Varadaraja V. Raman
Reflections on the New Immigration to the WEST


Many creatures on the planet migrate from region to region, many birds and certain fish being dramatic examples. In this paper, however, I will use the term migration in the sense of the movement of large numbers of people from the area or country of their birth to a distant land, there to begin a new life.

From this perspective there have been migrations all through history, and also of different kinds. Each type of migration has had its own long range impacts. After a brief review of past migrations which I will designate with different acronyms, I will focus on the special case of migration of non-European peoples into the matrix of Western civilization, and reflect on some aspects of this recent phenomenon in human history which is wrought with major potential consequences.

Up until the Twentieth century

Since the most ancient times, even prior to recorded history, large numbers of people have been moving from the place of their birth to other regions far away, with little possibility or intention of returning to their native spots on earth. Such migrations, dating back perhaps to more than fifty thousand years ago, are responsible for the widespread distribution of Homo sapiens all over the planet. The gradual spread of humanity in the stretches between Australia and the Americas, between Lapland and South Africa, was the result of waves of migration which may be described as Pre-Historic Migrations (PHM). Thus, for example the people in the highlands of Wiwor in New Guinea are said to have come there from mainland Asia some 40,000 years ago.

In historical times, the armies which accompanied conquerors often could not return home, and they settled down in distant lands. Then there were conquests and colonies too. Thus we had Romans in Palestine, Norsemen (Scandinavian Vikings) in Spain, in Iceland and in Greenland, Frenchmen in England, and the like. All these were instances of historical migrations. Then there were traders and explorers who for one reason or another settled down in alien lands also. So we had Greek colonies in Italy and Alexandria, Germans in southern Europe, Vikings in Greenland, Moors in Spain and so on. We may call this HCM: Historical Conquests Migrations.

After the Colombian age of exploration and the discovery of the New World and sea routes, migration took on a different pattern in two ways:

First, vast numbers of people left Europe for the express purpose of settling down in distant continents in the lands of people whom they regarded as culturally and socially inferior. They wanted to explore new regions, exploit natural resources, and when necessary, subjugate and govern the peoples they encountered. They also built new townships and cities, and established institutions modeled after their home culture. Such immigrations had never before occurred in the history of humankind. In all of this, the immigrants were given encouragement and assistance by their governments.

Between 1820 and 1905, 23,116,500 people emigrated from Europe to the United States. During the three years from 1902 and 1905, more than ten million people emigrated from Europe to Africa, Australia, and the Americas. It may be mentioned in passing that some 31,000 of these were classified as insane, paupers, diseased, convicts, prostitutes, and contract laborers. Never before in human history had such large numbers migrated in such a short span of time. It may be noted that during these periods, the number of immigrants from Asia and Africa was negligible.

This type of immigration may be called ECM(I): European Colonial Migrations (Immigrants). Two quite unexpected consequences of ECM were the following: First, certain cultures (especially in the Americas) which had flourished for many centuries, were virtually eliminated (largely as a result of the epidemics that the invading colonizers brought in). Also, many other cultures were radically transformed as a result of Western modes of language, thought, science, and educational institutions. Another major impact of ECM was that the Americas, Australia, and some regions in Africa were transformed culturally in significant ways: they were Europeanized. ECM sowed the seeds for the globalization that is occurring today.

A second aspect of ECM must be noted. Armed with superior material power, European settlers forced migrations of people from Africa during the shameful centuries of slave trade. Thousands of Africans were thus transported to the Americas, there to be sold in open markets. Historians have argued about who were less cruel to the slaves: the northern Anglo-Saxons or the southern Iberians. Be that as it may, European slave trade, unlike its ignoble predecessors in the ancient world, involved the migration of very large numbers of people from one continent to another.

During the 19th century, because of laws in Britain and in other European countries which technically banned slave-trade (as much because of humanitarian movements as because slavery was no longer as profitable), bonded laborers were brought from China and India and other Asian countries, to the Americas, to Africa, and to Australia. The victims in these instances came to be called coolies, a word derived from Tamil (meaning wages). Coolies were transported and used as muscular fuel for running the economic engines of European settlers: in plantations, in mines, for the building of roads and railways, and the like.
As per an agreement between the governments of Great Britain and China in the 19th century, more than fifty thousand indentured laborers were to work for three full years in the gold mines of the Transvaal. The conditions under which these indentured laborers (also called coolies) had to work in return for a pittance were deplorable and abominable, by today’s standards. For example, according to a report published in 1860, some four thousand Chinese workers perished in the mines of Peru alone. No such agreement was needed in India because the British had gained sway over large parts of the subcontinent. By the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 625,000 laborers from India in various British colonies from Fiji to Trinidad, including East Africa and Natal. This type of immigration may be called FLM: Forced Labor Migration.

