Just last summer, I took a trip with my mother to Alexandria, Louisiana. It was our first time back in well over two decades. I had no memories of the place and was hoping to create some, and at the same time, hoping the trip would help extract some of my mother’s more positive ones. If she had any, they were buried so far below in that time when she was both new to motherhood and to America. It had been nearly 10 years since she left Ghana for the United States, yet I don’t think the permanence of her move had been realized.
Her pregnancy with me was not easy. My energetic sister was nearly two, my father struggled to find work, and I resisted leaving her womb even as we surpassed 37 weeks. Ten months pregnant and filled with frustration, my mother drove herself to her obstetrician one afternoon. Upon her arrival at the hospital (one named after the patron saint of immigrants), I conceded. My mother gave birth without my father present (as she did for all of her pregnancies). No matter the marriage certificate nor the wedding ring (that she’d bought herself), she was a single black woman. When I came out not quite right, the nurses questioned my mother about her use of illicit drugs. This was what I knew of Alexandria for most of my life; it was a place where the racism was far from subtle. Even as I planned last summer’s trip, my mother, who insisted that I could not go alone, warned “I heard they buried a black man alive there not too long ago.”
Doing some research on Ghanaians in Germany (for a short story) and came across this from Boris Nieswand:
In Germany Ghanaians experience marginalisation in different ways. Coming to Germany means becoming ‘socially coloured’. Most of the Ghanaians in Berlin have problems finding a job fitting their qualification and are forced to take on work which they would not take on in Ghana. Moreover, the asylum procedure through which a large number of the Ghanaians in Germany have gone has produced “spoiled identities” (Goffman 1986). Finally, the language skills of the Ghanaian migrants are devalued. To put it briefly, I would like to argue that we can only understand the “life-world” of migrants if we acknowledge the “simultaneous incorporation” (Glick Schiller/ Fouron 1999: 344) of migrants into two societies and two social status reference systems. The migrants are perceived as socially successful, modern and wealthy in the Ghanaian context and at the same time as backward, poor and marginalized in the German one.
The gaining of status in one context is achieved by a loss of status in the other. This is what I would like to call the ‘paradox of migration’: living in two status systems with contradictory attributions of prestige at the same time, a condition which is deeply rooted in the process of migration itself. Because the site of status production is not the site of consumption, there is a structural incentive to maintain integration in both systems. Local migrants’ organisations with a transnational orientation are of crucial importance for processing the ‘paradox of migration’.
For greater context, click here.
So much good has come from modernity: freedoms of the mind, and of the stomach. It is hard to look back at older ways of being with nostalgia. Things were hard in the old days. And yet, with the modern came some brutal social forms, one of which was the scientific linkage of blood to belonging. Caste and bondage has a long history, a brutal past that leaks into the uncomfortable present. Those older social oppressions are now married to the technology of the modern State, whose capacity to measure and count, to conduct surveillance and police its borders, is far more efficient than that of the pre-modern State. It is this linkage between older ideas and new technologies that makes migration of the past so different from migration of the present.
"Immigration," as a concept, is born in the era of imperialism. "Immigrants," in this context, are not just those who cross boundaries, but those who pointedly enter the advanced industrial states from lands of dusky skin. Immigration is always already about mobile capital and immobile race. Colonial rulers went were they willed, and they even moved people from one colony to another; but the colonized were not to be fully welcome in the heartlands of the empire, in Europe, in the United States. If they came, they were allowed in for their labor, not for their lives. Those Indian traders in Africa would become foreigners, not just outsiders. Racism would overwhelm older forms of xenophobia.