( Is there a place where we’ll belong or will we always be on the move? )Homo sapiens have been on the move from almost their beginnings. Disregarding the extremely inhospitable spots even the most stubborn of us have enough common sense to avoid, humans have managed to cover an extraordinary amount of territory on this earth. Go back 200,000 years, however, and Homo sapiens was only a newly budding species developing in Africa, while perceived ancestors such as Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis had already traveled beyond Africa to explore parts of Eurasia, and sister species like the Neanderthal and Denisovan would traipse around there way before we did, too. Meanwhile, the wake-up calls of Homo floresiensis, found in Indonesia, and Homo naledi from South Africa serve as excellent reminders that the story of human migrations across the prehistoric landscape is far from a simple one.
Migration is the physical movement of people from one place to another; it may be over long distances, such as moving from one country to another, and can occur as individuals, family units, or large groups. The practice is very dynamic around the world, with peaks in different regions at different times.
A critical factor in all forms of migration is mobility, the ability to move either permanently or temporarily. The process of migration has been described as occurring in broadly three stages.
● The first stage is pre-migration, involving the decision and preparation to move.
● The second stage, migration, is the physical relocation of individuals from one place to another.
● The third stage, postmigration, is the “absorption of the immigrant within the social and cultural framework of the new society”.
It’s important to understand why people move, or the push and pull factors that cause them to move. Push factors “push” people away from their home and include things like lack of resources, dominance and cultural oppression, war, etc. Pull factors “pull” people to a new home and include things like welcoming culture and better opportunities. The reasons people migrate are usually under the categories of economic, political, cultural, or environmental.
Migration is generally seen through the result of push and pull factors, so that is a place to start.
➔ Cultural push factors usually involve slavery, political instability, ethnic cleansing, famine, and war. People who choose to flee or are forced to flee as a result of these problems are often refugees.
➔ Cultural pull factors could include people who want to live in democratic societies, gender equality, or educational or religious opportunities.
The public debate around migration and cultural change has focused heavily on the cultural dynamics triggered in the receiving countries.
Diversity enriches every society
The cultural diversity that accompanies migration enables new perspectives and experiences to be exchanged through intercultural encounters; it allows for creative and hybrid cultural practices to emerge; and it creates a general societal openness to difference and to change. Societies with large migrant populations are in many ways translocal and transnational themselves, already connected to many parts of the world through migrant and diasporic practices and networks.
Many of these localities work towards sensitising basic services such as health centers, schools and public offices to the needs of diverse multilingual populations, as well as supporting cultural expression in public spaces. A commitment to developing such policies of inclusion is precisely what is needed to promote equal opportunities, foster social cohesion and to support the basic conditions that will enable the positive aspects of cultural diversity to flourish.
Culture as empowerment
Culture may also serve as a crucial means for empowerment and self-expression for migrants and refugees during their journeys, including in situations of trauma and loss. The ability to practice one’s faith, to express oneself through music, poetry, theater or cooking, offer critical support to migrants and refugees as they build new lives and homes, while seeking a common sense of humanity with the societies to which they move.
Countering a divisive cultural politics
Unfortunately, we are now seeing increasingly dangerous and violent uses of cultural narratives in different national contexts: in the form of xenophobia, racism and other manifestations of prejudice. Such acts provoke hatred and fear towards those perceived as culturally different, and are based on static understandings of culture. They overlook how cultures travel, intermingle and are constantly being remade through transnational encounters, as they have for centuries.
It is important to counter these divisive narratives and acts of violence in order to protect and uphold the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees who face these abuses; instead, we need to make space for a politics that recognises the cultural contributions of migrants.
Cultures of migration have become an intrinsic part of our global reality. Putting a cultural lens on migration will enable us to understand the aspirations and multiple identities held by so many on the move, and allow us to move forward in developing sensitive policies of inclusion, welcome and solidarity.
Geographers also understand that humans are migrating species, and with technology, today we can move across great distances. The reason for migration varies, but it all comes down to push or pull factors related to economic, political, cultural, or environmental reasons. Many of these travelers are temporarily living as guest workers until they need to move on. Today, many migrants are refugees, living in a variety of living conditions from complex metropolitans to squatter towns or refugee camps.
In the future, the changing climate may fuel even more mass movements. A 2018 World Bank report found that more than 143 million people may soon become “climate migrants,” driven from their homes by floods, droughts, and water scarcity.
We are a migrating animal species. No matter the reasons, migration will likely continue as long as our species does — and as long as there are places to go.