This time that we are living in right now is beginning to feel like something big is going to happen. Something big is already happening in different parts of the world and some of it is not very nice. Conflict, authoritarian rule and poverty motivates people to seek out a better life. When you have nothing you have nothing to lose. Hunger, suffering and fear are daily reminders of what staying in their present circumstances means. If you want to stop migration you have to address the reasons motivating people to migrate in the first place.
There are the other migrants those from places where it’s not as bad but where opportunity is not as plentiful. Then there are those who want to explore and see other parts of the world. To live amongst people with a different view even if it’s slight. To absorb a different atmosphere both good and bad as a way of perceiving the world in a new way. New customs, new opportunities for inspiration and self discovery. There are gap years and times spent in higher education at an institution somewhere out there. A lot can be gained from that interaction both on a personal and professional level.
As a child I was one of those avoiding what’s to come kind of migrants. My parents decided to leave the country of my birth and move to Canada. Poland at the time was a communist country and things were not going so well. Corruption, fear of arrest, poverty, there was a general sense that the system was going to collapse. I have vague recollections of a time when there was a state of war. The country was in lockdown. You couldn’t move out of your county, the phones were tapped and no one knew if your neighbor or even your family member was a spy for the government. That time lasted for a few years and when it was over dad and I went for a “vacation” to Canada. I didn’t set foot back in Poland for another 26 years. Enough time for me to loose the traditional cultural perspective that didn’t develop since I integrated into Canadian society. There was always a straddling of the two cultures as my parent’s tried to pass on the traditions as best as they could. Traditions like cuisine, religion, stories and ethics. They were successful on many fronts.
It would have been a completely different life if we never left. I once lead an article (I think it was this one) about genetic predisposition toward exploration. I wonder if my dad passed it on to me or it could have been from my mom’s side. I’ve heard some interesting stories over the years. There are branches of both my parent’s families in different parts of Europe and North America. Since the conditions in Poland have changed now it is easier to go back and see how things are over there, how it has rebuilt after the war and the collapse of communism. Each European region has it’s own kind of sense of itself. A lot of the world has that pride amongst the peoples that live there. Because of the way that Europe is structured and the amount of influence it still has it’s culture is amplified through the jostling for prominence of all its constituents. America or the Americas have their own gravitas and a high proportion of people with that restless gene. Then there is Asia and Africa each with their own pride in their history and culture. The closer you look the more you see the regions and their own unique character just like in Europe.
The problem of migration is not only a European problem. There are people all over the world that not necessarily want to come to Europe but are still forced to leave the areas that they would rather stay in if it wasn’t for the conditions that they are subjected to. Some of those people see Europe as a good destination. It’s wealth and culture attractive to them. North America is just kind of harder to get to.
Migration is not really a problem if everything is going well and everyone is gaining. When people are poor and they perceive that the new people are milking the system then there is a bit of trouble that starts to form. The other factor is the cultural make up of the newcomers. I watched this video where this man was talking about the structural institutionalized racism that exists when describing the movement of different commonwealth people into the UK. Those with a darker complexion are deemed to be migrants while those from Austarlia for example are expats. Simply using different language changes the way people are perceived. It changes the way the supposed problem is framed.
Thinking back on my own experience I remember being called names because of my heritage. I was still learning the language and also developing and growing. This was also compounded by the relative wealth that our family had. My mom, brother and sister were still in Poland stuck behind an iron curtain and as a young boy I had to learn to fend for myself when needed. I didn’t think about it at the time but it was a struggle looking at it now. Culture still hadn’t caught up to bullying and prejudice as it is perceived nowadays. When I read stories now of people’s lives and how they struggle to attain something for themselves I empathize with them. Mind you there are instances where the behavior of those coming accross is reprehensible but overall the majority are here to improve the lives of their children. If those kids are not included in the cultural milieux divisions will form.
As I matured one of the biggest factors that opened my eyes was music. Hip Hop the music of the streets, the voice of the disenfranchised, the anti establishment self empowering music was just beginning to form and become a force in the cultural sphere. It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was one of the first albums that I bought. The music and the message had a profound effect on my development. I should have been listening to metal as some of my friends did but for some reason that didn’t appeal to me. Racism and prejudice is something that is culturally carried as a response to the new and different. People insulate themselves excluding others in order to propagate their culture forward. They try to remain insoluble whereas they should allow themselves to dilute and blend. This at most only maintains itself for a generation maybe two. After that it is only the physical genetic appearance that remains. Music has taught me to look beyond the surface and look at what’s inside.
There was trouble in my family due to my choices at that early age. Fortunately my folks were too busy putting food on the table and I somehow managed to develop my views from the culture that I was exposed to. I understood why I was picked on and I understood why it’s wrong to pick on others. I wasn’t a saint but it’s better to make those mistakes when you’re young. I also managed to teach my parents to see different cultures as just part of the fabric of society no different from us trying to adapt to life in a new country. Besides the First Nations we are all immigrants in North America.
People in a new environment have a tendency to stick together. Over time connections to the new place develop in the form of work, shopping, events and interactions. Depending on how well someone does with people, how well they interact and project their personality will determine the ease with which they adapt. Naturally it’s easier for these interactions to develop when there is a common language and culture. In he early nineteen hundreds we saw this giant wave of immigrants coming to North America escaping the various calamities that engulfed Europe.
There were wars and famines that shocked the population and they sought refuge in a new land. America grew in wealth and prosperity as each one of those new immigrants added value to the fledgling country. In fifty short years after the Second World War America emerged as a global superpower a beacon of democratic wealth and freedom. It still is but something has changed.
Europe and according to the British England in particular has become such a magnet for displaced people. Europe has also become a target by a much more mobile enemy, one that can hide in the pockets of honest people eaking out a living within the country. In France, Belgium, Germany as well as many other countries cultures intermingled. Financial pressures, ongoing conflict, greed and good ol’ fashioned human nature has altered the utopia we have been promised.
It may just be the wishful thinking and selective perception but life isn’t easy and for things to work out it takes patience, forethought, and hard work. All cultures teach their young these concepts wherever they may be. Some other factors are luck and skill. These though are nurtured and a lot has to do with circumstance too. Hence we find ourselves on the one hand looking for home and on the other exploring, surviving and thriving, laughing and crying. It’s a journey with many chapters.
Interaction with another individual is sometimes easy and sometimes hard. How does one start a conversation? What if you don’t feel like talking? What if you do? Sometimes the conversation has to be forced. Sometimes it can’t be. Misunderstandings. At the same time an opportunity for a real conversation. Some reasons are clear. Others are not. There exists however a strong correlation between conflict and people moving somewhere better more peaceful.
I think about the media coverage of blatantly prejudiced crime perpetrated against non British people. I wonder if someone interacting with me will have a need to tell me that I’m taking someone’s job when I know how difficult it has been for this department to find someone remotely qualified and willing to do my job. I think about people dying in boats trying to get accross the Mediterranean. The airport in Istanbul. I remember standing outside the gates having a smoke and watching the great flow of people. Istanbul is a very interesting place. It has an atmosphere unlike any other city I’ve been to. It’s the city that connects Europe to Asia. The times that I’ve been there and through there will always stick with me.
The next stages will be important. Watch how this plays out. Watch how it’s presented. The way that the players jockey for position. Some of it will be feeling or intuition while some of it will be rational analysis or evaluation. Another thread in the rich tapestry of life into which we are woven.