Unravelling Identity

Unravelling front

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In this book you will hear immigrants’ voices as they share with us their life stories, their migration experiences and citizenship decisions. In telling these stories they show that the very processes of migration and settlement in a new country, including decisions about citizenship, inevitably bring to the fore important issues of group identity. This process seems to require of most immigrants an ongoing re-evaluation and re-alignment of their often dynamic and continuously evolving relationships to the range of national, ethnic, religious or other markers of collective identity available to them. The book opens with an historical overview of immigration and citizenship in Australia, as well as a discussion of the different concepts of collective identity which are to be found throughout the book. We then hear the voices of seven immigrants as they tell in vivid, and often poignant, detail their life stories and migration experiences. ‘I came with one suitcase in this country and I worked very hard, I struggled in the beginning but I got (there),’ says Karim from Pakistan. What follows is an extended presentation and discussion of the many and varied views immigrants hold of their identity during and after their move from their country of origin to Australia. ‘Your genes belong to your country,’ says Lech from Poland while Christine from New Zealand says, ‘I suppose I’m a chameleon…I can be whatever I want to be.’ These two definitions of collective identity and the many variations on them form the core of this book. The exploration of identity issues provides valuable insights into the many and varied patterns that immigrant group identity takes on and illustrates how this identity often emerges as pluralistic rather than as unitary. For example, Pan from Hong Kong says of his own sense of identity: ‘Oh it probably get divided into three sections. In the morning is more Vietnamese and afternoon more Australian and night time it’s Hong Kong.’ The final section examines immigrants’ views of citizenship and the reasons they give for choosing whether or not to take up Australian citizenship. Their motivation ranges from the pragmatic to the idealistic. ‘If I can survive without being a citizen of this country, why not?’ says Das from India. But Elise from Algeria believes that becoming an Australian citizen means ‘being more part of the community’.