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Diaspora politics in the United States is the study of the political behavior of transnational ethnic diasporas, their relationship with their ethnic homelands and their host states, as well as their prominent role in ethnic conflicts. This article describes case studies and theories of political scientists studying diaspora politics within the specific context of the United States. The general study of diaspora politics is part of the broader field of diaspora studies.
To understand a diaspora's politics, one must first understand its historical context and attachments: A diaspora is a transnational community that defined itself as a singular ethnic group based upon its shared identity. Diasporas are created by a forced or induced historical emigration from an original homeland. Diasporas place great importance on their homelands because of their long history and deep cultural association. The importance of a homeland, especially if it has been lost, can result in an ethnic nationalist movement within the diaspora, often resulting in the reestablishment of the homeland. But even when homelands are established, it is rare for the complete diaspora population to migrate back to the homeland, leaving a remaining diaspora community which often retains significant emotional attachment to its foreign kin and homeland.
Ethnic diaspora communities are now recognized by scholars as "inevitable" and "endemic" features of the international system, writes Yossi Shain and Tamara Cofman Wittes, for the following reasons:
Diasporas are thus understood as transnational political entities, operating on "behalf of their entire people", and capable of acting independently from any individual state (be it their homeland or host states.)
Diaspora are politically active in three separate realms: their outsider influence on their homeland's domestic politics, the exercise of their domestic political rights within their host states, and their independent involvement at the international level.
While all transnational diasporas retain objective components of a coherent ethnic identity such as a shared history and folkways such as food and music, in some cases, diasporas can share the objective reality of a territorial homeland. When these ethnic homelands exist, they serve as "the physical embodiment", "a territorial, cultural and social focus for the ethnic identity of the diaspora community." Shain writes:
Thus, from the perspective of the diaspora, the homeland's "political and territorial fate has profound implications."
In international relations, it is assumed that a state, in order to act coherently in the international system, must identify what are termed its "national interest", its goals and ambitions in the economic, military or cultural domains. The formulation of policy, both domestic and international, is then straightforward, it is simply the pursuit of the nation's identified national interest.
The national interest of a state usually derived from its closely linked national identity and national narrative. For ethnic homelands with diasporas, there is conflict between the national identity of the homeland and the diaspora's ethnic identity--most obvious is the state's principal concern for only the people living within its boundaries, while the diaspora's is more broadly concerned for the transnational community.
While the homeland has the ability to independently formulate its national identity, narrative and interest, the homeland is highly motivated to accommodate, or at least appear to, the concerns of its ethnic diaspora because of "the diaspora's political clout and financial assistance, at home and internationally." Thus the homeland's formulations must accommodate the ethnic identity needs of the diaspora to allow for the homeland to retain its significance to them and thus their support.
Shain describes the negotiation process as:
The conflict between the homeland's national identity and the diaspora's ethnic identity often results in the diaspora emphasizing different aspects of the national narrative allowing the diaspora to embrace a slightly different interpretation of the homeland's national interest than that of held by the homeland's citizens. "A certain degree of flexibility can be preserved because of the distance between homeland and diaspora: each can, to a degree, put its own 'spin' on the national narrative and live out their shared identity in its own way." "Sufficient areas of overlap exist that homeland-diaspora ties can be quite close despite differences of emphasis in the national narrative."
Some diasporas have become significant players in the domestic circles of their homelands according to Shain and Wittes. Diasporas are vocal in their declarations of support for elected homeland politicians or in voicing their belief that certain politicians in their homeland may be "betraying the national causes" as they see it. There have been mass demonstrations of support or opposition by diaspora communities in response to specific policy decisions by their homeland governments. In addition, diasporas have targeted domestic public opinion in their homelands and its domestic political development via the use of "monetary contributions, affiliated political parties, and transnational communal organizations."
Diaspora communities can both influence the governments and public of their host countries, as well as have their social and political status in a host country affected by the policies of their homeland authorities.
