Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Integration: They Will Change Our Way of Life!

A Flophouse reader responded to yesterday's post where I talked about fear of migrants and migration with some arguments of his/her own:
"I don't think people are afraid of migrants. They're afraid migrants will change their way of life if too many of them come. It's all about integration and respect of the people who were there before you. It's also about the fear that they're taking the local's jobs or have a negative impact."
A great comment and a very good place to start talking about migrant integration which is a very sensitive topic everywhere that migrants go.  Migrants negotiate the terms of their acceptance into the host country and culture.  They have to because even if they come in large numbers there is no guarantee that the "people who were there before" (the majority) will accept them and to some degree migrants' happiness and economic success depends on that acceptance.

"They Will Change Our Way of Life!"

Absolutely they will and I think it's very human to fear this.  In a sense migration is one of the great Cosmic Crapshoots of Life because neither the host country citizens nor the migrants themselves can know what will come out of the encounter.

Chiang Mai, Thailand, for example, has a large "international community" (code word for "migrant population from the West") estimated at around 30,000 people in a city with a population between 300,000 and 400,000.  The foreign community is clearly a minority so one would think that some sort of negotiation had to occur.  It's worth asking the question  How has life in Chiang Mai changed because of the presence of these people?  And how do the people of Chiang Mai feel about that?  Is there a minimum level of integration into Thai society that the local community expects or can impose on these migrants?  Or is it the other way around where the migrants have the power to decide to integrate (or not) as they like?

These are fascinating questions for which I have no answers.  I used this case deliberately because 1. I knew an American who lived there long-term and died there not too long ago and in our email conversations he admitted that he was not as integrated as he would have liked to be and 2. it seems to me that an awful lot of the conversation about integration is about people from the Global South moving into the Global North which completely ignores the presence of large communities of Europeans and North Americans living in Latin America, Asia and Africa.  

Why is it normal for us to question the motives and the capacity to integrate of immigrants to OUR countries, while at the same time idealizing our very own migrant communities abroad (often referred to as "expats" even when they have lived in those host countries 20+ years):  French in Tokyo,  Americans in Kenya,  Canadians in Cambodia, British in rural France?

So, Flophouse readers, let's do a thought experiment just for fun.  Think about your home country and the immigration/integration debates going on there.  Determine what you think successful integration by immigrants would look like in or back "home".  For example, you might agree with the following statements "they should learn the local language"  or "they should not have a negative impact on the natives" or "they should be respectful of the people who already live there" or "they should avoid conspicuous expressions of religiosity."

And then turn around and apply the exact same standards to a fellow citizen from your home country who lives as part of a migrant/expat community outside that home country.  Do you find that you can apply your integration standards equally to immigrants in your home country versus emigrants from your home country living abroad?  Or do you feel that you can't because the situations are simply not the same?

Please let me know what you come up with and leave a comment.  There are no right or wrong answers here, folks, it's just a thought experiment. No grade and no pressure. :-)


Ellen said...

Hmm. I would apply the same standards. What is strange, when I think of myself, for example, is that I fully integrated into France. We have been a French-speaking family. About thirty years ago, I didn't even have an accent left. But then something happened inside me. I felt I was losing my mother tongue and determined that I needed to go back to work (With 4 young kids, I was not working, then.) and that whatever work I did needed to be in English. I started to do what you are doing. I went back to school to get a legitimate French degree -- first a professional certification as a translator/interpretor for business, then returning to work as an English teacher to adults while I went on to get the license and a master's in English at a French university. I then passed the certification exam to become a teacher in the school system. After a few years of trying to teach to kids, I realized I wasn't really speaking English. Yes, I was saying things in English, in class, but not really beyond simple vocabulary and grammar. At 50, I resigned and signed up for the Technical Communicator program at the American University. I re-discovered a community of native English speakers! From that time on, I worked using English; I spoke both French and English in my professional environment. My foreign accent came back. I stopped working, eventually retired. I became more and more emmeshed in the American community -- volunteering at the library, taking on responsibilities with AARO, meeting new people and becoming friends to the point where, while I do have French friends, most of my day-to-day friend contacts, in person or via social media, are with Americans. In a way, I've become less integrated, I feel.

