Migration and Cultural Identities

Fernando Calzadilla

"Migration, Cultural, and Identity"

I have separated the title of the working group, originally "Migration and Cultural Identities" to address each subject separately although I recognized the inevitable thread that intertwines the three in the face of globalization and its mobile trends. Globalization is movement of capital and bodies, the production of diversity, and shifting multiple identities. The dilemma affecting each of the subjects I propose is, in very simple terms, for migration, if open or restricted; for cultural (1) if homogenous or diverse; for identity if one or multiple. Throughout, I will consider the economic factor as the main force behind these dilemmas. My basic premise is that nobody migrates voluntarily and given the choice, people would prefer to stay within the context that offers them the comfort and stability of group identity. After all, it is the group with its sense of history, affinity, expression of feelings, affects, and language that defines the individual. When people decide to migrate is most of the times as an expression of search for liberation from political, economic, or cultural exploitation and subordination. The move implies assimilation/incorporation to another culture, and another identity, more often than not, a stressful process for both ends of the migratory spectrum, the sender and the receiver. With the assertion I don't intend to overlook or negate the beneficial effects that transculturation has brought to the world. Humans have been in the long run more nomadic than sedentary (Sedentarization is a fairly recent phenomenon if compared with nomadic time) and the encounter of different groups, sometimes a very painful one, have been in the overall beneficial but above everything, inevitable. Certainly, in most cases, it could have been better; I believe that is what we should strive for as we speak to the issue again on this occasion.
The root of the word migration points to transit, change of home, transport, therefore the notion of space is inexorably bound up in migration. Globalization has tried to shift the debate from class struggle towards a debate on market struggle. Y. Sakamoto (1994) indicates the difference between an extension of the internationalization of relations (state boundaries, societies, regions) happening in the North and a deepening of democratization (2) happening in the South (class boundaries, race, religion, ethnicity) with the result of populist unrest in the latter and trade conflicts in the former. With 60 to 75 percent of the world population living in urban centers-and growing bigger, class struggle is characterized by space.
Most authors writing on globalization agree that the economic preponderance of international relations has contributed greatly to the decline of the Nation-State in favor of a transnational corporate rule. With its decline, a 'compression of time and space' blurs the traditional territorial boundaries making them more porous and extensive (ASEAN, EU, NAFTA, MERCOSUR, APEC) in contrast to the fragmentation and pigeonholing happening at individual level.
Migration policies, in opposition to economic policies, which are more and more handled by international institutions (WB, IMF, WTO, OECD, G7, or the more recent and less known Transatlantic Economic Partnership, a revival of the failed MAI, Multilateral Agreement on Investment) are still handled under the concept of Westphallian international relations, leaving to the sovereignty of the nation-state the power to restrict and enforce international labor standards and policies for migrant workers and refugees. The contradiction between an open market economy and the enforcement of nation-state sovereignty on labor and migration policies brings to the fore ethical questions. Which are acceptable agreements to migratory pressures? Which actions fall under the immoral category? Are migratory restrictions unjust?
For the receiving countries, and specifically for the Unites States, economic considerations are the deciding factor for migration policies. Capital return versus capital investment, the cost per immigrant in terms of services such as welfare, roads, schools, health, sanitation, et cetera, and the time it takes for that immigrant to return the investment as a tax payer (Borjas 1999). Another economic factor is the pressure that interest groups put on Congress to pass legislation that favors availability of cheaper labor. For J. Carens (1987), Liberal Democratic countries adhere to some basic principles such as equality, individual rights, property rights, the pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, majority rule, and the rule of law. Those principles advocate for an open border migration policy since individual rights and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights of the individual. Under this lens, migration would be beneficial because it increases technological transfer through people's movement back and forth to their countries of origin; a raise in purchasing power through the remittance money that migrants sent home to their countries; (3) it contributes to the horizontalization of relations between nation-states and the empowerment of minority groups at the center as wider political awareness grows in both sending and receiving ends. On the other hand, migration, both open and restricted, transfers reproduction costs to the sending country with the added handicap of draining the better-prepared and most apt workers. The less skilled thus migrates to the local city to fill the gap left by his migrating neighbor making sending cities overcrowded, highly competitive for meager work, violent, and marginalized. Governments are then forced to borrow heavily from international institutions to cover the social cost left behind by migration. International financial institutions impose the Neo-Liberal recipe: investment on raw material production and cutting government spending of social programs-hitting hard the weakest segment of the population. Remittance money is mostly used in consumer spending of imported goods, including food thus contributing to an even more dependent economy. Migration produces deep changes in the social structures with the dispersion of the family unit, political instability, human rights abuses through child and women labor (the first ones to migrate are the males in the family leaving behind women, children, and the incapacitated), and a high environmental impact through the depletion of natural resources, all of it contributing to the increased hegemony at the center.
