Queer Migration: Identity and Representation Challenges

By Randall Rowe, PhD Student, Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Culture, The Ohio State University. 

A migrant’s journey often starts due to reasons outside of his or her control. The catalyst for uprooting one’s life can be economic, political, cultural, or indeed all three of these combined. For Queer[1] migrants from Russia and the former USSR, the journey from their homeland to another country often began due to the violent and ubiquitous nationalism propagated by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. The Russian President’s administration advocates for Russian moral superiority, which promotes homophobia in an effort to differentiate Russian society from ‘Western’ societies.[2] The sentiment of his administration’s policies with regard to LGBT[3] Russian citizens are fairly summed up in the so-called ‘Gay Propaganda’ law of 2013, which prohibits talking positively about “non-traditional” lifestyles.

“Rainbow Flag Sticker on Door.” Photo taken by researcher on 5/6/2018 in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Russian colleague delivered a warning to avoid this bar because those with “non-traditional” sexual orientations go there.

Thanks to a grant from the Global Mobility Project, I was able to speak with a number of Russian-speaking immigrants from the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union whose experiences have been shaped by major forces such as queerness, migration, and nationalism. In these interviews, I found themes that contrasted with the more conventional narratives surrounding LGBT migrants.

In the past, I have analyzed media coverage of these migrants and their experience; by contrasting this coverage with the interviews, I have observed a dialogic relationship of Queer identity formation through migration experiences and news media representations in Russian and America/Western European outlets. Moreover, within this dialogic relationship, contradictions that obscure actual lived realities arise. For example, some of the Russian speaking immigrants, with whom I spoke, noted a tension in having to adopt a victim narrative as an LGBT immigrant from the former Soviet Union due to expectations fostered by media coverage. Additionally, concepts of self are challenged when they are taken out of their original cultural context and renegotiated in an American context with American English lexicon. Research examining cultural productions and political utilization of the “Other,” or those who are perceived to exist outside the constructed societal norms, in the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation has been carried out by scholars such as Stephen Hutchings, Barbara Heldt, Nancy Condee, Stephen Norris, Judith Mayne and others. Though scholarship has addressed the “Other” to the Russian “I,” specifically how the “I” is foregrounded against the “Other” in a variety of ways, little has been done to specifically illuminate the circular relationship of media representation and lived experiences of LGBT migrants from Russia and the former Soviet Union. Going forward, I am seeking to uncover the extent to which this dialogic relationship shapes personal expectations, identities and, in turn, media representations. When compared with media representations of the experience of LGBT migrants, my interviews have managed to offer a more nuanced perspective of Queer migration from the former Soviet Union.

This is an article from a popular travel blog that was published on 7/2/2018. This question is valid, however it relies heavily on the narrative that says LGBT people are in danger when they go to (or live in) Russia. This narrative is carried in much of the media coverage and it often gets attached to LGBT immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet Union regardless of their actual, lived experience. Screen shot taken on 7/3/2018.

Many LGBT individuals whose lives are complicated or interrupted by the effects of nationalism and its harmful exclusivity have decided to sacrifice their prior lives in order to move to another country. Migration is difficult enough without considering the particularities of identifying as LGBT. By taking one’s sense of self out of its original cultural context, and bringing into contact with another cultural context, the migration experience shows how identities are negotiated. This negotiation may undermine official narratives found in mass media or government rhetoric, because these narratives emerge, in part, due to foreign policy goals. Thus, these narratives tend to ignore reality in favor of generalizations and assumptions. The instability of categories like Queer, migrant, nationalism, LGBT, etc. exposes problematic aspects of government policies, cultural productions and, most pertinent to this project, media representations; namely the conflict between essentialized categories used in the policies, productions, representations and the fluidity of identity. In order to better understand the situation, and perhaps, to better aid these LGBT migrants in their journeys and goals, further research into the real, lived, migration experience of LGBT Russians should be done so to cut through bias or false depictions.

Works Cited

Cohen, Cathy J. “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” GLQ 1 May 1997; 3 (4): 437–465.

Healey, Dan. Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi. Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

[1] I use the term ‘Queer’ in the way that Cathy Cohen has defined it in her seminal essay, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” She defines Queer as a category that encompasses all groups or individuals who reject dominant narratives and negotiate their positions within these narratives similarly according to their shared, marginal relationship to power.

[2] Healey, Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi, Preface.

[3] I use this acronym literally. The experiences of the people, with whom I spoke, are that of individuals who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender. I acknowledge that the language used in this acronym and throughout this post is from a distinctly U.S. or “Western” epistemology, but it is a helpful lexicon insofar as I am analyzing objects and experiences that were produced within a U.S. or Canadian cultural-political context.

