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June is Immigrant Heritage & Refugee Awareness Month

posted on: Jun 12, 2019

June is Immigrant Heritage & Refugee Awareness Month

By Christine Shahin/Arab America Contributing Writer

Unless you are indigenous to the land you occupy, every family has an immigration story of how they came to be where they are; a common thread of these stories is the adventurous spirit for a “better life” of our ancestors and/or how they prevailed in the face of adversity. These stories have truth in them, though often overlooked are the reasons behind the reasons.

Migration pertaining to people is defined as the permanent or semi-permanent relocation of people from one location to another domestically or internationally affecting economies, habitat, resources, population, culture, and politics. It’s useful to know the difference between “immigrate” and “emigrate”; “immigrating” is the act of entering a foreign country to live while “emigrating” is the act of leaving a country where one lived.

There are three main types of migration:

Forced Migration is when people are made to move against their will, a Refugee, one who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, in time of political upheaval, persecution, development, or exploitation, war, etc. tier one refugee due to their intense survival need. One of the most devastating forced migration stories is the African slave trade, when 12 to 30 million Africans were taken against their will, captured from their homes, brutally forced into subjection and relocation in various parts of North & Latin America and the Middle East.

Another deplorable example is The Trail of Tears.  This event was when tens of thousands of Native Americans living in the Southeast were forced to migrate across nine states by foot, with many dying on their way to parts of what is now Oklahoma, due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Today we have corporations forcing migration, such as Dakota Access Pipeline with Sacred Stone Camp.  Native Americans have long struggled to survive in the face of settlements,  violence and resource theft; a trend which both predated and foreshadowed the current plight of the indigenous Palestinian struggle. Currently, we see many people being forced to migrate if they are allowed occupation limits/stops movement.  For more information on current conflicts check out this link.

Impelled (Reluctant) Migration is when people are not violently forced to move but circumstances impel their relocation.  Tier two refugee group is usually made up of the areas surrounding the main conflict.  While not faced with immediate fatality as Forced Migrants are, they are impelled to migrate due to the resulting cultural, economic and environmental destabilization impacts from the main crisis; being slightly removed gives them the ability to “escape” the crisis and migrate. This emigration seems voluntary, but in context, the crucial underlying socioeconomic conditions, prejudice, etc. challenge their ability to stay.

Voluntary/Free Will Migration is based on, as is stated, one’s Free Will initiative. People have always moved for love, opportunity, or simply the desire to do so. Americans have become some of the most mobile people on earth, while Palestinians are the least able.

Every nation has immigrants whose contributions to their collective growth is important.  In some respects, it’s so vital that we must ponder the interconnection between forced immigration and systems of support that ensures a steady stream of displacement and relocation and community revitalization.

Remember, unless you are indigenous to the land you occupy, every family has an immigration story of how they came to be where they are. This month, share your Immigrant/Refugee story online or send a Letter to the Editor of your local paper, or blog it!

This way, we are sure to discover a common thread of trauma to triumph in our diverse stories of undefeated spirits for a “better life”.  Not just for me, but we who prevail and continue to do so in the face of adversity celebrate immigrant contributions.  Do not overlook the reasons behind the reasons; humbly remember and actively repair the burden and price paid by the indigenous- the frontline of Forced Migration.