Anonymous said...

Good set of questions to get the conversation going. Here's my particular take:

"they should learn the local language"
I would definitely agree if the migrant/immigrant wants to function (i.e.: work, have a social life that includes the local community, etc.) as part of the society around her. Not learning the local language(s?) seems like it could be a form of a defensive tactic (fear of letting go or "losing" one's native culture?).

"they should not have a negative impact on the natives"
Interesting question, but the word "negative" needs to be defined. Who defines "negative"? "Negative" in what respects? Short term, long term? Economic impacts? Cultural impacts (which could include changes to local language and food, among other possibilities)? Are the reactions of the existing populations included in the idea of "negative impact"? (Since I'm originally from the US, the word "native" can have, shall we say, a somewhat different meaning, so I prefer "existing populations" to "native".)

All immigration changes cultures, and all migrants change the cultures they move to. Migration can change the cultures the migrants move from as well as the cultures the migrants move to.

Look what happened when some poor religious migrants arrived at Plymouth Rock a few centuries ago, or some other poor migrants moved to Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Did the Plymouth migrants learn the local language? Did they have a negative impact on the native population? (<= Rhetorical question... ;) )

And in any case, we still haven't recovered from either event. :D

"they should be respectful of the people who already live there"
Again "respect" needs to be defined according to local customs. Should all local customs be respected? If so, which ones, and to what degree?

And to go back to the first question about language, learning the local language (or at least, making an effort) is pretty important in terms of understanding (= respecting) local customs.

"they should avoid conspicuous expressions of religiosity."
To my ears, this sounds very American, or at least, European. Does a woman not wearing a headscarf count as "religiosity" in a strongly Muslim country? And for a recent immigrant to France/Germany/etc., is the wearing of a headscarf a "conspicuous expression of religiosity" that should be avoided? Should a religious Jewish man not wear a yarmulke on his head because that's a "conspicuous expression of religiosity"?

My 0.002¥...

Anonymous said...

On Ellen's post: Ellen, where you said " About thirty years ago, I didn't even have an accent left." made me think of some recent conversations.

A couple of days ago, I had no less than 3 separate conversations where I was asked "You've been here 25 years, you have French nationality and you haven't lost your accent?". The first time someone said that to me a few years ago, I thought "WTF?!?”. I wasn't even sure I understood the question. All I could say was "Ummm... no." followed by a weak joke: "You know, we immigrants lose everything but our accent."

So I've thought about "my accent" (it's sort-of generic anglophone and not especially strong, for what that's worth). As an immigrant in France, should I be concerned about losing/getting rid of my anglophone accent? As a French citizen, would eliminating my accent make me more "respectful" of the "local culture". (And if I lived in Marseilles, should it be a Marseilles accent? :D )

Serge Gainsbourg's said to Jane Birkin about her strong accent: "Don't lose it." He was right. Her accent was/is part of her fame and fortune.

Personally speaking, je me revendiques mon accent! I take responsibility for, and I'm proud of my accent. ;)

So where does something as basic as a "foreign" accent come into play in terms of all of the above questions?

Maria said...

Learn the local language.

Yes, definitely, if the immigrant wants to work and function well in a society where not everyone speaks his language. (Americans and other English-speakers automatically assume everyone speaks English, which is not always correct.)

Not have a negative impact upon the natives.

What is a negative impact? Break the local law? Ignore local customs? Speak their own language among themselves in public? This ties in with respect and the next subject.

They should be respectful of people already there.

Of course. But that should be a rule of life wherever we go. Do not criticize local customs. Do not claim your customs are superior to others'. Do not belittle others' beliefs because they are different from yours. Make an effort to understand the local population and their customs. Do not break a local law even if it seems silly to you (such as a woman who does not cover her head in Iran - a Christian woman may not cover her head in her home country for religious reasons anymore, but that does not mean she should break the law in the country she has arrived in).