Humans are naturally communitarian. They tend to form communities that are different, having their identity as a group based on their difference with other groups, and naturally, with a tendency to assert their own set of values, those characteristics that join them together as a group. An open border migration policy would put under stress the cultural values of the different groups at stake. Two major interpretations have been applied to the issues at hand. One, a demand that immigrants completely assimilate to the receiving culture renouncing their own. Two, a celebration of unbounded diversity and multiculturalism, complicating the definition of national identity and alliance.
Take for example the Latino population in the US, which while advocating the Liberal Democratic values remain constant to their cultural values in customs, food, music, and to an extent, language. Let me elucidate.
In January 2002, under the rubric of 'No Child Left Behind,' proposed by the Bush administration and passed with broad bipartisan support, Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the Bilingual Education Act, was changed. Without controversy, liberal Democrats made little effort to block the transformation of the Bilingual Education Act into the English Language Acquisition Act. Not a single member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, once a stalwart ally of Title VII, voted against the legislation at any stage of the process or sponsored a single amendment to preserve the federal bilingual education program. (4) This seems to point toward a complete assimilation of Latino immigrants to the US cultural system by cutting official links with the Spanish language. In April 26 2002, NBC completed its acquisition of Telemundo Communications Group, Inc. The deal was valued at $2.7 billion. The acquisition gives NBC ownership of the Telemundo Network, a 24-hour Spanish-language network reaching 90% of the Hispanic population. Bob Wright, Vice Chairman of General Electric and Chairman and CEO of NBC, said, "not only is this the largest acquisition by NBC, it is one of the biggest commitments made by any corporation to the dynamic Hispanic population." (5) This move instead, seems to point towards diversity and multiculturalism. How can we interpret the contradiction between government regulations and corporate policies?
Eliminating bilingual education does not contribute to the formation of a more unified US cultural dimension. A contextual approach to democracy advises that history, numbers, concentration, and cost of public services in different languages should be considered when passing legislation that affects cultural diversity. In June 11, 2001, Time Magazine devoted its cover and feature article to "AMEXICA The Vanishing Border"(Vol.157 No. 23) .
According to Time, 800 thousand people crisscross the border daily making virtually impossible to stop the Mexicanization of American culture. I would add that to some extent, the same is happening on the other side of the border. Democracy has to account for differences in the cultural dimension and for the fact that cultural differences are not possessions, are not substantially fixed entities, but instead subject to constant revision and change. The role of governments in the cultural dimension is a delicate balance between a hands off 'neutrality' (cultural choices are never neutral) and a hands on regulation that chokes minorities and promote resistance.
Hardt and Negri (2000) advocate for global citizenship. So do Richard Falk (1999) and William Tabb (2001). But what kind of identity is global citizenship?
In separating the original title, Cultural Identity, I opened the possibility for at least three different kinds of identities: emotional, legal, and political although the ways in which they are not the other are hard to tell.
First generation children of immigrant parents are treated like outsiders in the country of their parents and in their country of legal citizenship. Nevertheless, most of them, when asked for their nationality, will respond with their parent's one, not with their legal one. Thus, first generation US citizens born of Mexican parents will identify themselves as Mexicans. That doesn't mean that they are opposed to the US citizenship. They advocate the Liberal Democratic principles of the US constitution, serve in the army, pay taxes, and in general, contribute to the wealth and development of the nation. Within that scenario, they also follow the customs of their family and live in close proximity to neighbors and relatives of the same origin, although Spanish might not be their most fluent language. They move among a range of different identities according to the situation. They have an emotional identity attached to family, food, music, et cetera; a legal identity as US citizens with rights and duties towards the nation; and a political identity that is issued-oriented, and that aligns accordingly between compromising the emotional and favoring the legal, or vice versa. Identity, under this lens, is similar to Appadurai's 'cultural,' which is not substantial, not fixed. What Sandoval (2000) defines as 'differential consciousness,' the necessary ability to shift identity according to the requirements of an 'oppositional ideological tactic' for a particular scenario. I don't think that nation-states are going to disappear in the near future, and it is within this context of shifting identities that I can understand a 'global citizenship' or a 'global civil society.' We should aim for a political identification outside of state boundaries, a non-territorial democratization of global issues because multiple scenarios affect our multiple identities. A big portion of migrant citizens hold multiple nationalities as more countries don't require the renunciation of one to acquire another. Environmental issues affect us all across territorial boundaries and so should be addressed. We should aim for the creation of an international federation of nation-states permitting the free circulation of its citizens but geared toward the creation of territorial equality, so boundaries are not about protecting privileges but cultural differences and multiple identities.
Open border migration policies undermine the social and economic structure of sending countries as much as restrictive policies with emphasis on skill and education do. What we should strive for is a rhizomatic decentering of privileges; a redistribution of wealth based on the Liberal Democratic principles and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although border-crossing is desirable and the effect of migratory movements have had its positive side effects, compulsory migration due to inequality, exploitation, and subordination is immoral and contrary to the democratic principles under which we claim and desire to live.