Diasporic Contact in Urban Midwestern Cities

By Hope Wilson, PhD Candidate, Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Culture, The Ohio State University and Randall Rowe, PhD Student, Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Culture, The Ohio State University.

Immigrant groups are often treated as though they are the same through and through. It is phenomenally easy to essentialize groups of people, giving ethnic, national or linguistic categorizations value as a diagnostic tool. Discussions of immigrant populations refer to “the Polish,” “the Russians,” “the Mexicans,” “the Italians,” relying upon (artificial and largely arbitrary) national and linguistic distinctions to delineate groups from one another. And from those national groupings, generalizations are made about this “community” of immigrants — never mind that this community might be spread from Chicago to Florida, from Seattle to Nashville, Bismarck to Austin. The national affiliation is used to essentialize them into representatives of a single, unified community.

Yet immigrants have historically come from a wide variety of cultural contexts, and they have moved into a wide variety of cultural contexts. Their presence in the locations in which they have lived has shaped the history and culture of their cities, and by their presence they have likewise changed themselves. Communities are, after all, local: even though we discuss immigrant communities in essentialized terms, every local iteration of a diasporic group is going to be unique and complex.

Of course, understanding local identities and senses of belonging is far from a straightforward task. It is an endeavor that involves sorting out complex webs of cultural contributions and expressions in specific settings. It also is a task that involves an understanding of the local conditions that shaped the community. This project, therefore, is setting out to document representations of Polish culture specifically in the Polish Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA, focusing on understanding the role that “Polishness” has played in the neighborhood in the past and the role that it plays today. Additionally, we have sought to question how these representations have influenced a sense of belonging or urban identity in Pittsburgh.

“Witamy Do Polish Hill” – Welcome Sign in Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo taken by researchers on 6/27/18.

This is a broad project. Understanding a neighborhood is complex enough that multiple perspectives are needed. Consequently, this project is a joint project between two students on different academic tracks: Randy Rowe (a migration specialist) and Hope Wilson (a linguist). We decided to work together on this project because each of us brings a slightly different background and perspective to the work. Randy’s background with textual analysis and background in migration studies equips him to study the neighborhood from a macro perspective in light of the broader trends in migration, while Hope’s linguistic training is helping her to do a close analysis of the linguistic material gathered from the neighborhood.

Our approach is grounded in linguistic landscape analysis (ELLA) (Maly 2016, Blommaert 2013). This methodology examines the presence and use of public written language in order to understand linguistic diversity in urban settings. Because written language posted in public is created with a particular audience in mind, code choice in writing can be a marker of imagined community and civic power in particular locations. The type, placement, content, and code of particular signs in public serve as a record of who uses space and in which ways. Explicitly designed to examine diverse neighborhoods and understand how diversity is a dynamic and shifting process, the linguistic landscape approach will help us uncover what is going on in the neighborhood by analyzing the ethnolinguistic vitality of Polish Hill. At the same time, though, we also want to understand why the neighborhood is this way; consequently, we have also been conducting interviews, which illustrate ideologies and beliefs on identity and a sense of belonging in the neighborhood and surrounding city. Finally, we are also going to examine historical documents.

“Free Samples Kielbasa” – S & D Polish Deli, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo taken by researchers on 6/18/18.

Based on our initial observations, the Polish immigration to Pittsburgh has indeed shaped Polish Hill in a variety of ways, but it has also shaped the city as a whole. Immigrant neighborhoods often feature restaurants, architectural styles, churches, stores and cultural centers that helped to ease the shock of assimilation after having moved to a new country. Pittsburgh is a city that has seen a change in its demographics since the 1950s due to a decline in its robust steel industry and an exodus of citizens to the suburbs. There are traces of “Polishness” in the originally “Polish” neighborhood, Polish Hill; however, to a large degree, representations of Polish culture have disappeared or been assimilated into a larger urban identity.

“Stuff’d Pierogi Bar – Pittsburgh’s Comfort Food” Stuff’d Pierogi Bar, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo taken by researchers on 6/26/18.

Thanks to a grant from the Global Mobility Project, we have significantly documented the Polish Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The next site for our study will be in another urban Midwestern population center and its historically Polish immigrant neighborhood: Hamtramck in Detroit, MI. When completed, our study will compare the presence of and representations of Polish culture in both neighborhoods. This is an apt comparison because these neighborhoods were centers of Polish immigration during the 19th and 20th centuries; both were located in industrial cities in the so-called “rust belt”; and both have seen their demographics shift significantly in the years since the peak of Polish immigration. We seek to further our understanding of how cooperation and integration amongst communities may be either fostered or hindered by local conditions, as manifested in the linguistic landscape.

