They are around us. They are among us. They are us. Gustavus takes pride in its diversity and the international community, but how many of us are aware of the term transnationality?
Transnationality is an identity that develops from the social and cultural structures of more than one nation. People who live a transnational life are comfortable with cultures of more than one country.
The majority of the student body at Gustavus comes from neighboring towns in Minnesota and not all are availed an opportunity to travel or study abroad. At a liberal arts college, however, every student is given a window into international experiences, cultures, and traditions without having to take long trips.
Senior Maripaz Alvarez is an international student from Cancun, Mexico. She has been in the U.S for four years. She identifies the difference in her personality since she’s been here. Growing up in Mexican society, where people greet each other with hugs and kisses, Alvarez claims to be more conscious and aware of how she interacts with people in the U.S. “The definitions of personal boundaries are very different,” Alvarez said, an opinion I resonate with.
Gustavus encourages critical thinking and analysis which has now become a habit as I participate in any discourse. Alvarez too observes the disciplines of international relations, cultural aspects, politics, government, and organizational behavior influencing the way she interprets and acts in her daily life.
These behavioral habits don’t change when we go home. “It has made me more critical of my own actions, thoughts and beliefs and those of people around me,” Alvarez said, “I notice actions of people I grew up with in a way I wouldn’t have acknowledged or given relevance to before living abroad.”
I go home to get into debates and arguments about topics that my childhood friends don’t feel are necessary to converse about. They usually joke about how I’m “touchy” about gender roles or consent, or critique courteous habits, which I have adopted from Minnesota’s society. For them, these “strange” habits of being “too nice” or “caring too much” would account as flirting or just unnecessary things to waste time on.
In the U.S, I have been stopped a few times in the middle of a conversation to be asked where I am from. When I tell them that I am an international student, a series of questions follow up regarding how long have I been here, how long do I plan to stay, etc.
One of the most common reactions I have received from giving out this information is regarding my accent, or lack of, as people often tell me that I “don’t sound very Indian.” I get similar remarks at home when I fly back every summer. “You don’t act Indian anymore” my friends would say.
I am usually confused as to how I should prove my Indian-ness to them. This, in my belief, is a part of my transnationality. I like to say that my psyche floats in the oceans between the two countries I live in, in order to fit into their respective societies.
This year, the Building Bridges conference focused on the history of immigration in the U.S to discuss the present debate and policies of immigration. Assistant Professor of History and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Maddalena Marinari was one of the panelists. She actively participates in engaging the community in conversations about this debate.
“As a community and campus, we don’t understand what it means to be an immigrant,” Marinari said. During the conference, she often faced questions born from the stereotypes related to immigrants which often prevented them from asking questions that actually matter.
It is understandable that these questions are posed by allies so the stigmas can be clarified, but “by calling them out we are reinstating the stereotypes,” Marinari said. Questions about what is happening at the border, how to act for sustainable change, how are refugees and asylees different from each other, etc. aren’t posed enough.
One of the biggest points Marinari has made in her lectures is to avoid using terms like “illegal immigrants.” People who cross the borders without proper documents are known as undocumented immigrants and “actions can be illegal, but people cannot be illegal,” Marinari said.
Immigrants usually come with a story. While some come for better education or financial and economic opportunities, some others flee persecution, national and natural disasters, or other personal threats. The latter do not have the time or even a choice to get proper documentation. Does that make them criminals?
I usually wonder while everyone creates this hype of traveling across the globe, are they opening themselves to challenge their limitations of social and cultural acceptance? Has travel been merchandised merely as a popular trend, rather than an opportunity to expand the limits of our worldly knowledge? The community of Gustavus needs to ask these questions often.
If people are willing to learn and gain valuable experience from their travels, Gustavus is availing the opportunity to prepare for it starting today, right now, as you read this by yourself. While grabbing a noodle bowl or chicken curry, while listening to reggaeton music, or sipping a warm chai latte, you are engaging with international culture around you.
Transnationality is a tough identity to comes because it develops from an active openness to change and constant adaptability. For most international students, it is not a choice. While you might be an amiable ally to immigrant groups, it can be hard to “click” with one another due to basic social differences.
“Everyone has their own spheres of influence,” Marinari said. Small acts of friendliness can be welcoming, like sit with them in the Caf, “or bringing a cookie for them.” At an institutional level, we can employ more people of color within administration, and staff or have a commitment to training professors to teach students of different nationalities.
All this is in return for openness to new social and cultural experiences as way to develop a transnational identity that Gustavus promises as a lead liberal arts college.