They should avoid conspicuous expressions of religiosity.

How? If it is a person's belief that she should cover her head in public, or wear a yarmulke, or wear a chain with a cross, why should that be wrong? Is a nun expected to stop wearing her habit? This ties in with respect. We should respect others' beliefs, which may include outward expressions, and our beliefs should be respected, as well.

I believe the most useful and respectful adaptation to a new country and culture is learning the language. That shows your interest in the local culture and people and your respect toward them by considering their language important enough to learn.

And, speaking of accents, my parents always spoke Galician to me when we were living in Boston. I spoke it back to them while I learned English. English eventually became my first language. When we moved to Spain, I knew how to speak Galician and Castilian Spanish, but in the 25 years I've been living here, I still haven't lost my American accent. It's become less noticeable, but enough of it is still there for people to ask me where I'm from.

Inaka Nezumi said...

I apply the same standards both ways, but perhaps my standards are not so high in either direction...

Learning the local language is simply a practical necessity. Why anyone would willingly choose to remain a functional illiterate in one's own home is beyond me. But I'm not offended if someone wants to try to do it the hard way.

Trying not to have a negative impact on others, and showing respect to others, are things that I expect everyone should strive for, if they don't want to be considered assholes. This has nothing to do with migration, though. I think it is actually probably a bigger problem with tourists than with immigrants, but would apply equally well to people who stay where they were born and raised.

As for displays of religiosity, that was not an issue I recall hearing about growing up, nor one I see complaints about where I live now. Perhaps more of a post-9/11 North American/European thing?

Caveat: immigration levels where I live now are not high enough that there is any serious alarm about the local culture being changed as a result, so some of these things may simply not have become issues here yet. Which is not to say they might not some day, if immigration rates were to rise.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Wow. Wonderful replies. I'm reading them over my morning coffee.

@Ellen: What you wrote reminded me (and I think it's a vitally important point) that integration is NOT necessarily a linear process. Sometimes a person moves in the direction of greater integration but he/she can also step back at any time and say, "Well, I think I'd like to start going to Mass in my first language" or he/she might decide (as you did) to start spending some time with compatriots in the host country. It can even skip a generation (the phenomenon of the children of migrants exploring the country/culture/religion of one or both parents) or even generations. The descendants of migrants in a country of immigration, for example (Argentina, US, Australia) trying to connect with the culture and language of a very distant country of origin. My question would be: is this attempt to reconnect in some way as threatening (perhaps more threatening) than the perceived lack of integration by first-generation migrants in a host country?

@Anonymous: You ask a really good question: Should all local customs be respected? And how do you define "respect"? There is an interesting case in Japan that I've been thinking a lot about recently. It concerns a person of US origin who is a long-term resident of Japan and now a Japanese citizen since the year 2000 (he has renounced his US citizenship). He has became a very vocal activist against discrimination in Japan on the basis of national origin. There are places in Japan (public baths, some bars and clubs and apartment complexes) that openly discriminate against foreigners (some have "Japanese only" signs). His activism is very controversial for a number of reasons including this idea of respect for the local culture. Some people perceive his work to be disrespectful and obnoxious - that he doesn't understand Japan very well and that he's trying to impose foreign ways and values in his host country (country of citizenship). Debito responds: "People who love a society often seek ways to improve it. No society is perfect, after all, and I say there is nothing wrong with working for improvements if one means to live here, pay taxes and contribute to Japanese society much like anyone else."

Here is a link to his website and I'd be interested in hearing what you think about what he's doing.

@Maria: Looking at the previous paragraph, what do you do when you think that local law or custom is contrary to fundamental human rights? That's a really tough one....

