ABSTRACT

Bangladeshi long-term expatriates: diaspora or transnationals? Faist describes diaspora and transnationalism – the two concepts regarding international migration that refer to cross-border processes – as ‘awkward dance partners’ (2010: 9). The observation is made in the context of continuous debates in academic and public discourses over their definitions and usage. Some scholars argue for sharp distinctions between the two phenomena. Bruneau (2010: 35-37) proposes a complete break between diaspora and transnationalism, while addressing the two from a geographical standpoint. Building upon six criteria of diaspora drawn from Cohen (1997) and Sheffer (2003), he defines diaspora as a community that, dispersed into other countries from the country of origin notwithstanding, invokes a common identity through shared social, cultural, religious, economic and political ties, as well as memory of a catastrophe or trauma. The diaspora identity also includes a spatial dimension – a symbolic and iconographic capital manifested in the reproduction of space after the country of origin in the adopted countries. Examples of which include the monasteries reconstructed in Northern Greece by a section of the Greek diaspora originating from Turkey. The transnational communities are a separate phenomenon according to Bruneau (2010: 43-45), despite the involvement of cross-border migration similar to diaspora. Unlike the diaspora, transnational communities are a result of more recent economic migration. Their linkages with their countries of origin have never been severed but are continuously reinforced by periodic returns and localised investments amid a communication revolution. Transnationals acquire the citizenship of their host country and retain that of the country of origin simultaneously, and there is neither any kind of uprooting nor any trauma, as in cases of diaspora. Dahinden (2010: 51), who is not in favour of contrasting diaspora and transnationalism, concentrates instead on transnationalism, and interprets diaspora as one of its manifestations. She analyses transnational formations as a combination of mobility and locality. (Here, mobility refers to the physical movement of people in transnational spaces and locality means their social, economic or political anchoring in the country of immigration and/or the sending country.) Two of the four mobility-locality combinations developed by Dahinden (2010:

53-59) that are relevant for our discussion are the localised diasporic and localised mobile transnational formations. The former combines low transnational mobility with high local anchorage in the receiving country and low local anchorage in the sending country, while the latter combines high transnational mobility with high local anchorage in both the receiving and sending countries. If we accept the break between diaspora and transnational community following Bruneau (2010: 35-37), the long-term expatriates from Bangladesh’s Jagannathpur present an interesting mix of both elements. Initially, they look more like a transnational community than a diaspora, since their migrations are more recent, economically induced, and no uprooting from homeland or trauma have been involved. It is also true that they acquired the citizenship of their host country without giving up that of their home country. Simultaneously, some elements of diaspora as described by Bruneau (2010: 35-37) are also visible in the Bangladeshi expatriates. Apart from the existence of a traumatic memory, both the elements of dispersal and shared common identity are vividly present among Bangladeshi long-term expatriates, especially from Jagannathpur. The emigrants from the area have been dispersed across continents from the United Kingdom to the United States, and commonly uphold not only their Bangladeshi identity but also family and village ties. To a smaller extent, the spatial dimension of identity that manifests in the creation of space is also evident. In London and New York – the two cities that have been major destinations for emigrants from the Sylhet region – several Bangladeshi neighbourhoods that are sometimes referred to as Bangla towns have emerged. These areas of Bangladeshi concentrations are characterised by signboards in Bangla. Shops selling saari and spices from Bangladesh; groceries selling fruits and vegetables flown in from Bangladesh; mosques and religious seminaries; Bangla schools, newspapers and TV channels; cultural troupes and celebration of Bengali festivals, are all spatial reconstructions of Bangladesh. However, unlike the regular members of a transnational community as conceived by Bruneau (2010: 35-37), the Bangladeshi expatriates from Jagannathpur do not overemphasise their home country citizenship over their acquired citizenship; it is generally the other way around. Emigration has been a source of economic, social and even political gain for them. A northern country’s citizenship is one potent symbol of such success and therefore, even though home country citizenship is retained, the acquired citizenship is more celebrated. The resulting identity assertion is more diasporic than transnational. Whether the expatriates are in their home country or host country, they proclaim a mixed identity, with the host country affiliation being prioritised. Taking this point into account, the Bangladeshi long-term expatriates, especially from Jagannathpur, start looking more like a diaspora and less like a transnational community. Despite the fact that they combine high transnational mobility with high local anchorage, they are still not a localised mobile transnational formation of Dahinden (2010: 53-59). Instead, according to Bruneau (2010: 35-37), they are almost a diaspora, especially in terms of their geographic dispersal, shared common identity, and the spatial reconstruction of their

homeland. We would therefore like to refer to them as diasporic transnationals, because even though they possess both high transnational mobility and high local anchorage, they still assert their diasporic identity over that of their home country.