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Migration and Me

By Carmina Osuna

Through my experiences while living in the self-contained armosphere of the ship, I’ve observed the many differences that exist even among Americans.  In our particular voyage there were no black staff and only 6 black students.  There were less than fifty Latin American Hispanic students, myself included.  In our migration class we had a couple of adult passengers who sat in on our lectures and discussions.  One in particular shared the classic idealist view of most of the Caucasian elite people in America.  He believes the five basic myths about immigration that Douglas S. Massey points out in his article "Five Myths About Immigration: Common Misconceptions Underlying U.S. Border-Enforcement Policy" to be true.  The myths about migration include:  "migration is caused by the lack of economic development in migrant’s home countries,” “ by population growth in the migrant's home,” “response to difference in wages,” “migrants are attracted to the United States by generous public benefits,” and that “most immigrants intend to settle permanently in the U.S.” (p. 1). In the migration course we looked at these myths and compared them to text from the different countries we visited which proved the myths to be just that, fiction. Photo

A common misconception is that migrants are given all of the socioeconomic privileges that the U.S provides, like welfare.  Another misconception shared by the majority of U.S. citizens is that the illegal immigrants take advantage of the programs funded by the U.S. taxpayer’s money. The truth, however, is that most workers obtain an illegal social security number and he or she pay taxes like any normal American.  The disadvantages are then the fear of getting caught which prohibits their use of any form of governmental help, and the money that is supposed to be put away for social security can never be claimed.  Many of the facts mentioned above are overshadowed by the above-mentioned misconceptions, thus leaving a great deal of discrimination and hatred towards the undocumented and the ethnic minorities.

            Before Semester At Sea, I thought that the U.S. was the only place with discrimination of this sort, however the experiences I've had while traveling have proven me wrong.  Stephen Castles and Mark Miller, in The Age of Migration, write:

This conflict with the reality of nation-state formation, however, in which being a citizen depends on the membership in a certain national community, usually based on the dominant ethnic group of the territory concerned….. it is possible to keep relatively small groups in situations of permanent subjugation and exclusion from the imagined community (42)

When reflecting on the Filipinas in Hong Kong and the Africans in Spain I discovered more similarities than I expected.  There were some differences as well.  In Spain the immigrants learn Spanish, because that is the native language of the land.  In Hong Kong, one of the capitals of transnational business, English is the language the Filipinas learn before the native language of Cantonese.  It could be said that to learn the language of a country in which one is working is a way of adapting and blending in or it's the way to survive i.e. make money.  For migrants to learn the money making language is the only means of survival for them and their families back home.  Yet despite separation from their land both groups similarly remained closesly knit.  PhotoAlthough it didn’t make sense to me at the beginning of the voyage, it’s now obvious that to stay sane in a country that doesn’t accept you, not because of personal identity but because of outward appearance, is to stay close to those who can appreciate and understand one's origin. Similarly, in Bosnia, the Muslims trade houses with the Serbs so that they may move into an established Muslim community, where it is easier to live with familiarity.  What does taking over public spaces in groups really mean?  Is it just because the immigrants feel safety in numbers, or is there also a political side to it?  In Lisa Law’s article "Defying Disappearance: Cosmopolitan public spaces in Hong Kong," she states that the space invaded by the Filipinas in central Hong Kong is not just a home away from home, where “thousands of domestic workers cast off the cultural conventions of their Chinese employers for one day a week and eat Filipino food, read Filipino newspapers and magazines.” (11) Rather, Law believes that it also raises questions about the "political efficacy of conceiving this space as a cultural landscape.” (16)  After experiencing Statue Square in Hong Kong and El Corte Ingles in Spain, I have to agree with Lisa Law.  Although the Africans I saw were not necessarily casting off the Spanish cultural conventions, they were definitely standing their ground and making a space and a living for themselves.

After coming back onto the ship, I couldn’t help but ask myself why must it come down to feeling uncomfortable in an educational setting where the homosexuals and the minorities are valued less than any other Caucasian student?  To many Semester at Sea students this voyage was a voyage of discovery in which they experienced being followed in a store for the first time, or being looked at as if they don’t belong for the first time.  The truth is that for many Africans in Spain, Filipinas in Hong Kong, and ethnic minorities in America this is part of their daily lives.  To me, this voyage opened my eyes to the realization that discrimination is everywhere because the dominant ethnic group will always be a step above everyone else. Although most students will finish this semester never realizing how the world is not as blissful as their lives I am glad for the few that will go back home and think about how vital migrants are to the world.

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