Ethnographic Reflections of Return Migration in a Romanian Rural Community
The objective of the research is to describe the return migration process in a Romanian rural community; we will focus here on the identity changes experienced by community members who recently returned from Italy. We conducted this instrumental case study in Drăguş, Brasov County, where we performed extensive observations. We identified all the persons who have permanently returned from Italy and studied the perceived identity effects of their migration experience. We also collected data through narrative interviews; the data was analyzed by means of coding techniques, and the results are ethnographic reflections of return migration focusing mostly on the way the identity of our participants was shaped by the experience of migration and returning to the original community.
KEY WORDS: return migration, identity crisis, identity conversions, ethnography, qualitative data
We want through this article to draw attention to return migration, the most neglected migration process in the specialty literature. It does exist and it produces economic, social and cultural effects at the level of the communities of origin. Secondly, we wanted to prove the richness and the immense suggestive power of qualitative data in regard to the experience of migration. The statistic and demographic data cannot describe the phenomenon in the complexity of its characteristic transformations. And thirdly, we wanted to underline the importance of focusing on the individual and collective identity phenomena that accompany migration.
The experience of migration that has been described here illustrates the post-modern view of identity. It considers that the individual has no permanent or fixed identity, but assumes different identities in different moments. This characteristic raises many identity issues: identity disruptions and fragmentations, identity crises, decentering (the existence of more identities, some of them being contradictory), with serious personal and social effects. The literature mentions identity dysfunctions. Dubar (2003) calls identity crises the disruptions which appear in self-identification and other identification. One of the main factors which generate such identity crises is sudden significant life changes, for example divorce, retirement etc. – “they disrupt the image and self-respect, the very definition one gives to oneself” (p. 159). Migration is undoubtedly such a factor, as it implies the change of bearings, models, beliefs, values and even the change of the individual itself.
One of the solutions to overcoming an identity crisis, claims the above mentioned author, is identity conversion. This necessitates the shift from one identity to another: we become someone else, we change our culture, religion etc.; it implies abandoning the old identity (protective, resulting from the original social life) and the construction of a new identity (developed from secondary social experiences). Participants’ identity crises and conversions appear both upon leaving the country and upon their return. Migration generates more or less permanent identity maladjustments: in Italy they were never fully adapted (neither when they had legal papers, nor when they had learned the language or when they became indispensable to Italians): they were not Italian, but not fully Romanian either; in Romania they are not and they will never be again what they once where (they have changed and they are perceived as being different).
Even though the discourse of our interviewees is not gloomy, in general the interviews leave the impression of a quite harsh migration experience. The hardships are pretty severe, diverse and always present during this experience, and there are aspects specific to migration that have caused important problems in their identity equilibrium. In this context, the words of one interviewee would be justified: “If I had to leave, or if I had to choose, I would not leave again” (I1). Even if some of the participants were very proud of their achievements abroad and at home after their return, we can conclude that none of them would repeat the migration experience. Therefore, the experience of migration sets one back at an identity level. Our participants (and most of the times their relatives at home) experienced significant changes in identity. Some have improved their material status, others assured their future, others grew up, others sealed their family relationships, others showed Italians what Romanians are like, and others brought a bit of style to the community of Drăguş, etc. But all of them acquired experiences that made them different from the rest of Romanians. And given the increasing numbers of those who left and returned, we think that – from a sociological point of view – more attention should be given to this category of Romanians as well as to the transformations of the communities to which they return.