By Yasmina Mrabet
By Yasmina Mrabet
Moocco World News
Washington D.C., March 20, 2012
The terms ‘citizen,’ ‘ethnicity,’ and ‘foreigner’ are shifting in meaning, and becoming increasingly difficult to apply to the growing transnational populations of migrants and return migrants who are inherently more intercultural and/or multicultural. Consequently, the meanings of these terms must be adjusted in order to more accurately define those who are connected to more than one country.
‘Citizen’ is commonly understood as a native or inhabitant of a particular country.
‘Ethnicity’ is commonly defined as a person’s racial and cultural background.
‘Foreigner’ is commonly used to refer to a person who is from outside a given group or community.
With the increasing number of migrants due to factors such as globalization and human smuggling, these terms are difficult to apply with their original meanings. An increasing number of people who are or have been citizens of more than one country, and with different ethnic backgrounds, makes their ‘foreignness’ ambiguous, and in some ways, impossible to determine.
In an ethnographic study, Daniel Linger researched the experiences of Japanese-Brazilians as return migrants to Japan. Miriam, a Japanese-Brazilian is interviewed, and explains, “…we don’t even have our own what’s-it called…our nation, because in Brazil we’re called japonesinhas and here we’re called gaijin…” Miriam is “[consciously reorienting] and reworking” her sense of self—she will always be connected to both countries, by way of culture and race, as well as the time she has spent in them. However she is considered a ‘foreigner’ in both. This challenges the common notion that those with the same ethnicity share the same race and culture, and probably live in the same country of which they are citizens. Now mixed ethnicities and dual citizenships are increasingly common, and must be accounted for.
Yo-Yo Migration—“[going] back and forth repeatedly…a slow-motion, long distance commute” is becoming progressively more frequent. Movement between two ‘homelands,’ indicates that people can hold allegiance to two countries, and embody more than one culture, although they may be perceived as foreign in both countries due to citizenship, ethnicity, or socio-linguistic capabilities, which can reflect nation-state identity or nationality. In the case of Portuguese migration between Portugal and France, linguistic competency in the ‘country of origin’ is expected of ‘foreigners,’ and “when émigrés [or] non-émigrés…heard about someone of Portuguese origin who did not speak Portuguese, they interpreted this as a sign of the person’s willful scorn for his or her origins, compatriots, and Portugal as a whole.” Standards are set based on language ability, and thus become one of the determinants of what it means to be ‘foreign.’
However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that many people are unfamiliar or disconnected from their country or countries of origin, because they are of mixed race, culture, and often language. Many one and a half and second generation Portuguese-French for example, have created a hybridized language called ‘Frantugues’ or ‘Portufrancais.’ This is important to note because for both the Portuguese in Portugal as well as the French in France, the use of this hybridized language “evokes images of lower-status national and social origin.” Language as a measure of class status shows that whether or not someone is a ‘foreigner’ and/or a ‘citizen’ is also based upon a certain level of fluency in both languages. It seems that many people expect the terms ‘citizen,’ ‘ethnicity,’ and ‘foreigner’ to refer to a set group of people; to be a citizen one should also be ethnically linked to the country, to be foreign, one must simply be a citizen of a different country…and therefore have that country’s ethnic characteristics. As is demonstrated with the Portuguese-French, this is not always possible—and therefore the original definitions of these three words can no longer explain the intricacies of such hybridized populations.
In the case of the North Africa, there is a strong connection to France, and environments both in France and North Africa are shaped to some extent by the historical context of colonialism. One might argue that a link to the French language and culture, in a sense makes Maghrebis part French, complicating the meaning of ethnicity. In France, there is a growing number of Maghrebis who hold French citizenship, who are fluent speakers of French, and active participants in French society. The sense of self of a Maghrebi immigrant in France is thus determined in part by language ability and cultural connections to France, and in part by ethnic background, including dual citizenship with ‘country of origin’ in many cases, and sometimes bilingual ability. The same holds true for migrant populations in other countries around the globe. In an increasingly interconnected world, integration and assimilation have blurred the lines between traditional understandings of ‘citizenship,’ ‘ethnicity’ and ‘foreigner.’
Stuart Hall explained the Diaspora experience as one that “is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity: by a conception of ‘identity’ which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity.” Increased hybridity and integration within countries and around the world requires consideration of shifting meanings of the terms ‘citizen,’ ‘ethnicity’ and ‘foreign.’ When we say ‘citizen’ we must remember that a person can be a citizen of more than one country, and this may or may not have anything to do with whether they are viewed as ‘foreign’ in these countries. When describing ‘ethnicity’ we must take into account mixed racial and cultural backgrounds, and finally, when describing someone as a ‘foreigner’ we must specify they ways in which they are foreign and to whom.
1- Daniel Linger. No One Home: Brazilian Selves Remade in Japan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001): 163.
Ibid., p. 27.
2- Michèle Koven, “Transnational perspectives on sociolinguistic capital among Luso-Descendants in France and Portugal,” American Ethnologist, 31, no. 2 (May 2004): 270–290.
3- Ibid., p. 275.
4- Ibid., p. 278.
5 – Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in J. Rutherford (ed.), Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990): 235.
Yasmina Mrabet is a conflict resolution practitioner specializing in intercultural engagement and dialogue processes. She is Moroccan-American, and has lived and traveled extensively throughout the Middle East. Much of her work in the conflict resolution field is aimed at addressing feelings of mutual fear and suspicion between Western societies and Arab and Muslim societies. Yasmina serves on the Board of Directors of the Northern Virginia Mediation Service and the Arab Council on Conflict Resolution. She also works with the women’s peacebuilding organization Peace X Peace, managing the Connection Point initiative. Yasmina earned her Bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Virginia in 2008, and is currently completing her Master’s degree at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.
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