Second half of the twentieth century

From the second half of the twentieth century an entirely new type of immigration has been gaining ground in Europe, in North America, and in Australia: the industrialized centers of the West. Immigrants have been coming in large numbers to these Caucasian continents from regions which Europe had once dominated. Some of the Asian, African, and Caribbean immigrants came into European countries by virtue of their citizenship in the former European colonies: for example, Algerians to France, Indonesians to Holland, Indians from Kenya, Pakistanis and Jamaicans to England, etc. In most of these countries, a good number of these immigrants were allowed, indeed invited to come, principally for unskilled and low-paying labor. But this is not the case everywhere. Thus, for example, there are Moroccan and Turkish immigrants into Germany, and Sri Lankan immigrants in Norway.

Today, many blue collar jobs in these countries are manned by immigrants who do not come from the European stock. This type of immigration from the so-called Third World countries, including Mexican migrant workers to the U.S., may be called JSM. Job Seeking Migrations. This is different from the FLM of the last century: Here, to all intents and purposes, the immigrants choose to come to the host country out of their own free will, even if their conditions are deplorable compared to the local citizens, even if they are treated as second class citizens, even when they are verbally abused by some of the xenophobic locals. One reason for this is that conditions for these unskilled and poorly educated immigrants are far worse in their native countries.
Indeed, not all JSIs are legal. It was reported that in 2001 there were 6.5 illegal immigrants in the U.S., most of them from the so-called Third World countries.

Here we need to note a significant transformation in JSIs in the United States and Canada, as also in an increasing number of cases in Europe and Australia. Aside from menial workers, a large number of immigrants from the so-called Third World (mostly Asian) Countries are now highly trained in science, technology, and medicine. We may refer to this subset of JSIs as SAIs: Sophisticated Asian Immigrants. By and large, the children of SAIs are doing extremely well in school and college, and generally speaking, they enter the professional market at respectable levels. From the 1960’s onwards the number of non-Caucasian scientists, engineers, doctors, professors, and other professionals has been steadily increasing in the U.S., in Canada, and in Australia. We will now consider JSIs and SAIs together as NCIs: Non-Caucasian immigrants into the Caucasian world, which is the opposite of what was common in previous centuries: Caucasian immigrants into the Non-Caucasian world.

Experiences of NCIs

Unlike previous instances of migrations, NCIs have certain experiences which need to be clearly understood.

  1. NCIs have difficulty in assimilating into Western societies for three related, but different reasons:

    First, because they look different in a society whose majority members have been a dominant force in the world in recent human history (and continue to be so in many contexts), NCIs immigrants feel insecure. We recall that in the contrary situation of the previous centuries, Caucasian immigrants in Non-Caucasian societies had no such psychological problems. In fact, they felt perfectly at ease because, though a minority, they held economic and political power.

    Secondly, their religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, for the most part) are quite different from the Judeo-Christian strains of the majority. Though Islam belongs to the same Abrahamic tradition, it has had violent confrontations with Christianity and Judaism in the course of centuries. As a result, and also because of their racial difference, Arab immigrants do not as yet feel quite at home in Western countries.

    Thirdly, because of their colonial past, many NCIs immigrants have been conditioned to look upon the Western societies into which they have moved as being somehow intrinsically stronger, and feel (rightly or wrongly) that Westerners continue to look down upon the culture and civilization of NC peoples.

    All this results in what may be called the ethnic minority experience (EME). EME is the lurking conviction, valid or invalid, that the dominant majority in a society is overtly or covertly practicing discrimination of one kind or another towards members of a minority group. An associated feeling is that any positive action by the majority group is a token move to silence the noise-makers, rather than out of a genuine sense of fairness and justice. It is difficult for any group which has suffered some kind of persecution in the past from a majority group to rid itself completely of the EME. The EME makes many NCI immigrants intrinsically insecure and unhappy in a Western country.

