Application of the theory of “imagined communities” to the Colombian Diasporas in Ecuador and United States of America
Nowadays, there are many Diasporas scattered around the world. All of them have their own identity, culture and thoughts. Originally, the Diaspora term was used to describe the expulsion of Jews from Judea (Cohen, 2008). Therefore, the word “Diaspora” comes from the Greek language, normally employed in the Septuagint Bible version, time later this expression was translated into English as scattered, exiles, driven out, dispersed and so on (H. Im & Yong, 2014). After that, from the 1980s “Diaspora was deployed as a metaphoric designation to describe different categories of people, expatriates, expellees, political refugees, alien residents, immigrants and ethnic and racial minorities" (Cohen, 2008, p. 1). Due to globalisation, such Diasporas continue to grow in the world and is very common to see and hear news on migration issues in many regions, especially in developed countries, where migrants selected these developed places hoping to have a better lifestyle, given as result the continue growing of Diasporas worldwide (H. Im & Yong, 2014).
It could be said that Diasporas have been formed by migration of tourists, refugees, expatriates, occasional workers, communities and overseas exile. Although Diasporas differ in culture, beliefs, background and thoughts, all have things in common such as a clear vision of their homeland, their feeling of belongingness to their homeland, their hopefulness to return to their country and their willingness of keeping their cultures and traditions (Lie, 2002). Due to those reasons, diaspora communities create their own identity which distinguishes them from other Diasporas (Bauböck & Faist, 2010). But, the question is, why diaspora communities create their own identity abroad? Could the ideas of Benedict Anderson and Arjun Appadurai provide a clear explanation of this issue? This essay will discuss and analyse briefly the theory by Benedict Anderson of "imagined communities" and the theory of “scapes” by Arjun Appadurai. After that, these theories by Anderson and Appadurai will be applied to the Colombian Diasporas in Ecuador and United States of America. Finally, the conclusion of this essay will display a summary of how Colombian Diasporas have created their own identity according to Anderson and Appadurai theories.
Firstly, from his point of view, Anderson (1983) explains different concepts of great importance, among which is the concept of "Imagined Communities" to define, intermediately, what is a nation. He also explains how these communities are born and spread in particular ways into a society, always depending on the time and culture in which those communities fall. Anderson for instance, defines the word "nation” as “an imagined political community and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (Anderson, 1983, p. 49). Furthermore, Anderson states that “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow- members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson, 1983, p. 49). This means that those who belong to the same community learn that they will never know each other in full, but they believe that there is a real nation and that, many of their own experiences are experienced in the same way by many of other compatriots. In other words, at some point throughout history, a daily structured practice has allowed imaginary people to be part of something, as a result, common identities are formed.
Secondly, the theory of Appadurai affirms that global culture is composed by five "scapes" which are denominated ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes and ideoscapes. Additionally, Appadurai believes that these five 'scapes' are established by special points of view, generated by social actors as imagined worlds. This approach shows that the theories of Appadurai and Anderson are very alike (Robinson, 2011). Then, it can be seen that both writers agree with the fact that humanity lives in an imagined world or community, where its imagination allows people to accept that they belong to such nation by the reason to have been born and grown up over there, and although they know very little about their local communities and the people who are living over there, they accept it firmly as a real nation (Bauböck & Faist, 2010). In my view, despite the similarities on the theories from both of the authors, they expose different approaches, providing valuable information that makes that their theories achieve an equal level of significance.
Thirdly, the theories given above could be applied to any diaspora in the world. For instance, in Colombia the African Diasporas have their own identity and although a lot of them have born in Colombia's land until now these Diasporas preserved Africa's culture, language and traditions. In fact, they call themselves Afro-Colombians, because they believe that Africa is their homeland, and despite being away from home, they are convinced that they are part of Africa. Actually, it is very common to see them listening African music and developing it into new musicals rhythms, especially in the Colombian’s Caribbean region. (Delgado, 2013). In the above example, it can be seen that fulfillment of the theories of Anderson and Appadurai. As the African diaspora in Colombia is convinced that they are part of Africa, but most of its descendants have been born in Colombia and have not been to Africa, however, they believe that Africa exists. In other words, they believe in an imagined Africa, and they do not know all members of their imagined community (Anderson, 1983).
Likewise, the Colombian Diaspora in Ecuador is another example of compliance with Anderson’s theory. For nearly 50 years Colombia has had an internal armed conflict between members of the public government forces and Marxists subversive groups that supposedly are fighting for the lower and oppressed classes by the Colombian oligarchy (Restrepo & Aponte, 2009). Later this conflict deepened even more in the 80s, when drug gangs emerged seeking a way out of poverty, quickly they became very rich due to the export of marijuana and later cocaine (Mejía, 2012).These groups outside the law spread terror in Colombia for many years. Moreover, in the nineties the right-wing extremist groups called paramilitaries emerged, these groups committed crimes against humanity in alleged pursuit of the leftist guerrillas groups (Restrepo & Aponte, 2009). In addition, all this violence has rocked Colombia for nearly 50 years leaving a result the loss of thousands of lives, displacement of others from their hometowns and many of them have had to leave Colombia to seek refuge and political asylum in another countries to save their lives. The main country where Colombians have sought refuge has been Ecuador (Suárez & Ochoa, 2013).