Research Update: Mobilizing Linguistic Resources for Diabetes Management in Latino Families

By Jordan Royster, Undergraduate Student, College of Public Health, The Ohio State University 

In the United States, Spanish speaking persons have a higher risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus1. Previous studies have examined health outcomes in relation to familismo on Spanish-speaking diabetic patients. However, the research did not determine the interplay of disease management and cultural values. Familismo is a cultural value, that emphasizes the needs of one’s nuclear or extended family over one’s personal needs. This project focused on the process of familismo and the effects of trans-lingual interactions on the patient’s management of diabetes.

All participants were Type II diabetic patients and family members living in the same household. The families had two to five members and everyone spoke Spanish. Four families from Columbus, Toledo, Lorain, and Cincinnati Ohio, were interviewed in March 2018. The cities were chosen because of their varied population sizes. In 2016, Columbus had the largest population of 860,090, then Cincinnati with 298,800, Toledo with 278,508 and Lorain with 63,7302.

The interviews, which lasted approximately one hour, were round table discussions with the patients and family members. The written questions were shared with everyone and each patient and family member was given an opportunity to address every question. The same researcher conducted the interviews and took handwritten notes of the discussions. A content analysis was done on the themes of the interview.

The objectives of the interviews were to determine the following:

  • The family’s perception of messages deployed by bilingual members through language brokering, the interpretation and translation of concepts to patients with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds3.
  • The factors that determine which family member serves as the primary support for the diabetic patient.
  • Changes in the family’s health behavior after the patient’s diabetes diagnosis. 

With two of the families, an adult child with advanced English skills attended the doctor appointments with the patients. They served as patient advocates, ensuring that the diagnosis and recommended changes were understood and carried out by the patient. The other two families only had the patient attend the doctor appointments because one family’s children lived in Mexico and the other family had young children. However, both patients mentioned their husband and one patient’s extended family served as a strong support network for when she was home.  For all the families the main support was a family member. Three of the families indicated their spouses as the primary support, although none of the spouses attended the doctor appointments. Two of these families then mentioned additional family members, children and an aunt that also support them through the management of diabetes. One patient relied on her adult daughter who was also suffering health complications.

In regard to lifestyle changes, two families shifted their diets to encompass the dietary constraints of diabetes, such as by eating less processed food and fats. For the Toledo family, the patient drastically changed her diet and her daughter also adopted healthier eating habits. Although other family members have resisted most dietary changes, efforts to improve their eating habits continue. The Lorain patient changed her diet and the family reduced unhealthy available foods in the home. To varying degrees, the members of all four families were involved in the diabetes management of the patients.

Within the Spanish speaking community, sharing food and meals is an important component of the familial relationship. Having one member not able to participate in this cultural practice can be isolating4&5. Medical professionals should be aware of the family’s dietary practices to best help the patient achieve lifestyle changes that are most effective.

The Global Mobility Grant helped fund the travel expenses as well as compensate the families for their time in participating in this project.

  1. CDC Features. (2017, September 18). Retrieved March 26, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/features/hispanichealth/index.html
  2. QuickFacts. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2018, from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/loraincityohio,cincinnaticityohio,toledocityohio,columbuscityohio/PST045217
  3. Dorner, L. M., Orellana, M. F., & Jiménez, R. (2008). It’s One of Those Things That You Do to Help the Family. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23(5), 515-543. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558408317563.
  4. Devine, Carol M. et al. (1999, March). Food Choices in Three Ethnic Groups: Interactions of Ideals, Identities, and Roles. Journal of Nutrition Education, Volume 31, Issue 2, 86 – 93. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-3182(99)70400-0
  5. Kulkarni, K. D. (2004, October 01). Food, Culture, and Diabetes in the United States. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from http://clinical.diabetesjournals.org/content/22/4/190.short  

Rapper Amir Issaa Visits OSU

By Enrico Zammarchi, PhD Student, Department of Comparative Studies

On February 28 and March 1, an Italian rapper called Amir Issaa visited the Ohio State University for a series of events that brought together music and education. Presenting excerpts from his recently published autobiography, and raising awareness on the situation of second generation Italians, students and faculty enjoyed singing along to the lyrics of Amir Issaa. 

Photo by Erik Scaltriti, Department of French and Italian.