  2. The need to belong to a community is an important aspect of the human condition. Often the community is defined in terms of a common language, race, or religion which are the three most powerful binding factors for human beings. Professional interests, like political views, and common-hobby-interests are other binding forces. Culture (which often embraces language, religion, and race) is a very potent factor in cementing people together. Cultural expressions such as music, art, literature, etc. enrich one’s personal life, and the transmission of culture from generation to generation is healthy and meaningful.

    In the context of immigration, ethnic affirmation is often provoked by real or imaginary threats to one’s culture from a more powerful and domineering one. One way of overcoming the feelings of psychological unease in a society in which there is a dominant culture is to affirm one’s own ethnic identity. Recall that in previous centuries when European immigrants settled down in Africa or India, they never felt any need to affirm their ethnic identity: If anything, they enforced aspects of their culture on the local majority.

    In the modern world, in nations which have been touched by the Enlightenment, ethnic affirmation is not only accepted, it is even encouraged in the name of diversity and pluralism. This is a transformation that has begun in the West, and holds great promise. In countries which linger in the pre-Enlightenment era, where ethnic purity and religious monopoly are still the norm, diversity and pluralism are not allowed: they are snubbed and eradicated, sometimes with vehemence.

  3. Unlike in the past, present day immigrants have ample and easy opportunities to be in touch with their native countries, via telephones and e-mail. And they can also make periodic trips back home. While this is good from many perspectives, it also makes assimilation with the new society/country of adoption more difficult. This has had a significant impact on the attitude of immigrants towards the new country. In earlier centuries, immigrants tended to identify themselves with the new country not too long after arrival. Going back to the original home was difficult and rare. Today, however, it is possible for NCIs, as also for European immigrants to the New World, to maintain contacts and loyalty to their native lands, developing very little emotional or national attachment to the country. The immigrants come primarily for better work opportunities, and their intention is often to return with pension benefits to their original country when they retire.

Impact on host countries

An important reason why NCIs are allowed, even welcomed, into industrialized Western countries is the same as with FLM: industrialized countries need not only raw muscle-power for jobs like harvesting cabbage or grapes, driving cabs and cleaning homes, but also for more specialized jobs in health care, computer technology and the like. (This is also the reason why some rich Arab emirates accept non-Moslem Asian immigrants for long period of time as residents, without giving them equal rights.) There are universities in the U.S. which depend upon foreign students for filling their Ph.D. and post-doctoral fellowship slots, as well as nurses in hospitals and high school teachers in New York City.

As long as these jobs are aplenty, there will not be problem. However, if and when a shortage of openings arises, the local people may become less tolerant of different-looking people with clearly outlandish accents taking away their jobs. To make matters worse, some of the SAIs not only do the assigned jobs more efficiently but also with less complaints. This is an incentive for employers to prefer them, provoking further resentment. This is a problem that Caucasian immigrants (from Eastern or Western Europe) generally do not face as much.

What is interesting here is whereas in many societies of the past, minority groups have existed, the notion of minorities began to take on a clear political connotation only in the context of twentieth century immigrants. The idea of minority rights and discrimination came to be forcefully articulated first with the descendants of FLM, and then with JSI. Though in centuries past (Jews in Christendom, untouchables in the Hindu world, slaves in Islamic countries, etc.) minorities have been unfairly, often shabbily, treated, the legitimate and angry complaints about the unfair treatment suffered by minority groups at the hands of the dominant group came to be expressed effectively only in the context of FLM and NCM in the modern West. From here it has spread to other societies as well where migration has had little to do with social injustice.

The visible racial/religious differences between native and immigrant groups are beginning to have noticeable impacts in the context of NCM. Some people within the Western matrix experience and articulate what they regard as two threatening factors. First, the explicit proselytizing mission of Islam leaves open the possibility that little by little Islam will become a major religious force in the West with what some believe to be potentially negative impacts on the life-style and value-system of the modern world. New mosques are being constructed in many Western countries in increasing numbers. In the United States Islam is currently the fastest growing religion. Muslims have already outnumbered certain Protestant denominations. Whether this will be for the good or otherwise, it does cause concern, not to say alarm, among some people.

