Sunday, September 25, 2011

Personal Reflections on Diaspora and US National Promotion

I am a Washington DC transplant. I was taken from the cornfields, white steeple churches and covered bridges of New England and placed into the capital of the United States of America. In the days before my departure I thought to myself, “This is the face of our nation; where everything that it is to be truly ‘American’ is represented to the fullest extent, right?”

The answer is both completely wrong and correct. I have indeed encountered what makes Washington DC the face of our nation, but my interpretations of American nationalism and local culture were completely off. We are, in the truest sense of the phrase, a melting pot. Whether it be the architecture of Chinatown; the Latin, Korean, Japanese and African eating establishments right outside my door or my roommate who speaks Mandarin to his friends back home on Skype, I cannot escape how global this national capital truly is.

I would like to employ the work of Karim H. Karim’s “Reviewing the ‘National’ in ‘International Communication Through the Lens of Diaspora” to provide some context to my personal findings.

Karim claims ethnically diverse and multi-national citizens are now being celebrated by many countries via national promotion. One example that comes to mind is South Africa, which prides itself on being the “Rainbow Nation”. It follows through on that notion by having 11 national languages, a plethora of political parties and other inklings of diversity.

But do multi-nationals, transnationals or diasporics (pick your favorite term) living in Washington DC or the US at large even feel like Americans? Looking at this topic from a communications and media standpoint, it would seem doubtful.

With the advent of worldwide technological innovations (Facebook, Skype, mobile phones, etc) that enable diasporic populations to remain tied to their native countries, there is less of a need to assimilate into “American culture”. I want to resist using this terminology, because what can we really define as American culture when there are so many subsets, many of them growing numbers of citizens who identify as multi-nationals?

This gets to a central argument of Karim and other readings from Manuel Castells and Silvio Waisbord – how is the validity of the nation-state changing in the modern day? I believe the US is the case study for how this may pan out. The external communications and information system of the US (Voice of America, etc) has depicted US life and foreign policy to the outside world for a number of years, ultimately being supported by the Smith Mundt Act of 1948. However, one stipulation of this law is that these government broadcasts and programs are not to be distributed domestically, therefore no one in the US is able to have access to how the country is being portrayed abroad by the government. The original reason for this caveat was to protect US citizens from potentially Communist-related material that may be leaked into the State Department’s programming.

Global conditions and the US population have definitely changed since this period, as Matt Armstrong of World Politics Review has pointed out in his contest of the Smith Mundt Act. Many multi-nationals living in the US are choosing to remain connected with the media in their own countries and are ignoring the events taking place in the nation in which they reside. In order to remedy this situation, the US could amend the Smith Mundt Act and allow its own citizens to be exposed to what many foreign countries hear regarding the nation.

This could very well resonate with diasporic populations that have grown accustomed to media sources like VOA and bolster nationalistic feelings within the US. On the current path, it seems there is an increasingly isolationist movement of diasporic populations, and as these populations grow, the more disillusioned the US will become with its own sense of nationalism.

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I don't know if repealing Smith Mundt is a good idea. It was passed, originally, with the idea that it would keep the U.S. from having a totalitarian mouthpiece to bombard its citizens with, much like Pravda once was.

    The very existence of the VOA clashes with the American values of a free press. Unlike other state-supported models like the BBC, in which the government funds a media outlet but generally takes a hands-off approach to programming, the VOA is completely controlled by the federal government. It's role is to parrot the views of the State Department, not to help people think critically about American foreign policy.

    The bigger question is, "Why is nationalism a good thing? Why is it something we should aspire to?"

    I agree that people should pay more attention to what goes on in the country in which they're living. But I think they should do so be seeking out independent media and alternative voices, rather than the VOA.

    Nationalism is a slippery slope on the road to fascism. And if the mouthpiece of the state becomes the glue that holds diverse communities together, we are in for serious trouble. The goals of the state (war, control of resources..) are often in direct conflict with the goals of most Americans (a decent job, healthy environment..), and we shouldn't confuse the two. As far as I'm concerned, the more people are disillusioned with the U.S., the better, because it means more people are starting to wake up to this fact.