Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks multicultural and multiethnic populations shaped by global migrations in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
How do nations control multicultural and multiethnic populations? We need to examine the concept of the nation and nationalism in relation to this question. Control is the word that must be thought through first. The word control implies that the nation-state, through heavy-handed measures, forces upon the migratory population a standard of behaviour to which they must conform. Control can be achieved through devious, circumlocutious tactics as well. A nation can deceive a migrant population to create docile subjects for governance. In the first is governance by repression; in the second, through ideology. Both of these cases rely on an unquestioned assumption. This is the separation of the self, the national population and the other, the migrant population. The boundary between the two is much more porous than they appear. There is no eternal national body with unchanging boundaries and neither is the migrant forever an excluded outsider.
What is the nation? The nation is much more than citizenship and bureaucratic inclusion. As scholar of nationalism Benedict Anderson suggests through the title of his landmark work, the nation is an “imagined community.” It is imagined because it is a constructed collective that relies on an imagined bond connecting members of the nation to other imagined members who they will never interact with. It is a community because the nation is “always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” as opposed to a hierarchical relationship. Nation-states are able to extend this community to migrants, and redefine the borders of national belonging. Construction does not imply invention and falsity. Even though nations and the feeling of national belonging are culturally constructed, it inspires community, belonging, and meaning for its members.
Canada is an example of one nation-state in which the definition of the national subject has changed. Canada is known for its brand of multiculturalism today. This was hardly the case in the mid-20th century, when Canada’s identity was predicated on Britishness and whiteness. White Canada policies excluded non-white individuals as national subjects. However, the boundary that once existed between white Canada and the once unassimilable migrant population has disappeared in the present day.
Other nation-states are going through their own transitions. The foreign population in South Korea was roughly 40,000 in 1990 and has grown to approximately 2.5 million today. Previously, one had to have “pure” Korean blood to claim belonging to the Korean nation, but the growing foreign population is challenging and redefining what it means to be Korean. The South Korean state is an active participant in these redefinitions through mechanisms like multiculturalist policies.
There are several potential incoming sources of migration in the coming years. These range from “pull” factors, such as labour market migrations, to “push” factors, like climate change related migrations. How might these migrants be welcomed into the national body? Thinking about the future is always limited by the ways of thinking in the present. There has been a revival of narrow nationalist discourses in the political landscape in recent years. In these discourses, the migrant is a figure who is completely exterior to the national community. The migrant threatens traditional, eternal ways of life with a strange dress, a strange tongue, and unfamiliar mannerisms.
However, the politics of the present need not be the politics of the future. Just as the national community is constructed, it can be reconstructed anew. The story of migration is in part a story of the reinterpretation of the national community. The migrants of today can be full members of the nation tomorrow.