A version of this piece was first published on the Wellesley Institute blog on November 7, 2017, and can be accessed here.

Statistics Canada recently released a series of reports analyzing key results from the 2016 Census, including figures on immigration and ethnocultural diversity. The data paints a familiar picture of the Canadian social landscape – a landscape that is increasingly defined by culturally diverse peoples and communities.

The census brief on “Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures” captures important data that should prompt us to think critically about the live experiences of this large population segment, as well as its implications for Canadian social, political and economic life.

There were many interesting trends and figures highlighted in the report, including the number of people with foreign born parents, shifts in origin country demographics, family and household dynamics, and linguistic and cultural practices.

For example, in 2016, close to 2.2 million children under the age of 15, or 37.5 percent of the total population of children, had at least one foreign-born parent. The report also notes that children with an immigrant background could represent between 39 percent and 49 percent of the total population of children by 2036.

Further, most people with an immigrant ancestry that were younger in age (under 30s) had origins in Asia and Africa, whereas the older cohort of Canadians with immigrant ancestry (over 30s) tended to trace their origins to Europe and the Americas. This a reflection of shifting immigration trends in Canada over the years.

There were other insights capturing immigration dynamics at the household level. Children born in Canada to at least one foreign-born parent were most likely to live in a multigenerational household, with grandparents, parents, and children under the same roof. In the report, they were interested in how this might affect and drive the transmission of origin-country language and culture.

As with all census data, the information gathered here is limited. While it provides a helpful snapshot and indication of how global migration trends intersect with changes in Canadian demographics, it also leads to some deeper questions that emerge that require further inquiry and debate among practitioners, policymakers, academics, immigrant communities, and young people alike.

How much do we really understand about the social and cultural practices of children of immigrants and their families? Do we account for these lived experiences in how we design programs and services, frame public discourse, and plan for the political and economic future of the country? Are we adequately leveraging the opportunities and addressing the issues presented by these transnational social landscapes? Read the rest of this entry »

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A version of this piece was first published on the International Migration Institute blog on April 7, 2017, and can be accessed here.

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In 2009, I travelled to Ethiopia with a group of nine other young people of Ethiopian descent from across North America. We were part of a loose collective of interdisciplinary artists and community activists that came together through a series of ad hoc online exchanges over the course of several years. The idea was simple and very exciting – what if we all came together in Ethiopia and participated in the large cultural festival that was scheduled to take place in the south of the country? It would be an opportunity for cultural exchange, creative collaboration, and transnational community building. The initial group on the email chain was quite large, however eventually ten of us committed to making the trip and started our respective fundraising campaigns to finance our travel expenses.

As our departure date approached, we received word that the festival in Ethiopia had been cancelled under the orders of the Ethiopian Government. The political climate in Ethiopia was very tense at the time due to upcoming elections, and any sort of large gathering was looked upon with suspicion as a legacy of the protests that followed the highly contested 2005 elections. After a series of thoughtful discussions, we decided we would still make the trip to southern Ethiopia and find other ways to make the experience meaningful and impactful. We met up in Addis Ababa, and spent some time connecting with local artists and community organisers in the city. While there were domestic flights available to our final destination in the south of the country, we decided that we wanted to see and experience the countryside, opting instead to take what was then a twelve-hour drive. It was a beautiful and enjoyable ride, which we spent sharing stories, getting to know each other, and meeting locals along the way. As one of the photographers in the group, I also spent much of my time taking pictures from the window and documenting the trip as we went.

Over the next week, we travelled through the region, meeting with local community organisers, and learning as much as we could about the people and cultures of the south. As we reflected on our experiences, we began to ask ourselves whether we should make more of an effort to give back as much as we were receiving from the communities we were visiting. After some discussion and consultation, we decided to pool our money to buy uniforms and school supplies for children in an under-resourced school in one of the towns. We travelled to the school to meet the students and presented the donation to the principal. The gifts were very much appreciated, and it felt good to have the ability to contribute despite, as young people, our own limited financial resources.

