Asian Migrants in New Zealand

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Intergenerational Transnationalism: 1.5 Generation Asian Migrants in New Zealand1 Allen Bartley* and Paul Spoonley**

This paper explores some of the issues associated with the nature of contemporary transnationalism and the particular experiences and strategies of a specific cohort of migrants, the 1.5 generation. Based on a study of East Asian migrant adolescents to New Zealand, we argue that the experiences and strategies of this generation differ from those of their parents, the original decision-makers in the migration process, as well as from the historical experiences of earlier migrants. There is an ambivalence (in-betweenness) about settlement and attachment that raises some key questions about the assumptions of the immigration literature and of policy ⁄ political communities. The paper suggests that the 1.5 generation represents a particular group that deserves more attention in the migration and transnationalism literature.

In the early 1990s, cultural anthropologists Glick Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton (1992: ix) proposed conceptualising transnationalism as the emerging phenomenon of migration, in which ‘‘migrants establish social fields that cross geographic, cultural and political borders.’’ Their work and theory focused primarily on the movement of people from the less developed countries to ‘‘centres of capital’’ (Glick Schiller et al., 1992: x). Portes and his associates (1999) took up the theme of transnational migration, and presented an argument as to why ‘‘transnationalism * Faculty of Education, University of Auckland. ** College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Massey University. Ó 2008 The Authors Journal Compilation Ó 2008 IOM International Migration Vol. 46 (4) 2008 ISSN 0020-7985

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Bartley and Spoonley

from below’’2 could be conceptualised as an original phenomenon. Portes et al. (1999: 219) posit four reasons for the significance of transnational migration as a subject of inquiry: ‘‘the high intensity of exchanges, the new modes of transacting, and the multiplication of activities that require cross-border travel and contacts on a sustained basis.’’ As a result of these and other factors, transnationalism has produced ‘‘a distinct form of immigrant adaptation to those described in the past literature’’ (Portes et al., 1999: 227). These writers argue that, as transmigrants engage in such patterns of intense contact and exchange between both sending and receiving societies (and perhaps others as well), the two social fields actually merge, and create opportunities to pursue alternatives to the conventional path of settlement and ‘‘gradual but inevitable assimilation’’ (Portes et al., 1999: 228). As these theorists describe them, transnational migrants – or transmigrants, in Glick Schiller’s terminology – represent a departure from the conventional process of migration. This is primarily because they have not uprooted themselves from their origin societies, but instead maintain property and business interests, as well as relationships there, and may actively participate in the politics of those societies as well (Richman, 1992; Rios, 1992). Transmigrants may not have an either ⁄ or orientation, choosing to forego an assumed primacy of loyalty and attachment to one place or the other, and rather may simply be living simultaneously in both locations, neither absolutely here nor there, now or in the future (GlickSchiller and Basch, 1995: 56). It is precisely this ambivalence which challenges the conventional assumptions about migrant settlement and assimilation, and their converse, the migrants’ return. A key point arising from this work on transnational migration is that the phenomenon of transmigration challenges conventional discourses in both sending and receiving countries about the nature of...
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