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Diaspora & Identity

With the emerging group of people leaving their homeland, either willingly or forcefully, one cannot deny the impact the diaspora has in both, the country they immigrate to and their homeland. Often called the ‘carriers of their culture’ they become the main source of multiculturalism in their ‘new’ homeland, but do the diasporas ever feel a sense of belonging to any place? And in the end, are they left with any place they can truly call their home?

The term ‘diaspora’ is derived from the Ancient Greek word dia speiro which means ‘to sow over’. With changing times, the term soon defined the Jews after the Fall of Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE, and much later it was used by scholars in the 1950s and ’60s for the African Diaspora. Historically, the term has been used widely but today the usage of the term comes with a certain connotation that one cannot deny.

Credits: Girma Berta

Migration, which is the movement of people from one place to another temporarily, is nothing new in today’s world, as people ‘change’ cities now and then, just for something ‘better’. But not all migrants are privileged, with some being forced migrants or others seeking better opportunities. Where does that leave these people? Commenting on these questions is not effortless as it differs from person to person, but the general idea is almost the same in every case.

A sense of belonging to a place, a culture, and being an integral part of a community is provisionally deep rooted in one’s identity. So what happens when people migrate? Do they lose this identity and adopt a new one, something more preferred by the people of another country? Or do they stick to their ideals and have an almost adverse impact on others? In a sense, people lose substantially, only hoping to gain much more. The recent diasporas are people who migrate for better employment or better education – better opportunities. In doing so, they leave behind the very essence of their identity and in most cases adopt another one, which is a tough bargain.

In today’s world of globalization, mass migration and acculturation, the thought of sustenance of cultural identity is of importance. Some may argue that culture, ethnicity, and nationality do not equate to the identity of a person, but if questioned what makes you who you are, people often link their interests with the place they belong to or the culture that influences their choices. So, to say that the above factors do not represent a person’s identity is inaccurate.

Diaspora communities are often haunted with some sense of loss or something amiss in their lives and have an impression that they have something to reclaim and do so by visiting their native land once in a while. But does this ‘vacation’ really make the homesickness and identity-crisis fade? Moreover, do these ‘trips down the memory lane’ mean they feel a sense of belonging to their native place? Not necessarily. People tend to get accustomed to the place they live in and even though there is a sense of nostalgia for a place they left long back or the sudden homesickness they feel for a place they haven’t seen (often the case with second or third generation expatriates and migrants), they know that ‘home’ for them is forever going to be someplace distant.

The identity of the diaspora takes a plural form as it doesn’t belong to one place or country, but multiple, and hence they often find themselves either belonging to both the places or in between – neither of the places. As it is said that something always gets lost in translation, for the migrants and expatriates, they live their lives in countries that speak a different tongue, losing half their lives desperately trying to translate official documents, only to end up knowing that they have lost their very mother tongue in the process.

People who do not belong to such communities do not understand the intricacies of this issue, mainly because it does not concern them. The principle aim of this issue is not solely the loss of culture, but the plurality of identity, or in some cases, the existence of none. In the case of multiple identities, wherein people associate themselves with certain aspects of their native land and many from the place they live in, the result is the intermixing of cultures, giving birth to a culture that is neither true to its origins nor to its people. On the other hand, the identity-less groups often live life in a sense of dismay and feel, to a larger extent, that life has become meaningless if one cannot identify themselves.

Credits: DhakaTribune

Milan Kundera, a Czech writer who was exiled to France in 1975 writes in his book, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. People who live far away from home often have a mental checklist of things that constitute their native land. They do this subconsciously to retain a certain part of their home in their minds, their memory being their souvenir.

The single, most existential question for the diaspora is where do they belong. This question leads to a sense of confusion and agony as it doesn’t have a black and white answer. For the migrants, the loss of culture and identity is something they deal with their whole lives, and moreover, the generations after them grow up without a sense of connection to their native land.

Although, in most cases, the economic factor pushes people to leave their homelands and settle in countries with better economic opportunities; the loss of one’s very own traditions and customs and even language is often accompanied by this migration. In the end, the question worth asking is whether the loss of a home and identity is worth the ‘prosperity’ gained.

Reda Aamna is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Varda Ahmad

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Reda Aamna

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