According to Thomas Ambrosio, "like other societal interest groups, ethnic identity groups establish formal organizations devoted to promoting group cohesiveness and addressing group concerns." While many formal organizations established by ethnic identity groups are apolitical, others are created explicitly for political purposes. In general, groups who seek to influence government policy on domestic or foreign issues are referred to as lobby groups or 'interest groups'. Those groups established by ethnic identity groups are referred as to ethnic interest groups.
Homeland authorities can enlist diaspora communities to lobby their respective host governments on behalf of the homeland.
These issues, can result in real danger to the local diaspora community. May lead to racism directed towards the diaspora community, either directly or by being co-opted by opportunist extremists. Diaspora communities are almost always minorities in their host states, and thus are at risk of xenophobia or persecution by other demographic groups in the host state.
Shain explains that "[when] kin states violate norms that are valued by the host state (such as, for Americans, democracy or human rights), diasporas are often implicated or held accountable morally and politically. [...] The [host state] government and perhaps even [its] public may expect diaspora leaders to persuade or pressure their homeland government to alter its policies in a more congenial direction" and the failure of the diaspora community to act as desired by the host state "can impinges on the diaspora's ability to achieve cherished political goals."
Shain cites the situation of Arab-Americans as an example where diaspora members are held accountable and negatively impacted by the policies of foreign ethnic kin:
Diaspora leaders can be presented with a dilemma of dual loyalties when the interests of their homeland come in conflict with those of their host state. This is most common, according to Shain, when the homeland is involved in a violent conflict or in negotiations to resolve such a conflict.
Shain describes one example:
A diaspora's transnational community can engage directly with third-party states and international organizations, in effect bypassing its homeland and host state governments.
Diasporas have, in addition to their domestic political involvement in the homeland and host states, also directly influenced bilateral international relations of states of concern. In some cases, diasporas have appeared to "bypass" their own homeland traditional sovereignty over its own international relations via "privately funded activities, and by lobbying governments" of the diaspora host states as well as those of third-party states. Shain and Wittes cite the following as examples of international relations involvement:
In some cases, foreign governments, in hopes of currying favor from distant diaspora communities believed to wield valuable political influence in their host counties, have dispensed generous benefits to local diaspora kin or improved relations with the diaspora's homeland.
Shain describes the Azerbaijan government's persistent frustration of with the influence of the Armenian-American lobby in Washington and the lack of a viable Azerbaijani-American diaspora population to counter the Armenian's domestic presence. The Azerbaijani response has been to cultivate Jewish organizations in Washington as their counterbalancing allies to the Armenian-American opposition. The Azerbaijani ambassador to the United States described his efforts:
Later, the son of the Azerbaijani ambassador was quoted: "We now have a lobby in the United States and that is the Jewish community."
Diaspora communities, particular those predominantly composed of dissidents of the homeland authorities, can put significant effort towards undermining the homeland regime, going as far as to advocate or instigate for domestic coups. There were segments of Iraqi-Americans who advocated strongly for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, segments of the Iranian-American population have similarly advocated for a regime change in Iran since the fall of the Shah, the Vietnamese American calls for democracy and religious freedom in Vietnam, and most prominent has been the consistent and vocal calls for ending Fidel Castro's leadership of Cuba by the Florida-based Cuban-American lobby.
Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah writes in reference to the Tamil diaspora that:
In the relatively permissive environment of Western host societies, Tamil diaspora association have articulated Tamil grievances, something that many argued was not possible because of repression in Sri Lanka (see, e.g., Ilankai Tamil Sangam, n.d.). This activism stands in contrast to the marked lack of participation by Tamils in contemporary Sri Lankan civil society and the impossibility of gauging the views of northeastern Tamils during the conflict. Tamil diaspora activists claim to fill this gap, especially as it is illegal to articulate a Tamil secessionist position in Sri Lanka.
