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Technology, global economy alter the reality of migration, national identity in US
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-03-20 13:33 (KST)   
By DEEPTI HAJELA Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ Home has always been a complicated concept for Natalia Wilson.

She came to the U.S. as a teenager, maintained citizenship in her native Trinidad, and only recently decided that she wants to become an American citizen. And while the 27-year-old has come to view New York as ''home away from home,'' she hopes that moving back to Trinidad might one day be in the cards.

Dom Serafini has been an American citizen for three decades, after coming from Italy as a young man almost 40 years ago. But now he is running for elected office _ in Italy. The New Yorker hopes to win a seat in Italy's parliament next month, as the first-ever representative of Italian expatriates in North and Central America. If he wins, he assumes he will just travel back and forth. ''If you want to be a good American you have to be an ambassador to the world,'' he said.

Call it the era of the mobile, often global, resident.

A century ago, even 50 years ago, migrating to another country was a fairly permanent, life-altering thing. There was no widespread air travel that could get you across the planet in a few hours, no Internet to give you daily updates on your home country, no e-mail to keep in touch with far-flung relatives at the touch of a keyboard. If you got here, you usually stayed here. You may have held onto your cultural traditions, but the day-to-day ties got stretched and often cut over time.

But the life-altering technological and economic changes of recent years have made it easy for migrants and their progeny to maintain connections to where they came from, to keep one foot in both the old country and the new. For some, it has created a new reality _ transnationalism, lives that extend past national borders.

Some are encouraged by it, seeing it as a trend that could help cement ties between the countries sending immigrants and the countries receiving them.

''The biggest problem in the 20th and 21st century is nationalism,'' said Vincent Gawronski, assistant professor of political science at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama. ''If you have people who are increasingly more transnational, that could actually ameliorate conflict in the world.''

But not everyone is quite as optimistic. Some are concerned that realities like dual citizenship, the ease of travel, and technology that allows people to send money home without a hassle are combining in a way that makes it harder for immigrants to really put down roots here.

''Assimilation is really a psychological process where you come to identify with a new country as yours,'' said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tighter immigration control. ''The ease of overseas travel and information access interferes with that.''

Consider these realities of transnationalism _ economic, political or cultural:

_ The government of Mexico spends $26 million (21.3 million) to get the estimated 4 million Mexican citizens living abroad, mostly in the United States, to request absentee ballots for the presidential elections being held in July.

_ More immigrants are sending money back home. According to the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Organization of Migration, immigrants send $240 billion (197 billion) back every year. Mexico, India, and the Philippines are the top money-getters. The top senders are the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, according to the latest available figures.

Transnationalism means more trouble for a country like the United States than, say, a country like Japan which has a greater homogenity among its people, said Krikorian, who feels the government should not allow dual citizenship and should reform its process for allowing people to move here.

''It's a bigger problem for us in some sense because American nationality is in large part defined by Americans' commitment to it,'' he said. ''It's not based on religion or blood. ... Our kind of optional nationalism requires people to buy into it.''

And so being able to keep from assimilating to the degree previous generations did hampers that, according to Krikorian. ''If immigrants are not buying into it, it undermines the very premise of American nationality,'' he said. ''If you reject the idea of marrying America and just want to shack up, it's a significant threat to our national identity.''

But America isn't being rejected, others say.

''I think the greatest thing about America is the American dream,'' said Wyclef Jean, the Grammy-winning member of The Fugees who came to the United States from Haiti when he was 9 years old. He is still a citizen of Haiti, with permanent resident status here. ''America allows you take that dream and bring it back to your country and help you inspire more people.''

While he is upfront about his concern for his native country (he started a foundation, Yele Haiti, that does work there and recently flew down to take part in elections), Wyclef denies the idea that he's somehow not a part of American society, citing as examples his work with Rock the Vote here as well as his performance at an event following Sept. 11.

''As far as I'm concerned, I'm taking heavy part in the United States,'' he said. ''I am the American dream whether they want to accept it or not.''
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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