Migrant. Immigrant. Alien. Words that bear an inherent vulnerability while connoting an otherness. As I write this, I myself am supposedly outside the space of my habitual residence. I am a legal alien or a legal migrant student. However, I am termed an international student. My legal reason for crossing borders: academic upward mobility. The term international allows for quelling a negative reading. It is as if, just in terminology, international promotes a liberal attitude on migration. That it is ok to cross borders. Yet I fear this optimism stems from my privilege.
In recent months, “migration” seems to have gained dialogic momentum. In social media parlance, it is trending. Everyone around me seems to be talking about it: from OPTs to Donald Trump to the migrant crisis. With varying levels of related anxiety and sorrow, these issues bring forward a big challenge to our pluralism. There are intellectual forces of inclusiveness and also forces (still intelligent) of xenophobia. The easiest resolve would be to state that we’re all immigrants – that since the beginning of time, migration shaped humanity. The religions, ethnic distinctions, and civilizations that exist are all formations born of migration. My own forefathers supposed Austro-Asiatic inhabitants of modern day Cambodia migrated to India to form new cultural-ethnic identities.
But this is an easy idealist resolve. Xenophobia sparks from the danger of another ideal. The ideal of an imagined nation. Both migrant and nation interact in a world governed by policy and capital. Our virtual space, as this blog, allows for discussion and saturated viewing. Even so, understanding the complexities of migration is challenging.
The imagined nation is externalized in national holidays, bordered fences, names (of country, people, language, etc), and other verbal/visual paraphernalia. If one is to speak of belongingness, the nation provokes a memory that very much triggers a set code for social existence. Citing Social Psychologists Roy F. Baumeister and Mark R. Leary, humans have a fundamental need to belong. This drives all social function and conformity. National memory works to seduce such a condition. Seductive, the imagined nation is an ideology that permeates through all our lives.
Why else would a Third Culture Kid find it so excruciating to answer the question: “Where are you from?” Somehow, the TCK is already outside this paradigm of imagined nation. But they too are, to a great degree, anomalies. Eventually, to provide a negative analysis, the TCK is an outsider. To speak of causations for such imagined nation, the basis could be religion, ethnicity. All things conducive to xenophobia seem to plague the imagined nation, making things problematic. As a radical example, the Islamic State takes this very idea to pillage towards an imagined nation. In this case, the outsiders who don’t adhere are either killed or have to migrate. Migrate to where? Other nations with their own imagined borders and xenophobia.
Migrants from conflict areas move for security and economic prospect. The imagined nation is a barrier here, particularly because the national border is a manifested physical entity. Walls, barbed wire, armed patrolling guards, all blocking the “migrant.” Let’s take the “migrant crisis” in Europe as case study. Be it Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Greece, Hungary… every stop denies entry to the “illegal” migrant. The term “crisis” associated with these influxes denotes a state of alarm in Europe, particularly because the number of migrants overwhelms the tranquility of nation states.
Belongingness, familiarity and a fear of the unknown; very human socio-psychological terms come to play. Policy and capital then play a more terrifying role as motivator of xenophobia. Immediately, some form of dehumanization occurs and the crisis demands “solutions.” Other countries have responded to the crisis with open arms. Images of cheering, gift-holding Germans welcoming migrants jolt a hope. Yet this too has been criticized as hypocritical atonement (Check article: “Germans need to understand that the Refugee Crisis is not about them”). The question is whether nations do not allow for immigrants, or restrict entrance. Obviously, this is a situation where national imagination and the sole migrant clash as ideals in a real, far more complicated world. Forgive my feeble attempt at making this overtly comprehensive. My greater concern, problematic to this blog post itself, is with being a migrant.
Closer to our geographical location, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s campaign path towards “making America great again” has involved a great deal of controversy. Relevant here is his claim that all illegal immigrants in this country are Mexicans. Mexico, south of the border, has sadly become the negative typification of a nation. A place where the American spring-breaker to commercially indulges, yet also rampant with the violence of drug cartels and kidnappings. Sadly, that is all Trump sees in his address – polarities that define another nation. In this, the working class immigrant is trapped by a stereotype that is lethal yet effective in Trump’s imagining of his nation.
It is a different case for me, the international student. I am not of working class origins, and my academic pursuits (if I were to generalize) make me a bourgeoisie. I am allowed entrance, yet my mobility is constricted by bureaucratic guidelines, documents, stamps, visas, passports, etc. All documents acquired after thorough background and financial checks. Yet nothing takes away from the fact that after a designated time, I too am unwanted. There are segregating attitudes, between the poor migrant and the privileged migrant. Yet I don’t think there is much contrast in the essential decision: moving as a choice.
Moving away from a nation state can be seen as a form of rebellion. The migrant is indifferent to the imagined nation yet also conscious of the identity it creates. Immigrant cultural signifiers like Chutney Music in the Caribbean or Tex-Mex food in the USA, attempt to both merge and amplify the cultural differences migration allows for. Mobility, in pursuit of a better livelihood, is justified in a world that champions human rights and pluralism. To generalize, the virtual space of the Internet propagates discussion of identity. Perhaps capital, borders, policies, visual media and the migrating subjects are all in a concoction. The very virtual space we resolve to for solitary distraction permits these discussions. But again, it is a space whose access is dominated by monetary privilege. Perhaps this blog post too is a frail attempt at resolving far too many reflections. What stays true is that I have a legal visa, sealed with an expiration date, while some people cannot afford that bureaucratic security.
*The cover photo’s source is here.