Immigration is a dominant theme in the discourse of every cosmopolitan city across the globe. Is globalisation a new phenomenon? For as long as the globe has existed, so has globalisation. Ever since mankind sprang into existence, we have forged forth, leaving new footprints in an every changing landscape.
Can we remember the washed away footprints we left in the sand as we left Africa and populated the globe? We cannot. Notwithstanding, the Out of Africa hypothesis asserts that homo sapiens, as a species, developed first in Africa and then scattered around the world around 100 and 200,000 years ago. The implication of this theory is that all humans are ultimately of African descent.
Civilisations have always been founded on the complex movements and mixtures of peoples. However, the contemporary image of a settler society is, for the most part, a fallacy. We have been deceived into thinking that we belong–or even come from–somewhere simply because an ancestor somewhere in the family tree chose to go there to make their fortune.
The question that fascinates me is not that they sought a fortune–for we can all still do that without leaving our homelands. For me, the real mind-boggling question is: where is the ‘there’ that they went to; what possessed them to go there and not somewhere else; and why did it work out for them there and not where they came from?
From the 1800s stretching right up to the 1900s, port cities became magnets for fortune-seekers, attracting large numbers of male migrants who left behind both material and immaterial hardships to forge forth a new destiny in a distant locality.
The rise of diasporic peoples with lost identities is what led to the creation of the new multiethnic nations over the decades following WWII. But are we actually living in a post-racial world? Perhaps on the internet, we are; but what’s actually happening on the ground? While we are comfortable to accept and even embrace ‘distant realities’ that exist on the internet, this does not automatically translate into something that we may welcome on the home front.
Since the turn of the millennium, urban populations have grown rapidly across the globe, resulting in an anti-immigration–but not necessarily anti-global–trend. When cities cannot comfortably accommodate a sudden and huge influx of migrants, xenophobic tendencies start to surface. Social tensions begin to rise despite the very real fact that migrants are indispensable to the functioning of a healthy economy.
Why did we leave our origins behind? Where are we headed? And why must we head there?
If we can answer these questions, we will have nowhere left to go.