Amir Issaa—who usually goes simply by his first name—was born in Rome in 1978 to an Italian mother and an Egyptian father. As an artist and an activist, Amir has been a spokesperson for sons of immigrants and second-generation Italians, collaborating with Italian associations such as UNAR (Italy’s National Anti-Racism Union), Il razzismo è una brutta storia (Racism is a bad story), and with the petition website Change.org. Through his artistic skills, Amir has helped the Italian youth by turning anger into creativity, believing that music can be a powerful means of social change. During his career, he recorded six albums, several EPs, and a new record that is planned to be released sometime in 2018.

Amir has also been active in Italian cinema, composing the soundtrack for Francesco Bruni’s movie Scialla!, and being the first and only rapper to ever walk on the red carpet of the Venice International Film Festival, where the movie premiered. He was nominated for important awards such as the David di Donatello and the Nastro d’Argento.

Amir’s most recent project is an autobiographical book titled Vivo per questo (I live for this), which was published in 2017 by Italian editor Chiarelettere. In the book, Amir describes his life growing up in a working-class suburb of Rome, where he was often subject to racist attacks because of his origins.

Amir’s visit was organized by the French and Italian Graduate Student Association (FIGSA), with the support of the Department of French and Italian, the Department of Comparative Studies, the Center for Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and the Global Mobility Project. During his stay, Amir performed a concert before an audience of more than one hundred students, alternating his songs with a Q&A that focused on his mixed racial origins and on the significance of growing up in Italy as a second generation Italian. Still today, children of immigrants who are born and raised in Italy cannot apply to receive their Italian citizenship until they turn 18; before then, they are forced to stay on a renewable visa, and they risk being deported to their parents’ country of origin if something goes wrong in the bureaucratic process.

Photo by Erik Scaltriti, Department of French and Italian.

On the following day, Amir led a workshop that focused on how to build a rap song. After talking about his own experience as a hip-hop artist in Italy, Amir explained how hip-hop culture allowed him to express himself in ways that were otherwise inaccessible to young artists. He then asked the audience to start working on their own, original lyrics, helping them to come up with ways to create rhymes while being concise. The multicultural and multilingual audience that attended the workshop eventually generated a song that included lyrics in English, Spanish, Italian, and Turkish.

Photo by Erik Scaltriti, Department of French and Italian.

Amir is now back in Italy, after touring the US and bringing his music to US states on the East coast, as well as to California. He is planning on coming back to the US in the Fall for another series of events, and the hope is to see him again soon in Columbus. Amir is on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify.

Musician Visit with Ezé Wendtoin

Ezé Wendtoin, a prominent West African musician will visit OSU Campus March 19-27. He has dedicated his work as a musician to increase understanding of different cultures in Germany. As a solo artist and together with the Dresden musician collective “Banda Internationale” he has stood against racism and xenophobia through music in concerts, theater, social projects, and in his work as an educator and scholar of German Second Language Acquisition. At the Ohio State, he will offer concerts, conversations and lectures to engage with our local students, artists and community.

Find below the events open to the public which we encourage you to attend.

March 19:

12am: Public Lunch with graduate students, Research Commons 352, 18th Ave Library

1-2pm: Pop-Up Performances on the Oval

4-5.30pm: Lecture “Music in Foreign Language Education: Learning German through Music in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso“, Arps 388, RSVP HERE

March 20:

12.45am-2.10 pm: “Studying Abroad: Sharing Experiences”, CLLC Lunch Discussion with music with Foreign Language Students students, Hagerty Hall courtyard/ Crane Café, lunch snacks will be provided, RSVP HERE

2.30-4.30pm: “Bringing Different Worlds Together Through Music”, student workshops in German and French, SIGN UP HERE

5-6.30pm: “Being African in Trump’s America“, Roundtable Discussion and Concert, Frank Hale Cultural Center, 153 W 12th Ave, Columbus, Ohio 43210

March 21:

2-3.30pm: Lunch with graduate students, Jennings Hall 050

4-5pm: Pop-Up Performances on the Oval

March 22:

3-3.30pm: Pop-Up Performances on the Oval

3.30-5pm: Musical Discussion with the Migration Studies Working Group, Research Commons, 350A, 18th Ave Library, RSVP by emailing migrationstudiesworkinggroup@gmail.com

March 27:

6pm: “Ezé Wendtoin” Collaborative Concert at the Global Gallery Café in Clintonville

More information can be found on www.u.osu.edu/ezewendtoin OR www.go.osu.edu/eze

More information about Student Workshops in German and French:

Bringing Different Worlds Together Through Music

In this workshop, Ezé uses music invites students of German and French to develop ways to think about and bring together different understandings of culture and living. He will incorporate your perspectives to encourage a learning environment in which you are able to learn with and from each other.