Then, there are the influences of the two major non-Western religious traditions: Buddhism and Hinduism. By their philosophy of religious tolerance and meditative practices like yoga, these call in question some of the foundations and proclaimed uniqueness of Christianity. A non-threatening and enriching aspect of these alien cultures is their cuisine: from vegetarianism to samosas and tandoori chicken. Perhaps the most visible impact of NCI into the West will be that in the long run many countries will cease to be predominantly white in their complexion. There will be, to borrow a phrase from Time Magazine, a browning of the West. This is somewhat like the linguistic Europeanization of non-European peoples: various Asian, African, Caribbean, South Pacific, and Amerindian peoples have absorbed English, French, Italian, Spanish, or German as their primary and intellectual medium of communication. All this is perceived by some as the actualization of Oswald Spengler’s ominous prediction of Der Untergang des Abendlandes. Reactions to such fears range from calls to curb the immigration of non-Whites to downright racist violence against NCIs.

What is interesting, and in some ways ironic, in all this is the fact that the roots of universalism and globalization are to be found in Modern Science, Modern Technology, and Modern Enlightenment, and all of this arose in the West. There are efforts, both scholarly and otherwise, to re-write history in order to establish that this is not really so. In any event, science and the Enlightenment, which are being castigated for many ill-effects, are spreading all over the world. This phenomenon, combined with the current economic and military superiority of the West, is also responsible for the hegemony of the West in the international scene. This again causes much resentment in the non-Western world. At the same time, there are deep fears in the West about its own long-range survival as a dominant independent civilization.

Concluding thoughts

At this point, much as some extremists would want, Western nations cannot turn back the clock and repatriate their non-White immigrants to where they came from, any more than white settlers in Africa, Australia, and the Americas can all return to Europe. The future of the Western world, and of any nation that adopts the basic tenets of social, cultural and religious enlightenment, is bound to be racially and religiously pluralistic. This will be especially so in the United States and Canada, and possibly in Australia too.

The multiculturalization of a society has both positive and negative aspects. The negative aspect is that its indigenous and ancient roots will eventually be transformed significantly. This intrinsic transformation should be distinguished from enrichment. Thus, for example, Northern Europe, Greece and Rome were completely transformed as a result of Christianization, leaving but traces of their ancient religions and belief-systems. Today we speak of Christianity as a Western religion when, in fact, its origin is Middle-Eastern. For Muslim Albanians, Islam is a Western religion, as it might have become for many Spaniards if the Moors had not been displaced from their Cordoba and Granada. Likewise, Indonesians and Algerians, consider their countries to be Muslim though they were not so centuries ago.

Every culture has been enriched by contact with other cultures. Thus, Hindu India has been culturally enriched in many ways because of its contact with Islam and the West, as has also happened in some nations of Africa. Enrichment does not imply obliteration of the past, but transformation does. Thus, China is more likely to remain essentially Chinese, Korea essentially Korean, and Thailand essentially Thai for a longer period of time than the United States or France will remain largely Caucasian or Judeo-Christian.

In any event, the infusion of NCIs into the Western world has thus far been to tremendous advantage of the West in terms of the intellectual, cultural, and material creativity that has come into its body. Given the openness and dynamic nature of Western civilization, it will not and cannot impede the tides of transformation.

Some danger in this context could ensue if the new immigrants (NCIs) continue for long to see themselves as non-Western peoples, by holding on to the cultural, political, and emotional links with their former home-bases. Perhaps eventually their grandchildren and future generations may develop some sympathy for and sense of belonging to what is now the mainstream culture and history of the country where they live and settle down. Then they are likely to not to adopt only negative and suspicious postures towards the majority. Indeed unless they do this, they will never feel comfortable in their new world, and they will continue to be regarded as an alien minority by the local population, adding to the inherent insecurity that all immigrants experience.

Then again, persistence in self-imposed apartheid with increasing numbers could lead in the long run to calls for separate ethnic nationhood within what are currently Western nations. In a sense, this happened in certain Caribbean islands (like Haiti, Guyana, and Jamaica, for example) where FLMs have taken over, and sent back the descendants of the White settlers who brought their ancestors to these islands in the first place.

As long as EME exists, some kind of tension is bound to persist in Western countries, as in any visibly multicultural society. Two conditions are necessary for the disappearance of EME: The first is the complete elimination of racism of any kind from the hearts and minds of the majority group. The second is the industrial, economic, and scientific advancement of Third World countries to a level that is at least equal to that of the West.

Until these conditions come into play, migrations to the West are likely to continue with great potential for detrimental long-rage effects.