Borjas, George J.
Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and The American Economy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999
Carens, Joseph
"Aliens and Citizens: The case for Open Borders" Review Of Politics, Vol. 49 No. 2, 251-73
Falk, Richard
Predatory Globalization: A Critique, Oxford: Polity Press, 1999
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri
Empire, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 2000
Sandoval, Chela
Methodology Of The Oppressed, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2000
Sakamoto, Yoshikazu, editor
Global Transformation: Challenges to the State System, Tokyo, New York, Paris: United Nations University Press, 1994
Tabb, William K.
The Amoral Elephant: Globalization and the Struggle for Social Justice in the Twenty-First Century, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001

1 I would like to use 'cultural' as proposed by Arjun Appadurai (1996), "culture is not usefully regarded as a substance but it is better regarded as a dimension of phenomena, a dimension that attends to situated and embodied difference. Stressing the dimensionality of culture rather than its substantiality permits our thinking of culture less as a property of individuals and groups and more as heuristic device that we can use to talk about difference" p. 13.
2 What Chela Sandoval calls 'democratization of oppression' (Sandoval 2000:73)
3 Total remittances, the sum of worker's remittances and migrant's transfers, increased from less than $2 billion in 1970 to $70 billion in 1995. This market was estimated to be at over $110 billion by year 2000. According to the International Monetary Fund Balance of Payments Statistics Yearbook, during 1995 the countries receiving the most remittances were Mexico ($3.7 billion), Turkey ($3.3 billion), Egypt ($3.2 billion), Brazil ($2.9 billion), Morocco ($1.9 billion), Bangladesh ($1.2 billion), Yemen ($1.1 billion), and El Salvador ($1.1 billion).
4 http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JWCRAWFORD/T7obit.htm
5 Copyright 2002 Business Wire, Inc. Business Wire, April 12, 2002,