Migration Similarities of Island People

I will compare the migration experiences of the Tongan island people as illustrated in Voyages: From Tongan Villages to American Suburbs with the migrants of the Dominican Republic that Peggy Levitt discussed in The Transnational Villagers. I will further describe how many of their encounters mirrored the life of "Dan," an island native that shared his transnational knowledge by describing the social remittances, international connections and migration he experienced.

Dan is a native of Ireland. He is a legal alien living in Arizona. He grew up surrounded by the influences of a transnational family. Migration was viewed as an acceptable and natural step in a motivated Irish personís rite of passage. This is also the clear message of Small (1997), she noted that migration became an essential part of what it meant to be Tongan and the excitement of living overseas might be the best way to fulfill a Tongan life. (p. 43)

Dan's migration influence seemed to stem from his grandfather, who worked in a post-office when letter writing was the major form of communication. He would narrate and respond to letters from overseas, as requested by his neighbors. Many of these letters were from the Irish-Americans that had emigrated in large numbers to the United States over the decades. In 1911 for instance, the number of Irish-born persons living abroad was equivalent to 50% of the population that lived in Ireland at the time (Courtney, 2000). The international correspondence Danís grandfather processed, he often shared with his family. This may have sparked the desire in his daughters, one of which was Dan's mother to travel to the United States many years later.

Dan's parents were both transnational. His father a native of Ireland spent 15 years in Liverpool City, England. His mother, also an Irish woman, lived in the United States for 5 years, where she worked as a hairdresser in New York. They both returned to their island home in the 1950ís.

Dan is the oldest of three siblings. He grew up in Northeastern Galway where he watched the planes fly west overhead, he assumed they were traveling to the United States and he made plans at an early age to do this as well. He attended a Catholic school run by American nuns. His aunt residing in the U.S. would send or deliver clothing and other American goods to him. He confronted physical violence over his replication of the American fashion trends of the 70ís. A major point of this contention was a pair of Levi jeans, which demanded a premium in Ireland and Dan wore them regularly. Small (1997) suggested this phenomenon was common in Tongan migrant culture as well; the "native only" children would stare at and torment the "Americanized" kids in their store bought clothes. (p. 154)

The United States had the reputation of being a sister-nation to Ireland and remained an influence throughout Danís childhood. He mentioned that when his aunt would visit from the United States, she carried the scent of America with her. This aroma was like nothing Dan knew in Ireland.

Dan graduated high school in the late 1970ís and worked for an American corporation that set up in Ireland as a Gateway to Europe. He transferred to the United Kingdom for several years and then pursued his long awaited dream of living in the United States. He obtained his green card through a lottery system that was set up by two American Congressmen, Donnelly and Morrison. Ironically, the Immigration Act of 1965, that limited the Irish and European migration, opened the door to Tongan and Dominican migration. Shanks (2001) explained the change; it allowed immigration from every country and gave each country the same numerical limit, which allowed significant Asian and African migration for the first time. The act did not, however, increase the number able to enter; in fact, it altered the legal ceiling by pulling under it a previously unlimited group, Western Hemisphere immigrants. (p. 144) This restricted access the Irish experienced, is entirely opposite from the migration options the Americans have entering into Ireland. Irelandís history is that of emigration (from the sending nation). "Because of the uniquely high proportion of the islandís population that has emigrated over the last 250 years, weíve had to recognize that Ireland and Irish donít always go together. Many people around the world regard themselves as Irish in some sense, even though they were not born here. In response, the State has been remarkably flexible in the granting of citizenship (access) Öbecause of our history of emigration, we understand the notion that people may have genuine allegiance to more than one State" (OíToole, 2003). Levitt (2001) referred to this dual status, in asserting that sending States often define emigrants as equal partners, so there are not barriers to their ancestral homeland (p. 25).

Dan migrated to the United States in 1990. He arrived just in time for the Saint Patrickís Day Parade in New York. "I thought it was really incredible to be Irish and see so many who wanted to be," Dan said. He was welcomed with open arms by the Americans and the Irish nationalsí networks established in the United States. Levitt (2001) described these social connections and organizations as unique bonds that tie these (transnational) individuals to one another and create an arena that enables migrants, if they so choose, to remain active in both (native and adopted) worlds. Transnational villages endure because they are flexible enough to tolerate minor differences among the group and remain focused on the common factor. (p. 8-12) As a youth, Gaelic dance, music and language was compulsory for Dan, this common background was useful in making connections with his transnational Irish peers in the U.S. Although Dan has an Irish accent he did not have to face the discrimination that non-white migrants encounter.

Dan has lived in several regions of the country over the years and feels there is a different sense of community in each. He said in some areas people accepted him as part of their society, even though he was different. He jested that in his current neighborhood he is quite sure his next door neighbor could not care less whether he is alive or dead. Small (1997) quoted a Toganís poem that reflected a similar feeling, "I pity homeless people in America"Öthey need the same things that I do; food, shelter and water, (but they lack) something that I will always have, love (p. 202) In Galway, Danís family was very involved with neighborhood issues, especially his mother. She believed that it was important to give to the people and the community because they will give back to you.

Dan left Ireland just as the Celtic Tiger economy was developing; this new growth brought an influx of migrant labor to Ireland. Just as Boston was once transformed by the Irish immigrants and has since been again transformed by the Miraflorenos of the Dominican Republic (Levitt, 2001). Ireland too will inevitably experience the change that is associated with migration as well.

The diversity of the United States is similar to the United Kingdom, but different from that of Ireland. The strong Celtic history of Ireland is shared by almost all of the native born Irish. Their diversity had for many years been limited primarily by political alliance and religious affiliation. Dan mentioned that his father may have been surprised by the changes in Ireland, but the younger generation is more cosmopolitan and Dan is looking forward to seeing what transformations have taken place in his homeland.

Although Dan hails from a nation with traditional migration ties to the United States, the reasons behind his migration is much different than the generations that preceded him. In the past European migrants turned to the U.S. in hopes of escaping dictators, devastation or death. In the case of this Irish migrant he was simply following his dreams and taking up new challenges. As Small (1997) explained, migration is not just a method of escaping difficulty, there are many reasons for migrating. The Tonganís for instance had a 99% literacy rate during the height of their migration; this would have been viewed as a sign of a relatively good life. (p. 29)

In 1991, the Irish Central Statistics Office estimated that there were 1.14 million Irish-born persons living in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States, during this time the population in the Republic of Ireland was only 3.53 million (Courtney, 2000). In1995, more than one-quarter of the entire population of Tonga, both Tongan born and American born were living in the U.S. (Small, 1997). Levitt (2001) pointed out that eight and a half percent of the Dominican Republicís population lived in the United States, but they do not necessarily intend to stay in the U.S. (p. 22)

Americans tend to have a belief that their country is superior, consequently we believe that everyone, if they could, would be a U.S. citizen (Small, 1997). As Dan proved, this is not the case, although he felt that it was his destiny to come to the United States, after 13 years of residing in America, he has no doubt that his identity remains that of an Irish man in America and not an Irish-American.

 

Return to T. Vogt's Home Page

Return to Migration Home Page