As if immigrants to the Western world don’t have enough to worry about with accusations of terrorism and complaints of non-assimilation, they must also endure the frequent criticisms that come from their home country. If they become too involved in the affairs of their home country while abroad than they’re accused of paternalism and arrogance. If they’re not involved enough, then they’ve sold out and forgotten who they were.
Here’s a scenario. It’s about a 18-year-old named Emmanuel. It’s your choice whether you prefer to picture him as a Mexican from Zacatecas who moved to North Carolina or a Ghanaian from Accra who moved to New York City. Whatever skin color your imagination gives him, Emmanuel tells his family that there are no real opportunities where they live. He doesn’t want to work as a mechanic for the rest of his life. He wants a better life for himself, for his family, for his future wife. He assures his family that he’ll be back in five years. Just enough to save up for a house – the one they have always talked about. He will continue to pray every day. He’ll send back money every month. And in five years he’ll return a successful man, get married, and have children.
Throughout the late 80’s and 90’s – as Americans of all colors refused to drive taxis, landscape gardens, or work in kitchens – immigrants took those jobs. Philippine nurses, Mexican cooks, Eastern European and African taxi drivers: they were all sending a percentage of their monthly paychecks back home. Just like Emmanuel said he would.
But Emmanuel didn’t keep all of his promises. Five years came and went. But he stayed. Then seven years. Then ten years. In fact, this is his thirteenth year in the US. He’s been married and divorced. Has a kid. But if you ask him if he plans to ever return ‘home’, he’s unequivocal: “Of course, there is no better place. Back home we know how to enjoy life. Here everyone is so cold, in such a hurry.”
This is the story of many of my friends. They come from Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala. I tell them, for example, that I’m moving down to Argentina. “You’re going to love it. There is no better place. I can’t wait to go back.” But they don’t go back. They get better jobs, buy nicer cars, take a Hawaiian vacation. Some even buy a house with enough bedrooms for their children who don’t speak Spanish.
Something strange happened last year. Something the economists and academics didn’t expect. For the first time ever, Mexican immigrants sent home less money than the year before. Already academics are studying how developing nations can cushion the declining remittance revenue from abroad now that immigrants in North America and Europe are sending less money home and spending more on it on rising food costs and $4 gallons of gas.
Even while financial statistics tell us that the diaspora is sending less money home to family and friends, the internet tells us that many diaspora communities are more committed than ever to the development of their home countries. Here are just a few brief examples:
FOKO Madagascar, a Rising Voices grantee project, is coordinated by four diaspora bloggers who are in constant online communication with their colleagues and peers back in Madagascar. They have helped replant trees throughout Madagascar, led several successful digital literacy and blogger outreach campaigns, and, most recently, have raised funds for a needy and deserving family. (An interesting debate about the role of Madagascar’s diaspora community in its development is on Global Voices.)
Ewulenes in USA
Ewulene in USA is a blog I found thanks to Renata Avila. The Association Q’anjobal Ewulense was established in 1991 by a group of Maya-Q’anjobals who reside in Los Angeles. They use their blog to both stay in touch with their hometown (which also has a corresponding blog) and to help fundraise to support the town’s cathedral, support community radio, etc.
Bolivian Voices is another Rising Voices grantee and another excellent example of diaspora and local communities using the internet to come together to create positive social change. Here is an excerpt from an email that Bolivian Voices founder Eddie Ávila sent to the Global Voices mailing list. The entire email is available on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog.
For me, working and moving back here to Bolivia holds special meaning. The decision of my parents to immigrate and remain in the U.S. some 40+ years ago, as you might guess, changed my world forever, but also instilled in me a special responsiblity to “do something” for Bolivia someday. In prior stays in the country, I’ve volunteered at orphanges, gave donations to buy children presents at Christmastime or other worthy deeds, but it never felt right. This project feels right, and even though it is a small drop in the bucket with a country of 9 million in an increasingly polarized society, it is the first step. Creating meaningful interaction with one another regardless of class, ethnicity, geographic location, is just what this country needs…
Rural China Education Foundation
Via Stian Haklev, I found out about the Rural China Education Foundation – a partnership between Chinese living in the diaspora and in the homeland who want to promote better education standards in rural China. Their website is completely available in both English and Chinese and deserves a few minutes of looking around.
The big winner in this year’s recent NetSquared conference was none other than Ushahidi, yet another important partnership between Kenyans living abroad and Kenyans living in Kenya. Beyond Ushahidi, the Kenyan diaspora community also donated thousands of dollars via cash and mobile phone credits using MamaMikes during the post-election crisis earlier this year.
Project Diaspora is the thought-child of Teddy Ruge, a Ugandan-American who I met at a hostal in Kampala. We typed late into the night on our laptops while comparing notes about Aperture, Apple’s pro photography application, and trying not to bob our head to the five or so songs that played over and over again on Africa MTV. Project Diaspora describes itself as “an effort to mobilize, engage, and motivate African diaspora to participate in Africa’s economic and social revitalization.” From the about page:
We propose a new model. There are over 167 million Africans in the Diaspora. As of 2007, financial remittances by these Africans topped $40 billion annually. That’s capital that’s directly involved in the sustainability of lives—through the stimulation of education, finance, health, and social sectors. We believe this model is far more effective in changing Africa’s economic landscape. The continued direct involvement of Africa’s Diaspora community is our solemn mission.
Diaspora Cafe and Bookshop
Vickie Remoe-Doherty was born and raised in Sierra Leone, but moved to the United States to go to college. She is now back in Sierra Leone where she is working with Sierra Visions, a development NGO founded by Sierra Leoneans living in the diaspora. She writes frequently on her blog about members of Sierra Leoneans living abroad who are focused on the development of their home country. Her latest post features the Diaspora Bookshop and Café in Freetown.
I know that a lot of immigrants and sons of daughters of immigrants living in the US read this blog. If you would like some tips about how you can use the internet to contribute to the development of your hometown/ancestral town, feel free to ask either me or any of the people mentioned in this post.
You can read about other diaspora development initiatives in Spanish at Juan’s blog, Globalizado.