Ezé will talk about his work with different non-profit organizations and collectives (Atticus e.V., Lauter Leise in Sachsen, Banda Internationale). He will also present his visits to local schools in Germany, during which he talked with students about issues of racism, prejudice, and clichés, telling the students about how he has made his way to Germany, and what role music played for his journey. He will talk about Burkina Faso by presenting different photographic materials.

The workshop is open to students of German and French.

Workshop 1 (French): 3/20, 2.45-3.30pm

Workshop 2 (German): 3/20, 3.40- 4.25pm

SIGN UP HERE

There is no minimum proficiency level required. Students of different proficiency-levels are encouraged to participate. Each workshop holds 20 students.

Event Page

Co-sponsored by the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures (GLL), the Center for Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (CLLC), the Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS), the Migration Studies Working Group, the Department of Music and the Global Mobility Project.

President Michael V. Drake’s Statement about DACA Students at OSU

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

Our university derives great strength from bringing together outstanding individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Inclusive excellence enriches our pursuit, discovery and sharing of knowledge.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum with significant implications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Our DACA students arrived in this country as children and have grown up working to make real the American Dream. They have overcome barriers, often against the odds, were admitted to our competitive institution and contribute greatly to our success.

I want to restate that we support our DACA students unequivocally, are committed to their success and will work diligently to gather and respond to their concerns. We also support those programs established to help them achieve their goals, and we are advocating strongly with our elected officials, homeland security and colleagues across higher education for a just resolution.

This afternoon we sent a letter to Ohio’s congressional delegation urging them to take swift action to find a bipartisan solution that will, at a minimum, codify the existing DACA policy into law. “Education for Citizenship” is our motto, regardless of nation of origin. We stand proudly with all Buckeyes.

Sincerely,

Michael VDrake, MD
President

New Course – Human Mobility: The Anthropology of Migration

International Centre for Migration, Health and Development

 

HUMAN MOBILITY: The Anthropology of Migration

ANTHROP 7805-0010, (34355) Sem-Ethnology (Seminar)

Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:35AM – 10:55AM Smith Lab 4094

Jeffrey H. Cohen, PhD

Human Mobility – migration – defines history. Humans have always moved.  This class builds a space for dialogue as we use the anthropological study of migration to talk across disciplinary boundaries.  Two goals drive our seminar: 1) to follow the development of migration theory and methods; and 2) understand the costs and benefits of mobility.  In addition to classroom discussions of migration theory, students will be asked to share their work.

 

For more information, please contact the instructor at cohen.319@osu.edu

 

To see other graduate and undergraduate courses that engage the concepts of migration and mobility, visit here.

HRIT Podcast Episode Five: Rethinking Representation in Diaspora

The newest episode of the podcast from our friends over in the Human Rights in Transit Project (HRIT) explores Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between.   This project by Qorsho Hassan and Ruth Smith, is a participatory research project in which the research subjects are involved in the development of the project.

Visit the HRIT page to hear the episode and learn more about Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah.

About the Global Mobility Project

The Global Mobility Project at Ohio State

Humanities & Arts Discovery Theme Pilot Project

#GlobalMobilityOSU

Vera Brunner-Sung, Jeffrey Cohen, Theodora Dragostinova, Yana Hashamova, and Robin Judd

Global mobility is a defining issue for the 21st century. The Global Mobility Project at Ohio State integrates the insights of the arts, humanities, and social sciences to facilitate both a conversation and an investigation of how local culture and individual decision-making inform and reflect the complex global forces behind mobility. We give a central role to the humanities and arts as we reimagine the human dimensions and dynamic cultural reverberations of the movement of peoples, internationally and locally.

A world without borders seemed certain with the end of the Cold War. Yet today, there are more than 65 million refugees and 253 million migrants worldwide whose presence challenges the notion of open borders. Xenophobia and ultranationalist political parties are on the rise. But movers also navigate distances and cultural expectations in more fluid ways, making choices based on personal or community reasons. Our group allows Ohio State to play a leading role in the vital discussion of these global challenges, gaining insight into their causes, dynamics, and outcomes.

Our project integrates the expertise of five faculty members working on global mobility from the perspectives of anthropology, history, literature, film/media studies, and filmmaking. Focusing on two main research questions, what does it mean to leave home and how do communities accept newcomers, we foster the exchange of ideas on campus, engage students in and outside the classroom, and forge connections with the wider community in Columbus and beyond. Our work is a foundation for a permanent program in Global Mobility with research, creative, instructional, and public outreach missions.