WHEATAKE 70: EFFECTS OF IMMIGRATION ON B.V.I POPULATION BY: CHARLES H. WHEATLEY

The following is commentary from Charles H. Wheatley.

The transformative diversity mentioned in Wheatake 69 was the result of immigration. In this Wheatake I will take a quick glance at the effects of immigration on the British Virgin Islands.

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon which has accelerated during the latter half of the twentieth century:

“The new international migration waves are part of a transitional transformation that is reordering many societies and their politics around the globe. Increased immigration will undoubtingly continue into the developed society and transform their demographic composition and social structure and, by increasing their heterogeneity, lead to a crisis and reevaluation of their collective identities.”

(Shafir 1995).

Although Shafir’s conclusion is based on his empirical study of four developed regions in Europe-Catalonia, the Basque provinces in Spain, and the Republics of Latavia and Estonia-…the principles are also applicable to small Caribbean states like the British Virgin Islands. With more than 50% of foreign population the British Virgin Islands is in the process which provides the springboard for the argument for a multi-cultural approach to the education of young people.

Michael Wagner 1982, identifies four characteristics of immigrants:

1. They reject the country from which they emigrate; 2. They reject the old self which is a product of the old country; 3. They adopt a new life; 4. They develop an inferior feeling.

Walzes expects immigrants to assimilate in their new culture and does not support a multi-cultural approach:

“Immigration involves a conscious rejection of the old country and then, often of oneself as a product of the old country. A new land requires a new life, new ways of life. But in learning the new ways, the immigrant is slow, awkward, greenhorn, quickly out paced by his own children. He is likely to feel inferior, and his children are likely to confirm the feeling. But his sense of inferiority, so painful to him, is also a distaste for them. It cuts them adrift in a world where they are never likely to feel entirely at home.”

(Walzer et al 1982.)

These characteristics mentioned by Walzer do not apply to all immigrants in the British Virgin Islands. This is evident when sporting or other competitions are held here. To the contrary they maintain strong ties with their homeland. A few of the ways in which they do this are:

1. They educate their children in their homeland. They avoid integration and assimilation in the B. V. I. society; 2. they repatriate large sums of money to their homeland; 3. they form national associations to preserve their national heritage and support their national appeals.

Immigrants to the British Virgin Islands do not reject their old self. They are always ready to remind British Virgin islanders of their nationality or country or both. This characteristic is the seed of a great amount of the discord between B. V. Islanders and the immigrants. Immigrants blame B. V. Islanders for excluding them from the main stream of society. B. V. Islanders on the other hand see immigrants as ‘birds of passage’ who use the Territory as a convenience. Some immigrants are only interested in the economic opportunities but have no interest in the development of the Territory. Other immigrants use the Territory as a stepping stone to the more affluent North American countries. Although the views of each side represent some truth, neither tells the whole story. Many immigrants to the B. V. I. would prefer to have national status in the political sense, but remain as non-nationals culturally, linguistically, religiously, and educationally.

The majority of immigrants to this Territory arrive with a feeling of superiority to the nationals. Walzer’s characteristics only apply to a small percentage of immigrants. Most immigrants come from larger countries and they use this geological base to sjpport their arguments. A small country represents underdevelopment and cannot offer the variety of educational opportunities, cultural activities and other forms of entertainment that are associated with larger countries. Gonzalez 1985, argues that immigrants try to strengthen their bonds and develop a sense of solidarity which could heigthen their presence and probably give them greater social recoń£nition. The characteristics like religion and language around which solidarity may develop sometimes push immigrant groups to the fringe of society. As mentioned earlier immigrants to thd B. V. I. make themselves visible through the formation of national groups, and the celebration of their homeland events like independence. Through these events and activities, they send messages to British Virgin Islanders.