When a homeland is threatened by another country, Shain writes, "the threat to a community's survival that the conflict represents can serve as an important mobilizing force for diasporic communities, enabling them to build institutions, raise funds, and promote activism among community members who might otherwise allow for their ethnic identity to fade to the level of mere 'folkways' [...] thus [playing] an important role in the diaspora community's ability to maintain and nourish its own ethnic identity."
Military aid from diasporas to their homelands can be vital in period of violent conflict. Military aid offered by a diaspora, according to Shain, can varying from fundraising in support of military purchases, directly supplying weapons, or serving "as a source of recruits."
Shain cites the example of the military fundraising of the Eritrean and Ethiopian diaspora communities in the United States in response to the 1998-2000 Eritrean-Ethiopian War, the eventual result of which was hundreds of millions of dollars in arm purchases by their respective homelands Shain quotes from the account of Jesse Driscoll of Georgetown University:
While in times of severe threat to the homeland, a diaspora suppresses its differences, once there is potential for peace, the conflict between the diaspora's ethnic interests and its homeland's national interests reemerge. In situations, where peaceful resolutions involve the homeland renouncing claims to historically meaningful territory, the preeminence in the diaspora's ethnic identity of the homeland's territory, which contrasts sharply with pragmatic valuations made by the homeland, can cause significant and deeply emotional debates and potential multi-level political battles.
Shain gives this description of the potential for diaspora-homeland conflict over potential territorial compromises:
Again, while the leaders and public of the homeland may feel that their national interests trump those of the remote diaspora, the situation is complicated by the homeland's reliance on diaspora's political clout and financial assistance. Such situations lead to the diaspora feeling threatened by actions of the homeland, which to the homeland are viewed as necessary, and if blocked by the diaspora result in harm to the nation's security.
Because of the potential of conflict between the homeland's national interests and the diasporas ethnic interests, and the ability of the diaspora to act independently as a deal-breaker when it feels its interests are at stake, Yossi Shain and Tamara Wittes argue for explicitly including the involved diaspora communities in any peace negotiations.
Specifically, Shain and Wittes argue that the standard "two-level game" model for international peacemaking is inadequate for conflicts complicated by politically active diaspora. The original "two-level game" model, introduced in 1988 by Robert Putnam, recognizes only two levels of stakeholders as being relevant to a successful outcome, the domestic political constituencies of each state and each state's foreign negotiating counterparts. The solution, Shain advocates, is simply to expand the model from a "two-level game" to a "three-level game" in which political active diasporas are recognized as distinct and equally important stakeholders in the negotiation process.
Just as a threat to a homeland can mobilize a diaspora to organize, collect funds, and seek political influence, the peaceful end of a conflict, can lead to a parallel demobilization in the community. The demobilization can be more disruptive for diaspora communities who have become deeply involved in their long-running homeland struggles.
Additionally, in the midst of a conflict, the diaspora community's status can be significantly elevated, both by the attention of the host state's foreign policy establishment seeking influence on the diaspora's homeland, and by the attention of homeland's leaders seeking influence in the diaspora's host states. After the transition to peace, Shain writes, "[the] high-level meetings and phone calls may recede and diasporic community leaders find that internal communal prestige and their external levers of influence both degrade as a result."