@Nezumi-san: And actually the issue of human right and religious freedom is very timely. Brian Grim (he worked for Pew) has done a lot of research in this area. He contends that 47% of the countries in the world restrict religious liberty and freedom of conscience in some way. And it is just as much an issue in the Global South and East as it is in the Global North. There are all kinds of laws concerning apostasy, blasphemy and so on. There are places where you can be prosecuted for belonging to a banned sect (France, for example, banned at one point Baptists) or for saying something like "I don't believe God exists." Here is one of Grim's articles about this

Victoria FERAUGE said...

From your answers what I'm hearing is that the one thing that EVERYONE can agree on is learning the local language. But everything else is controversial with reasonable people having very different ideas about what constitutes integration and respect for the local culture and people in the host country.

For those of you from countries that are liberal democracies, here's a follow-up question for you:

In your countries of origin (Canada, US, France and many others) there is this idea of individual freedom. The idea that you can "Be all you can be." :-) You have the right to be different - to be a hippy, for example, to say controversial things (speaking truth to power), to express your religion or lack thereof (even if it annoys people), to wear jeans to a cocktail party (even if it offends) and so on. There is a tolerance for difference. It's not only OK to be different but some places actually celebrate difference.

So how do you square that tolerance (or celebration) for difference in the home country with the idea of integration into the host country. Did you lose the right to be different when you migrated? And do immigrants to your home country also lose that right to be different when they enter?

Inaka Nezumi said...

Hmm. Well, there are limits to how much and what kinds of difference are acceptable in any place, so within those limits, there is freedom. And of course, some kinds of differences are unavoidable or nearly so. Phenotype, accent, etc.

Also, integrating somewhere new can be liberating in some ways, too. (You mean I don't have to spend my time arguing about evolution anymore? What a time and mental-energy saver. Of course, in exchange there are new issues to spend time on.) It is not necessarily just a matter of forcing oneself into a certain mold, as much as finding ways this particular jigsaw piece can fit into a different puzzle.

Inaka Nezumi said...

So I guess to answer your questions directly:

"Did you lose the right to be different when you migrated?"

No. In fact, I'm bound to be different in some ways, whether I want to be or not. In general I'm comfortable with the ways I am different, and others around me don't generally seem to mind them either. There are also certain rules I cannot break to be accepted, but I don't happen to be interested in breaking them, so it all works out.

"And do immigrants to your home country also lose that right to be different when they enter?"

No, and they will likewise be different whether they want to be or not. And there are certain rules they will have to follow to be accepted, too.

Apologies if the above all sounds wishy-washy or pat. Can't come up with a better answer at the moment.

Maria said...

Even if you are a conformist within your country, as soon as you migrate you become different. You are not the same as the people where you have landed. You will always be different. So it doesn't matter much if you are "different" in the country you came from. There will always be aspects of you that will be different from others in the country you settle in. It's the same for those who come to our countries. They will always be different in some aspect, even if they end up molding themselves into our culture.

As to a law that may be contrary to fundamental human rights, it would be difficult to find one that I would have to comply with as a visitor. The death penalty is a law and contrary to human rights, but it should not affect me anywhere. (Which is a good reason not to break the law in a foreign country - the penalty could be too stiff.) Most laws and customs (such as ablation) of that kind are implemented and followed by the state and the local people, not the foreign individual.

Julia Gandrud (aka JuliaLikesFrogs) said...

One of the reason so many of my friends are immigrants is *because* of their difference - I only really identify with people who know what this is like. So I am in no rush for any of us to lose our differences.

That said, a gut anxiety that I often have is that my rights as a woman, or my daughter's rights, will eventually be hurt. The views on women and pregnancy, etc - as a prochoice woman whose life was saved by Planned Parenthood, I get very uncomfortable about the more conservative politics...

IamNels said...

