multiculturalism; the more typical form, are formed by minority groups pressing for inclusion into the dominant culture, they want to be able to retain some of traditional dress or type of recognition while serving their country. These claims are to ‘expand’ citizenship.

      The United States is a nation made of immigrants: being an immigrant is part of its national identity. The novelty is that the new immigrant is not interested in acquiring citizenship according to the former director of the INS (U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Service) Emilio Gonzales in an interview for Poder Magazine. Furthermore, the new immigrant finds its own community settled there already, with which he/she identifies, for there is not such a need for adaptation which motivated the immigrant that founded the country.

    On the other hand, on Roxanne Lynn Doty's research about immigration, in "Immigration and National Identity: Constructing the Nation”, says that the identity of a nation is given by the state and is totally constructed. “The identity of a nation will be related to ‘tradition’ and to existing cultural practices, but the decisions as to what is relevant and how it should be used in establishing the national identity will rest with the state" she quotes from John Breuilly in ‘Nationalism and the State’.

       Then, state decisions are a must when giving shape to a national identity of a country.
An example of this could perfectly be when considering the custom of foot-binding (Oops! don't click here if you're too sensitive) that Chinese women practiced and which identified them with a sign of beauty for centuries until it was recently banned for the government. In her book “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” Lisa See describes its meaning as "Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace". This traditional practice of inflicting pain on children very much rooted into the Chinese cultural life ceased to be a symbol of beauty when suddenly the government prohibited its procedure.

      Another example of administrations influencing national identities I believe is clearly confirmed in the actual configuration of Algerian families where the huge communication gap existing between one single generation talks tons about citizens being consistently manipulated by the government of turn, this driven by the educative system.
It begins with occupation and schools designed to train people for a French-run system and the subsequent forced state-sponsored-Arabization after the independence where Egyptian teachers were hired because of a lack of local Arabic educators “not realizing, officials say now, that many of those teachers had extreme religious view and that they helped plant the seeds of radicalism that would later flourish in a school system where Arabization became interchangeable with Islamization” says the article "In Algeria, a Tug of War for Young Minds" of the New York Times.
Because of government management on school system, now Algerian families find few things in common at home; the older generation, trained under French rule, filling out crossword puzzles can’t help their children with their homework because their Arab is poor. Instead, influenced by the current school regime, girls wear velour pants and tops and a large scarf pinned beneath their chin. “Algeria’s young men leave school because there is no longer any connection between education and employment, school officials said. The schools raise them to be religious, but do not teach them skills needed to get a job (...) We say that Algeria’s schools have trained monsters (…) In Algeria your sense of identity often depends on when you went to school" states the source.

    The film "The Battle of Algiers" by Gillo Pontecorvo, which vibrantly documents the struggles for the Algerian independence of 132 years of the French colonial rule through terrorist practices, it underling talks also about struggles of a surviving yet latent native identity.
Pontecorvo portrayed one of the most vile yet desolated ways of regaining freedom through violence, racial intolerance and the abuse of trust.

      Here, purposely, Algerian women change their “identity” by changing their physical aspect westernizing their clothing style, dyeing their hair etc. so they could have free access to the seemingly French occupied region of the city, through the checking points, for then, dynamitize French-habitué centers such as airports and cafes. In This scene, innocence is depicted by the rhythm of Cha-cha-cha, the charm of adolescents and toddlers and the presence of Coca-Cola, shakes and ice creams.
Click here for a full description of how this is accomplished in an 8min film sequence.
You don’t need to know Arab nor French language to understand that the three Algerian women after giving up their veils and changing their identities are being designated for the-to-be dynamited places. That by their new aspect are allowed accessibility to the Parisian city where we notice drastic contrasts between architecture and street customs of both civilizations. As for example, one of the hair dyed Arab women is asked by a French soldier if she’s heading for the beach! An unthinkable activity for the Arab world. And again, the presence of fear on the gesture of the intruder; in this case the Algerians are not immigrants in their own land, but they feel like that in the French occupied part.

      "Now the government is urgently trying to re-engineer Algerian identity, changing the curriculum to wrest momentum from the Islamists, provide its youth with more employable skills, and combat the terrorism it fears schools have inadvertently encouraged.” concludes the NY Times article.

       Customizing national identities by states breaks family unity and the common sense of past.
Concerning human integration and national identity, I'd say that freedom is precious but opaque when deduced from the freedom of others.

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