Diaspora Essay

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The term “diaspora” originates from the Greek “dia” (over) and “speiro” (to sow). The Greeks understood diaspora as migration and colonization of new lands. In modern parlance the term diaspora usually refers to ethnic groups whose sizeable parts have lived outside their country of origin for at least several generations, while maintaining some ties (even if purely symbolic or sentimental) to the historic homeland. The ”classic diasporas in terms of the oldest history of dispersion are Jewish, Armenian, and Greek; the more modern (and also more numerous) diasporas include African (“black American”) diaspora resulting from forced migration of slaves to the Americas; Irish, Italian, Polish, Chinese, and Indian diasporas resulting from voluntary migrations.

Today the word diaspora is applied to a broad range of migrant populations whose current or historic uprooting was politically or economically motivated, including political refugees, voluntary migrants, guest workers, expatriates, stable ethnic minorities, and other dispersed groups. Modern political and social thinkers put forward several criteria for defining ethnic communities as diasporas: a history of dispersal (often forced or motivated by harsh living conditions), myths and memories of homeland, alienation in the host country, desire for eventual return (which can be ambivalent, eschatological or utopian), ongoing support of the homeland, and a collective identity (often including common linguistic and cultural practices). Thus, German diaspora embraces many generations of ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (most of whom returned to unified Germany over the 1990s); Turkish/Kurdish diaspora includes at least two generations of guest workers in Germany; Filipino diaspora embraces two generations of women and men working in nursing and personal services across the western world.

Some communities that used to have strong diasporic consciousness during the initial two or three generations upon resettlement, later on assimilated in the receiving societies and lost active ties with their homelands — the examples include Irish and Italian immigrants in North America and Australia. Other diasporas continued to exist for centuries without an actual homeland (e.g., 1,500 years of living in galut — dispersion — in the case of the Jews) or even without a tangible concept of a homeland, like Gypsies, or Roma, scattered across Europe and Asia. Indeed, the term diaspora has acquired metaphoric implications and is often used as a generic description of displaced people who feel, maintain, invent or revive a connection with a prior home, real or imagined.

Bibliography:

  • Cohen, R. (1997). Global Diasporas: An Introduction. University College of London Press, London.

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