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Thoughts on Migration and Identity

While reading through the ASA blog, I got thinking about the case of the migrants I work with. It is somehow interesting how the discussions on immigration rarely touch on that kind. The case of the Igbo cross-border migration is especially interesting. For one, the argument about colonial borders that partition people of the same ethnic extraction into two different countries does not apply. The Igbo are not found in the southwestern part of Nigeria – the part of the country that shares the same border with Benin – but at the southeastern part of the country. And the case of the attraction of the richer country (think of the Mexico-US border) rarely applies here. Another interesting point is that many of the migrants are part of the community in many ways – for instance many of them speak the local languages (in fact, it is a requirement for the apprentices to immediately devote time to learning the language in Lomè, Togo) and French, many make sure that their kids also learn the languages. It is also interesting, on the other hand, how they are not part of the community.

One advantage of this kind of case is that it would be difficult to fall into the pit of explaining away migration by giving the two reasons in the earlier paragraph. Any discussion of the case would have to factor in different nuances of economic interests, contextualized in historical realities. The same with discussions on identity. One cannot simply run away with explanations that simplistically make identity markers – like languages, for instance – the same as the explanandum; one has to pay attention to identity shifts at particular instances and situations. Of course, this has been suggested by many scholars, but it really comes home when one is in the field.

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