Uncertain obligations and commitments

Later that day, a debate emerged amongst our group about whether we should try to support the school on an ongoing basis after we returned to our respective hometowns across North America. A few people felt we had a moral obligation to do so, however there was strong resistance to the idea of making a commitment we might/would not be able to sustain, and some of the group questioned whether we were best placed to engage in such efforts at all, given how far removed we were from the community. Most of us were either born or primarily raised in North America, and we had a genuine interest in fostering a deeper relationship with Ethiopia as the country of our parents’ origin. However, what lingered for me from this discussion was a collective uncertainty about the terms and conditions of this relationship, and whether it was acceptable to explore and encounter the country without also giving something back.

Many of the questions that emerged in our discussion are ones that I returned to in my doctoral studies many years later. Read the rest of this entry »

Jyotsana Saha and I were pleased to contribute a chapter in this wonderful book. Our portion is entitled “Points of Origin: A Visual and Narrative Journey”, and includes a collection of images and poems that explore diasporic identity.

Postcards from ...

DiasporasReDiasporas Reimagined is an edited collection designed to showcase the breadth as well as cohesion of research on diasporas linked to the Leverhulme-funded Oxford Diasporas Programme. Featuring contributions from 45 authors, this collection is free to download as a PDF, either as a complete collection or as individual essays. Hard copies will so be available.

Drawing on a range of disciplines, including social anthropology, sociology, human geography, politics, international relations, development studies and history, Diasporas Reimagined depicts a world increasingly interconnected through migration, where sediments of previous encounters coexist in places, practices and personal and collective identities.

Put together,it aims to provoke new ways of thinking, both about diasporas and about some of the foundational concepts of social science.

The editorial team which includes Alan Gamlen (Victoria University, NZ), Giulia Liberatore (University of Oxford), Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (UCL) and me (University of Birmingham) started as institutionally Oxford-based and is now scattered around.

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Image courtesy of: Africa Fashion Guide

Image courtesy of: Africa Fashion Guide

[This post was originally written for the ‘Sociology of Citizenship’ series posted on the Oxford Department of International Development blog as well as the Oxford/Cambridge Politics in Spires blog]

Diasporas and other transnational communities have become particularly useful case studies for scholars interested in stretching and challenging mainstream conceptions of citizenship. It is now widely accepted that for many people around the world, physical location and formal legal citizenship may not be the most salient forms of social, political or economic affiliation. As the process of globalization continues to expand, more and more people find themselves in one place, while their lives are structured and oriented by connections to one or several other places. Some of these ‘places’ are other nation states, such as an ancestral country of origin. However, many such ‘places’ exist extraterritorially as abstract yet powerful expressions of identity, community, and belonging.

Enter Afropolitanism.

In 2005, Taiye Selasi authored a short piece for The Lip Magazine titled ‘Bye-Bye Babar (or: What is an Afropolitan?)’. In it, the British-born, American-raised, writer of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin, formulated a definition and vivid depiction of an ‘Afropolitan’, one that has become the reference point for many enthusiasts and critics alike:

They (read: we) are Afropolitans. […] There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world.

Borrowing from cosmopolitan discourse, Selasi describes a class of people who have deep and meaningful – yet fluid, connections to Africa, while identifying more so as citizens of the world than any particular nation state. Through this compelling portrait, Selasi has become, perhaps unwittingly, a political entrepreneur of sorts. She has helped to establish, albeit flexible, ideological borders around a constellation of ideas, people, and places, which act as a point of reference and engenders a sense of belonging for a large group of people. Many social critics, including Binyavanga WainainaEmma Dabiri, and Brian Bwesigye have taken issue with Selasi and the broader Afropolitan discourse – arguing that it reflects an elitist representation of African diasporas, which depoliticizes social relations and commodifies African cultures. Others, such as blogger Minna Salami (self-branded as ‘MsAfropolitan’), and scholars Achille Mbembe and Chielozona Eze, have engaged with these critiques, yet argue there is still social, political and analytical value in the concept of Afropolitanism. Read the rest of this entry »