Migrating for better or for worse

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Migrating entails adjusting to a new place and culture, which may prove difficult especially when one has to fight to settle or to face discrimination and xenophobia. Immigrants may feel lost and uprooted (déracinés). Yet, it can be successful when they fulfil their dreams.

I. A tough experience

1) Rejected and uprooted

Adapting to a new place and culture is hard when facing rejection and xenophobia. It is even harder when it means fighting over a territory as Martin Scorcese’s film Gangs of New York (2002) shows with the deadly fight between Catholic Irish immigrants and earlier Protestant settlers in Manhattan.

Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) stresses the confusion and bewilderment (incompréhension) migrants experience when settling in another country. Hence, some feel safer by clinging to their traditions. It is the choice of the main character’s parents who fear British culture and remain within their own communities in Gurinder Chadha’s film Bend it like Beckham (2002). People feel all the more uprooted as it is hard for them to find their place and build their identity anew. In Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ifemelu goes back to Nigeria after struggling to adapt to the US for thirteen years.

2) Traumatic wandering

Diasporic people live in a paradoxical condition: cut off and haunted by their past at the same time. Many black artists have explored the constant trauma of the Middle Passage.


The Middle Passage refers to the Transatlantic forced migration of African people to America on slave ships.

Dionne Brand, an Afro-Caribbean Canadian writer focuses on displaced rootless individuals and the trauma of exile. In A Map of the Door of No Return (2001), she portrays black diasporic people trapped between an unforgettable traumatic past and an unfathomable (insondable) future.

II. A positive experience

1) Positive transmutation

As hybrid individuals caught between two races and cultures, second-generation immigrants often feel trapped too. In How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez (1991), Yolanda embarks on a journey of self-exploration. It allows her to embrace her fractured self.

Postcolonial novelist Salman Rushdie rejects the British colonial portrayal of India and builds a new world. He fuses the idea of magic and reality through a new technique called magic realism. Instead of seeking to recover lost traditional motherland, his characters accept hybridity as a way to find a new balanced identity.


Postcolonial writers are from formerly colonised countries. They often address the problems and consequences of the decolonisation of a country.

Finding one’s balance through the mixing of Western and indigenous cultures is Chris Ofili’s concern too. He usually mixes Western and Nigerian iconography and references on one canvas (toile), to suggest multiplicity and diversity blend in one space.

2) A dream come true

Settling in another country offers new opportunities: people can begin afresh and benefit from better living conditions as is sung by the Corrs in Ellis Island (2015). It enables them to experience new freedoms as is developed by Monica Ali in Brick Lane (2003).

Even if it started in order to flee dire poverty and segregation in the South, The Great Migration (1916-1970) painted by Jacob Lawrence in The Migration Series (1941) eventually enabled Black Americans to build a new place for themselves in public life, to get more power and to create an influential urban culture.