For my own research paper, I read Aihwa Ong’s “Cyberpublics and Diaspora Politics among Transnational Chinese.” A few topics within her article struck me:
1. Diaspora versus transnationalism: Admittedly, I’ve been thinking of diasporic communities and transnational communities as interchangeable concepts. However, Ong explains that members of diaspora are often compelled to leave their homes due to force, discrimination or other push factors; there is a resultant yearning or elusive hope to “return home” that will not necessarily be actualized. On the other hand, members of transnational communities more often leave their homes by choice and are not subject to exile or refugee status; rather they, have the choice to return home and often maintain a role in the community, which can be traced through remittances or activism.
From this dichotomy, I interpret that transnational communities seem to be more privileged in that they have the choice to move; therefore, they leave their home countries with the understanding that they can return to their home countries with relative ease, manage a hybrid identity through returning home and expose their children to their primordial culture. Identity is a willed construction here. In contrast, members of diasporic communities are not necessarily privileged the same ability to construct identity. While their home countries may see them as willing traitors or as unpatriotic, members of diaspora are forced to leave and face two options: 1) maintaining the “authenticity” of one’s ethnic/racial identity or 2) embracing the hybridity of local cultural identity and primordial cultural identity.
2. In an increasingly transnational world where identity is de-territorialized, cyberspace and the Internet aid in political mobilization for transnational and diasporic communities that face discrimination or other forces. This isn’t so much of a realization as it is a statement that I have increasingly agreed with over the course of this year. Over the past year, I’ve been working with AIDCI, the Association of India Deoli Camp Internees 1962, an ex-internee organization that basically seeks to reach out to what has become a transnational community of ex-internee survivors of Deoli Camp Internment. Because ex-internees are scattered across the world at this point, it is impossible to politically mobilize such a large yet un-concentrated group of people without the Internet. For two years, the group existed without successfully reaching out to ex-internees beyond Toronto. However, with the creation of a website, the use of social media, networking with other organizations and opening up to members of the Indian community–all of which require the Internet–the organization has managed to get its story out into the media and has grabbed attention of interested journalists, advocates and sympathizers. Ultimately, the Internet allows cyber activism that can be more horizontally shared. It enables agency from the oppressed, support from the sympathetic and valuable help from the empathetic.
3. Embedded citizenship versus cyber-based race: While using ethno-nationalism as a uniting factor for ethnic Chinese to mobilize toward a cause, it is important to respect local identities and recognize the embedded citizenship of members of an ethnic group. While Global Huaren may have had the intent to protect distant “fellow Chinese” from ethnic discrimination, absorbing them into a pan-Chinese identity is not only disrespectful but harmful to Indonesian Chinese. The ideal approach is non-racial and non-ethnic;organizations like Global Huaren would fare better with taking more human rights-based platforms. Calling on all Chinese to stand up for other Chinese only exacerbates existing ethnic tensions and disregards the intersectionality of hyphenated and hybrid identities.
I think this was the biggest takeaway for me. An approach that AIDCI has been taking toward political mobilization is the use of ethnic identity–or in this case, sub-ethnic identity. The majority of AIDCI members happen to be Hakka; it originally started with a pretty fair representation of Hakka and non-Hakka, but it seems that Hakka members continue to bring in more Hakka members. While my obsession with Hakka culture and identity has goaded me toward a (sub)ethnic-based approach to mobilization, I realize that Ong is right. The group will never garner the same attention if it does not take a more human rights-based platform. Additionally, I’ve been detracting from the fact that Chinese-Indians see themselves as members of their own identity, but ultimately, their outcry stems from the fact that they were wronged as Indian citizens by a government that they believed would protect them and by a country that they saw as home.