Making Sense of Migration

When I saw a “We’re Closed” banner in the front window of a Hungarian deli in New York’s Upper East Side one morning, and that the store’s shelves were absent their traditional salami, red paprika, and huge coils of sausage, I was sure that “Little Hungary’s” last remaining meat emporium had closed its doors for good. The deli, established in the 1950s on what was once known as Manhattan’s “Goulash Avenue,” had since become a rarity, a tribute to a time when European immigration abounded and globalization was a buzzword yet unknown.

Since then, profound changes in migration, immigration, and emigration patterns have impacted communities immensely. Today, new global and local movements of people continue to affect cultures, languages, citizenship rights, international relations, and politics in complex and controversial ways that, according multiple experts interviewed in this edition, should not be over generalized.

This HPR edition analyzes how such movements are changing norms in a variety of locations. From the “brain gain” of Chinese western-educated students returning home that has raised hopes for democratization, to the strain that Bangladeshi immigration has placed on India’s historic tolerance, migration is challenging traditions and customs. In China, migrants are defying old political divisions as rural workers move to cities to seek opportunities, while elsewhere, whole religious groups are contemplating moves to escape persecution in their homelands, as with Arab Christians today.

Of course, changing patterns of human movement also entail changing politics. With more dual citizens than ever before, many countries must ask tough questions about what, exactly, constitutes citizenship. Likewise, debates persist over the status of refugees, particularly concerning North Korean defectors in China, and the protections afforded them by international law.

In addition, modern migration is changing linguistic and cultural landscapes. However, with efforts to revitalize endangered languages amidst globalization’s conforming pressures and concern increasing for the fragility of ethnic enclaves, we are slowly becoming conscious of migration’s power. Fortunately, understanding these intricacies and the growing inter-connectedness of communities is possible with the development of technological applications that track human movement in urban settings.

Yet despite new theoretical and technical approaches, mapping the effects of migration and predicting the persistence of languages, ethnic communities, and cultural customs is manageable only with close attention to case-by-case detail. Using this approach, the HPR attempts to tackle the intricacies of migration.

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