Sites of Identity Among Middle Eastern Diasporas in North America
- Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies
- Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies
- Volume 4, Number 1, 2017
- Additional Information
Mashriq & Mahjar 4, no. 1 (2017), 50-58 ISSN 2169-4435 SITES OF IDENTITY AMONG MIDDLE EASTERN DIASPORAS IN NORTH AMERICA Diaspora has, over the last 20 years, found firm footing as a respectable area of academic study. Once confined to communities formed by forced expulsion from an ancestral homeland, diaspora studies has broadened to include communities that have left their homelands for a wide range of economic, political, and cultural reasons. While definitions of diaspora are still contentious, diaspora studies generally seeks to understand the intricacies of migrant experiences that occur when communities leave one geographic space, contend with issues of home, space, and belonging, to coalesce around different markers of identity in a new geographic space. Studies on such topics have by now become mainstream for many regional and trans-regional communities. However, prominent Middle Eastern scholars have deplored the relative absence of the Middle East from the wider field of diaspora studies.' Not only are Middle Eastern migrants a vital force in Middle Eastern history, society and politics, they also comprise influential transnational networks throughout Europe, Africa and the Americas.' Add to this scholarly lacuna the present-day depiction in the North American media of a homogenized and Simplified Middle East, frequently defined by conflict, and dominated by orientalized images of a Muslim Arab population.' In contrast to such homogenized depictions of the Middle East and its peoples, the lived experiences ofMiddle Eastern diaspora communities around the world are marked by tremendous complexity and diversity. Counted among them are many disparate linguistic, ethnic and religious groups, including Arabs, Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, Dmze, Kurds, Assyrians, Arnlenians, and a wide spectrU111 of Christians. The three articles published here as a special section emerged from a scholarly workshop held at the University of Manitoba in December 2015 to help address limitations in existing diaspora scholarship about Middle Eastern communities in North America. Two threads emerged during the workshop that are worth outlining here. The first is the way in which diaspora groups© Moise A. Khayrallah Centerfor Lebanese Diaspora Studies 2017 Sites ofIdentity 51 define new spaces in which to articulate and enact their identities. Such spaces include festivals, oral history projects, businesses, films, and other analogous sites. The three papers in this section each focus on a different kind of space, or site, in which diasporic communities formulate and articulate their identities. A second thread that emerged in the workshop discussions was the difficulty of defining a methodology ofdiaspora studies. The dramatic changes involved in migrating, and the very different circumstances in which diaspora communities take shape, create all sorts of challenges in developing shared analytical questions that can shape scholarly inquiry. How can we understand diaspora as an analytically useful concept, when the diaspora experience is so varied? Since the publication of the first issue of Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies in May 1991, a milestone in the articulation of diaspora studies, diaspora scholars from around the world have debated what exactly we mean when we study diaspora. Is diaspora mainly a geographic process of migration, in which scholars should seek meaning in global patterns of movement? Is it a process of social formation or a kind of political consciousness, in which individuals participate, and which scholars can study? Is it a mode of cultural production that creates artefacts and media with their own internal systems of meaning that scholars can examine and catalogue? Is diaspora distinct from area studies or from studies of other transnational, expatriate, migrant, immigrant, refugee, displaced person and extra-national groups? 4 And if so, how? The evolving nature of diaspora studies is no simpler for its interdisciplinary character, shaped by trends in fields as wide-ranging as cultural and literary studies, political science, history, anthropology, sociology and religion. Since the 1960s, scholarship about diaspora communities has evolved, intersecting with critical debates about multiculturalism, identity politics, the state, and more recently, transnationalism and globalization.' It is worth remembering how far the field has progressed beyond earlier scholarship that favored essentialized typologies, such as collective trauma or a shared sense of exile from a homeland, to define the characteristics of diaspora groups6 Once the scholarship moved beyond definitions of diaspora communities as exiled...