On behalf of the planning committee, I am very pleased to welcome you to this important workshop in the middle of Koreatown, which is the locational epicenter of a new diaspora formed during the last twenty year period. Los Angeles is indeed the largest contemporary diaspora. People of hundred tongues and creeds live and work together in this community. In addition to English, people in this city speak Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese, Russian and many other languages. At almost any time of the day you can tune in one of these language stations on local radio and TV channels. In the multicultural and transnational living spaces of Los Angeles are teeming creative ethnic arts and literatures, often in their own languages, and these creative endeavors are constantly merging into new cultural forms that are rich, unique and original. Creative energies of contemporary diasporas are generating this exciting tend in this very city.
A great majority of the residents in Los Angeles are tied closely, either symbolically or practically, to their roots in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe. Whether they were forced to leave or voluntarily left, many continue to maintain close emotional, cultural and kinship ties with their home countries. Their social world usually extends to remote parts of the world and their ties with them are often as strong as their ties with neighbors and co-workers. A great majority of Los Angeles' residents maintain bi-cultural or multicultural social worlds. Their cultural and social worlds are extended to the vast ethnoscape extending beyond the national and continental boundaries. The traditional concepts of communities and localities can no longer fully explain the scope and extent of the social and cultural worlds of the people in the contemporary cosmopolitan cities like Los Angeles. New terms and concepts are needed to describe, explain and study cultural and social processes of the people in this age of transnational and multicultural living.
In spite of increasing transnational and multicultural processes, popular and academic thinking remains trapped in assimilationist dominant-subdominant ideologies. Thus the unequal power relationship is maintained between the established dominant culture and other transplanted or emerging minority or ethnic cultures. People in the contemporary world are strategically divided into two broad categories, one group making up the majority and another group making up the minority. The majority group and its institutions usually manipulate, control, and dominate the social and cultural space. As a result, minorities or outside-the-dominant-group people are forced to carve out a position at the bottom or in the margins of a society controlled by the "dominant others." Securing a social and cultural niche in an environment dominated by the "majority others" has been a never-ending existential struggle for the disadvantaged cultural, sexual, racial, ethnic and/or political minorities throughout human history. The diaspora discourse in today's world is about defining, creating, or recovering the native, non-host,extra-host, or in-addition-to-host models through which minority people can find meaning and justification of their own living.
Race or ethnicity is a social construct. It is no more than a broad and convenient categorization of people with distinct physical features, territorial, and/or cultural origin. Every individual, even in a very homogeneous culture, is distance in physical features, territorial origins, speech patterns and life styles. Categorization of the people is made in many different levels for varied purposes, and race/ethnicity is simply a broader categorization of the people. But race and ethnicity have been manipulated by the dominant group to maintain the status quo of power relations and remain one of the most salient features of social relationship, especially in the United States. The majority/minority status of a people is determined by sheer numbers, relative strength of economic/political power, ascribed social and physical status, or any combination of these. Minority groups can be both indigenous and foreign to the host country. Contributing factors would include historical labeling, involuntary transplantation, being taken over by other people, collective exodus, or voluntary migration. Modern-day examples of such minorities are Blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asians and Native American in the United States; Blacks, Chinese and Indians in Africa; Chinese in Southeast Asia; Vietnamese and Cambodians in Thailand and America; Thais in Cambodia and Laos; Koreans in Japan, China, Russia and Kazakstan; Chechens in Russia; and Moslems in Yugoslavia.
Although the history of diaspora ranges from a few years to thousands of years, the struggles to find a niche have been a common denominator. This struggle takes many different forms -- complete integration, multicultural coexistence, and complete institutional separation. Some are completely integrated into the mainstream, others remain separated without strong infrasturctures, while still others maintain institutionally complete infrastructures among themselves.
Minorities in many societies have been the important force of needed transfusion. Often they have played the role or creative catalysts for a positive change in stagnant and/or declining civilizations. Nevertheless, the fact that they have been the targets of prejudice, discrimination and oppression remains the historical norm.
In the past, moving to another country meant the change of national and/or cultural identity. Although this is still an assumed norm, it increasingly is not the case. As the world's politico-economic system undergoes rapid and profound changes, as witnessed by the recent demise of the Soviet Union, the emergence of new international economic orders such as NAFTA, and ever increasing globalization of means of industrial production and market, the meanings of the traditional concepts related to diaspora are also changing. With the increasing trend toward the international division of labor and production, the number of multinational corporations have multiplied. The advanced transportation and communication technologies have made the planet earth a much smaller space, where people easily travel, move, and change residences. Growing access to the telephone, fax machine and e-mail make it possible for people across the national boundaries to keep in touch as closely as officemates or neighbors next door. Airplanes reduce travel time and increase cross-national two-way traffic. Cross-continental air travel often takes less time than the travel between places within a nation. Globalization of industry and tourism further escalate traffic between the world's places. With these trends, the meanings of cross-national migration and national identity are no longer the same. People of transnational and multicultural identity are increasing rapidly and the scope of transnational or multicultural living has expanded. For example, children of foreign diplomats and employees of multinational corporations are frequently left behind after parents complete their stint and return to their home office. However, when children do return, they find themselves treated differently in their home country. Many of these children become involuntary diasporas. In addition, imported foreign workers often end up as semi-permanent or permanent residents of the host country. Cross-national migration does not necessarily mean a permanent change of home or traditional way of life. Rather, it often entails an expansion of living and cultural space, going back and forth crossing national boundaries. These people may carry the passport of one nation, but their identities and loyalty often belong to more than one nation and one culture. Increasing number of countries recognize dual nationals. Furthermore, repatriation does not necessarily mean readoption of original identity and allegiance. Instead, they return with a cross-cultural identity and transnational allegiance.
In light of these developments in intra- and cross-national scale, there is a practical as well as theoretical need to re-examine the scope, concepts, theories, and methodological issues in the study of diaspora experience. Changes in the cultural, economic and political conditions of the world today require a serious rethinking about the traditional meanings of international migration, ethnic and national identities.
The purpose of the present workshop is to pull together scholars on both sides of the Pacific to examine and re-examine the concepts, theories, methodologies, and substantive issues related to the diaspora phenomena with a focus on Asia and North America. Scholars will present their thoughts and perspectives on the diaspora phenomenon from their research experience. This conference is designed as a pre-conference workshop. Scholars are invited to present preliminary ideas and experiences related to the various topics of diaspora phenomenon. It is hoped that this workshop will lead to a full blown conference on diaspora in a year or two and many more afterwards. We hope that this is only the beginning of a long and continued process of dialogue on transnational, multicultural and diasporic experience for many years to come.