Fourthly, official data from the Office of the United Nations for refugees in Ecuador, says that more than 170,965 Colombians have sought refuge in the South American country (Ecuador, 2016). However, the Ecuadorian state has only granted refugee status to 60,000 Colombians (Ecuador, 2016). In contrast, if this number is added to other Colombian residents in Ecuador, then one could say that the total of Colombians living in Ecuador amounts to about 250,000. Consequently, this Colombian population in Ecuador make up the largest diaspora in that country (ACNUR, 2015). It is interesting that Ecuador and Colombia are two brotherly countries, which in an earlier time were only one country. In fact, today they share the same language, the same colour on their national flags and the customs of the two countries are very similar. Therefore, it should be normal for Colombians and Ecuadorians to have excellent relationships. Unfortunately, this is not the case, because the Colombians and Ecuadorians do not enjoy much socialising between them (¿Por qué nos odian en Ecuador?, 2009). Colombian residents in Ecuador are often discriminated against and publicly derided by Ecuadorians (Universo, 2013). Also, a person having the Colombian citizenship faces social problems and traumas (Wessel & Bellessimo, 2015). For instance, many stores refuse to sell food to Colombians (Wessel & Bellessimo, 2015). Ecuadorians do not want to rent rooms and flats to them and normally, employers do not hire Colombians in their companies, the few Colombians hired are occupationally exploited by a squalid salary that often do not receive (Wessel & Bellessimo, 2015). In addition to the above, on April 8, 2008 two Colombians were burned alive in Ecuador by a crowd of Ecuadorians accusing them of criminals (Ayala, 2008).
All thing described above shows a clear compliance with the theories of Anderson and Appadurai, because the attitude of Ecuadorians towards the Colombian and vice versa. The evidence suggests that both of this communities are convinced about being part of an imaginary nation that rejects members of the other imaginary nation, and consequently they repudiate each other (Wessel & Bellessimo, 2015). Clearly, in the past when Colombia and Ecuador were only one nation, these differences and social prejudices did not exist among its members, but later, when Ecuador was politically separated from Colombia, it became an independent nation with “imaginary” boundaries. This political separation occurred on May 13, 1830, when a court of prominent people from the south of Colombia region, met in Quito, to make an agreement on political separation from the Gran Colombia and build a free and independent state (Morales, Labarca, & Ivonne, 2005). Thus, the southern district was completely separated from the Gran Colombia, forming a single government and at that time commanded by General Juan Jose Flores (Morales, Labarca, & Ivonne, 2005). So, the members of both countries were separated as well, because in their minds they were convinced that since that moment they belonged to another nation. Although many of them did not know the borders of the countries, they accepted it as real, but this fact was only in their imaginations.
For this reason, the Colombian Diaspora in Ecuador has created its own identity according to the customs and cultures of Colombia (Papademetriou & Swing, 2012). It is evident that they feel they belong to Colombia, also they firmly believe that Colombia is the best country in the world and that there is no other nation or country like that. It could be argued that these statements from members of the Colombian Diaspora in Ecuador allow clearly to see the application of the above theories. For example, it is not logical that a Colombian who knows only one, two or three cities of his country, affirms that Colombia is the best country in the world when he has not been to every country in the world. Similarly, he cannot make a fair comparison between his country and the other countries of the world, because if he does not know well his own country, then cannot state that his country is the best. But because he was born over there and has adopted the local culture, he feels that belongs to the best nation in the world, an imagined nation that he knows very little, however, he accepts it as real and existing.
Fifthly, the Colombian Diaspora in the United States of America is another example that demonstrates that Diasporas create identity according to the theories of Anderson and Appadurai. To illustrate, more than six millions of Colombians are living abroad, of which three million live in the United States of America, this is the largest source of South American immigration to the country. According to the Foundation-Aspen (20015).The largest Colombian Diasporas in the United States are in New York and Miami. Colombians can live in Miami without substantially changing their lifestyles, there are plenty of Colombian products available at places such as the south Florida supermarkets (Collier, Gamarra, Casey, & Felizzola, 2003). Likewise, in that area the number of Colombian restaurants is increasing and dance, music, arts and cultural activities in Miami are similar to those performed in Colombia. Even, Colombian magazines, newspapers, TV programs, and Spanish-language radio stations networks are available in South Florida. "These factors, combined with the dominant Spanish language and existing social networks of family and friends, allow Colombians to live almost identical lives to the way they did in their home state" (Collier, Gamarra, Casey, & Felizzola, 2003, p. 5).
It is obviously true that Colombian Diaspora in the United States experiences a better lifestyle compared to the Colombian Diaspora in Ecuador. No doubt that the Colombian diaspora in the United States should feel like living in their own country. However, this does not happen because this Colombian Diaspora has adopted its own identity that prevents give up their own socio-cultural roots (Cohen, Story, & Moon, 2015). Therefore, although in the USA they experience a much better lifestyle than Colombia, they never give up their homeland because they feel they belong to Colombia the country where they were born and raised.
To sum up, originally the word Diaspora was used to describe the expulsion of Jews from Judea. But nowadays it is used to describe communities of migrants around the world. Every Diaspora has their own identity and this fact is explained by the theories of Anderson and Appadurai. As an illustration, Anderson says that the word "nation” is “an imagined political community and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign”. And Appadurai affirms that global culture is composed in five "scapes". We may conclude, therefore, that the words of Anderson and Appadurai can be applied to the Colombian Diasporas in Ecuador and in the United States, because it is demonstrated by facts such as when the Colombian soccer team plays in the United States or in Ecuador, Colombians attend the stadium dressing Colombian sports shirts and waving flags of their country. Moreover, each year Colombians in all countries of the world gather to celebrate the July 20th, the day of the independence of Colombia. That nationalist spirit they show in those events is a clear reflection of compliance with the theories of Anderson and Appadurai which in my view both theories have equal level of importance.
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