It seems to me that we are missing a more profound impact of immigration than superficial respect for the native way of life by some groups, especially those with strongly held views about, say, women’s rights. For example, many Muslims have a deep rooted disdain for women as evidenced by the way their women are treated in public, in the home and even in the legal systems in their countries of origin. Should we expect them to drop these “cultural/ religious/ whatever” mores when they immigrate to a Western nation that values women’s rights? Are they even capable of dropping them without denying their own culture/ religion; whatever? Merely by asking this question, one risks the convenient label “islamophobe”, but it is important to ask it in the context of the discussion raised in the blog. A corollary question: are we applying our own Western standards of behaviour to the evidence cited above, i.e. perhaps Muslims do not really “disdain” women even though the treatment accorded women looks very much like that to Westerners? To me that is entering the realm of metaphysics and should be disregarded; after all if it looks like a dog and barks like a dog, it is a dog.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Nezumi-san, I laughed when I read your comment about evolution and I feel the same way. Coming from the US there is something very soothing about being in a country (any country) where every day life is less politicized and there aren't constant strident public arguments over evolution or marriage or [insert topic here]. But another reason I find it liberating is that in 2 of the last 3 countries I've lived in Roman Catholics are the majority and I can find a church (and a mass) just about anywhere. There are a lot of of Roman Catholics in the US but we are still a minority religion and I had not realized until I moved elsewhere how hard that could be. Since I was a child I have heard comments about my Church and have even been told to my face that there was something deeply wrong with it and it wasn't quite American ("the Founding Fathers were NOT Catholics!"). What a relief to not have my religion be a topic of discussion.

And with that example I show one situation where I was different in the US (and that was not always a good thing) and, lo and behold, I arrived in a country where I was not different at all in this respect. It rocked my world. :-)

@Maria, Yes, when it comes to migration difference isn't a choice, it simply is. One of the texts we read for class last week was an article from 1914 about immigration in the US. The author argued against something called the Teutonic Stock Theory which said that people from Eastern and Southern Europe were too different and couldn't be easily assimilated into the US. There are similar arguments going on today in a lot of countries where people say that some migrants are simply too different. So in the 21st century people in the host country still look at a migrant's home country/culture and make judgements about degrees of difference. Is that a reasonable thing to do or has history shown that those differences which seemed huge at the time, don't make a difference over the long-term?

@Julia, Yes!!! I'm with you - a society that is diverse is much more interesting, I find. The chance to have friends from many different places is one of the great things about living in a country of immigration. That said, with diversity comes beliefs that we may not like very much. The conundrum for a liberal democratic society is that on one hand we celebrate difference and promote individualism and free thinking, but on the other hand we are confronted by immigrants with beliefs that are illiberal (women are not equal to men, for example). Yep, I can see why that would be worrisome. :-)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@IamNels: Those are damn good questions and I think they are at the heart of the issue.

If we are socieities committed to individualism, liberty of conscience, respect for diversity and the like then those values would suggest that we must tolerate differences of opinion and different ways of living (even ones that we really REALLY don't like), provided (and this is my caveat) that everyone accepts a basic rule of reciprocity: I live with your differences, you learn to live with mine, and we keep our disagreements peaceful.

When immigrants arrive with beliefs that we think are highly offensive, should our goal be to change those beliefs? That's a tough question. Again, let's turn it around: A British atheist moves to a country where his unbelief is highly offensive to just about everyone and he spends his (or her) days denigrating the local religion and trying to convince the people in his new country that they should know better.

Should we expect him to drop or change those beliefs or keep those beliefs to himself because he/she has immigrated to a country that values its local religion and does not tolerate attempts to prosleytize in favor of other beliefs or no belief?

IamNels said...

We might tolerate beliefs that are offensive, but can we tolerate practices that are offensive? Specifically, for example, mistreatment of women? Of course if the mistreatment is illegal e.g. assaulting a wife, it can be stopped. But what if it is in a grey area, e.g. preventing a wife from engaging in what the native population considers normal activities? In either case, stopping the practice will elicit cries of "cultural imperialism" from some quarters.

The reverse example you cite is fascinating. Denigrating the local religion could be analogous to "hate Speech" that is becoming illegal in many countries.