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Moving People Changing Places

Diaspora consciousness

A key feature that distinguishes diasporas from individual migrants is their consciousness of their origins and roots. This is heightened by communication and visits, and is retained in memories, story-telling and other creative forms.

woman with photo album
© Annu Jalais
The word “nostalgia” encompasses the experience and feelings of longing for a much-loved past. For some, this is accompanied by sorrow and pain.  Missing other family members and familiar places may bring frightening memories of violence, difficult journeys and exile. Even  firmly settled communities, several generations after leaving their homes, retain this sense of nostalgia, of a past often recollected and retold.

What appears to be “looking back”, though, is also about “moving on” and sustaining a community in the present and for the future. Diaspora consciousness helps people form identities, build strong communities and maintain religious and cultural practices.

Diasporas

The term “diaspora” comes from Greek and means scattered or separated. Horticultural words have often been used to convey its central idea of sowing and transplanting, of people dispersed from their original homeland to build lives in new places. 

“Diaspora” originally referred to major historical migrations, such as the dispersal of the Jews from Israel, the colonial expansion of the Greeks, the removal through slavery of millions of Africans, and the exile of Armenians following massacres by the Turks in the early 20th century. Nowadays the term has a wider remit. It is commonly used to refer to ethnic or religious communities spread around the world who stay connected and retain a sense of common identity and origins.

Some diasporas move because they are forced into exile.  The Parsis fled from Khorasan (later Persia and now Iran) in the 8th century CE because they were persecuted for their Zoroastrian beliefs and practices.  They reached the West of India where they are still settled. For other diasporas, movement remains important.  Many Roma, for example, have mobile homes. For them, travel is a way of life. Some settled communities, like the Bangladeshis living in Britain and the Middle East, retain strong links with homes and families back in Bangladesh. They make regular journeys back and forth, and keep their children in touch with their social and cultural roots.

old man with laptop
© Annu Jalais
Old and new media, from phones and satellite TV to Skype and Facebook, provide the essential means of communication that enable these and other dispersed populations to sustain themselves as vibrant connected communities.

Internal migration within countries, as well as population movement across international borders have contributed significantly to economic, social and cultural change in new locations, but also to development in places left behind. Sending money and goods back to relatives, which is then used to support the family and to buy and develop land or local businesses, is an important form of investment by diasporic communities.

Diaspora communities help build economically and culturally productive societies that develop and flourish as a result of the contributions made by their diverse citizens.