|Ethnic group||Diaspora||Homeland (est.)||Nationalist movement||Domestic lobby||Concerns|
|African Americans||African diaspora||Africa||various||African-American lobby in foreign policy||Ending apartheid in South Africa, foreign aid to Africa, support for independence of colonized African lands|
|Armenian Americans||Armenian diaspora||Armenia (1991)||Armenian nationalism||Armenian American lobbyANCA, Armenian Assembly of America, Armenian American Political Action Committee||Anti-communism, Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian Genocide, Recognition as a major US ethnic group|
|Arab Americans||Arab diaspora||Arab world||various||Arab American Institute, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Task Force on Palestine||Arab-Israeli conflict, 2003 invasion of Iraq, ethnic and cultural discrimination|
|Azerbaijani Americans||Azerbaijani diaspora||Whole Azerbaijan||Azerbaijani nationalism||United States Azerbaijanis Network, U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, Azerbaijan America Alliance||Nagorno-Karabakh War, March days, Khojaly Genocide, Armenian-Azerbaijani War, Black January, etc.|
|Belarusian Americans||Belarusian diaspora||Belarus||Belarusian nationalism||Belarusan-American Association, Belarusian Congress Committee of America, Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic||Anti-communism, Opposition to Alexander Lukashenko|
|Croatian Americans||Croatian diaspora||Croatia||Croatian nationalism||Croatian World Congress||Croatian independence, Croat entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Anti-communism|
|Cuban Americans||Cuban exile||Cuba||Cuban-American lobby||Anti-communism, Opposition to Fidel Castro, U.S. embargo against Cuba, Status of Cuban political refugees legally entering the U.S.|
|Greek Americans||Greek diaspora||Greece (1829)||AHEPA, American Hellenic Institute||Aegean dispute, Cyprus dispute, Macedonia naming dispute, Greek genocide|
|Iranian Americans||Iranian diaspora||Iran||Organization of Iranian American Communities||Opposition to the regime of Ali Khamenei|
|Irish Americans||Irish diaspora||Ireland (1920)||Irish nationalism||Irish American lobby||United Ireland, Northern Ireland, Economic links, Undocumented immigration issue|
|Italian Americans||Italian diaspora||Italy (1861)||National Italian American Foundation, National Association of Italian Americans, Sons of Italy||Risen influence in US political life, concerns of organized crime, cultural integrity of Italians and Sicilians, fighting negative ethnic stereotypes|
|American Jews||Jewish diaspora||Israel (1948)||Zionism||Israel lobby in the United States||Zionism, Arab-Israeli conflict, Antisemitism, The Holocaust|
|Macedonian Americans||Macedonian diaspora||Republic of Macedonia||United Macedonian Diaspora||Anti-communism, Macedonia naming dispute, NATO, civil rights for Macedonians in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Kosovo, territorial integrity|
|Mexican Americans||Mexican diaspora||Mexico (historic)||Chicano nationalism||Chicano Movement, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund||Illegal Immigration Rights, socioeconomics, bilingualism|
|American Muslims||various||Muslim world||various||CAIR||War on Terrorism, Islamophobia|
|Pakistani Americans||Pakistani diaspora||Pakistan (1947)||Pakistani nationalism||Pakistani lobby in the United States||Economic and cultural links, combating stereotypes|
|Polish Americans||Polonia||Poland (1918)||Polish nationalism||Polish American Congress||Anti-communism, Economic links, Undocumented immigration issue|
|Puerto Ricans||Puerto Rican people||Puerto Rico||Puerto Rican nationalism||Political parties of Puerto Rico||Political status of Puerto Rico, ending drug wars in Puerto Rico, solidarity amongst other U.S. Latino groups, ending poverty and disenfranchisement amongst the Puerto Rican community|
|Taiwanese Americans||Taiwanese diaspora||Taiwan||Taiwan independence||China lobby||Political status of Taiwan, Anti-communism, Racial issues as Asian Americans|
|Ukrainian Americans||Ukrainian diaspora||Ukraine||Ukrainian nationalism||Ukrainian American Coordinating Council, Ukrainian Congress Committee of America||Anti-communism, Territorial integrity of Ukraine|
|Vietnamese Americans||Vietnamese diaspora||Vietnam (1975)||various||National Congress of Vietnamese Americans (NCVA), Boat People SOS, Viet Tan, Vietnamese-American Political Action Committee, Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association, various others||Anti-communism, Racial issues as Asian Americans, Vietnam Heritage and Freedom Flag, Black April, Undocumented immigration issue, political activism in the US, Vietnam Human Rights Day, political prisoners within Vietnam|