The definition of personal identity has been quite problematic, especially to social scientists. Generally, identity refers to various distinct characteristics that a person possesses or shared by members of a specific group. Therefore, identity can be visualized in different perspectives, such as in a psychological, social, gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious and occupational context among others.
Olson (par.3) agrees to that personal identity is what makes one unique, compared to other individuals. This can be in terms of personal values or convictions that structure on life as a set of distinct properties that distinguish one person from another. Additionally, it can be defined as unique characteristics that persist through time, and which can successfully lead to the identification of a person as being the same over and through time. Essentially, personal identity can be established in terms of people being biological organisms made of matter or bodily substance (Olson par.14).
Conversely, personal identity can be viewed from an inorganic point of view, where the persistence of the mind of a person is used to identify a person. This is based on identity formation, being a factor of one”s individual or group experiences. Governments use various data handling systems to locate, identify and record details of people through surveillance and physical control of movement through country borders among other ways. This amplifies the concept of personal identity, where collected personal data means that information, identity number or reference to factors specific to a person”s physical, mental or cultural identity relates, directly or indirectly to the identified or identifiable natural person (Raab 15).
Personal, Place-Based Identity, “Bogus Refugees” and Mobility
Many countries, especially in Africa, such as Rwanda, have undergone through politically tumultuous times where many people have been forced by internal conflicts in a form of civil wars to migrate to other countries, hence becoming refugees. Deng (par.1) highlights this fact where he avers that conflict separates various individuals and groups while bringing together other individuals and groups, culminating to significant challenges for countries in managing different identities based on language, ethnicity, culture, religion and race. Therefore, it is evident that this movement of people from one place to another no matter what the reason fueling the movement is bound to influence those peoples” as well as the existing peoples” identities.
Most refugees migrate in the name of asylum seekers, where they are subjected to court processes in the determination of their real identities and purposes of entry to other countries. According to Neumayer (389), refugees migrate due to economic hardships and discrimination, human rights abuse, political oppression and violent conflict, among others. These factors have led many people to term the numerous asylum seekers who enter other countries as “bogus refugees”, a widespread perception of asylum claimants as criminal and fake. This impacts and is widely impacted by countries” geopolitical relations, media coverage on refugees, as well as legal processes involved in ascertaining identities of refugees.
Generally, personal identity is largely defined by the distinct characteristics that differentiate one person or group from another. Additionally, personal identity is subject to influence by other people and groups, as it is evident in Sander”s work on the influence that social network of various ethnic groups and utilization of social capital from those networks has on the formation of ethnic identities (Sanders 327). The shared aspects of people residing in a certain geographical position are integrated into an identity based on that place. Primarily, however, place-based identities are largely defined by various physical markers which act as symbolic references of the natives” unique histories, as well as their links to the existing individuals in that place (Shannon par.1-2).
Migration leads to the integration of new people into an existing society with different and distinct characteristics, such as shared cultural elements distinct from the new people”s culture among other aspects, such as language. Since various migrants come with their own individual, as well as distinct group characteristics, the merger of the two groups leads one of the groups or individuals adopting the others” identity characteristics.
When the migrating group or individual comes with distinctly different, superior and dominant characteristics than the existing peoples” identity characteristics, the natives” identity characteristics are overridden by the new migrant identity characteristics. This can be highlighted in various ways natives adopt and accept new and foreign languages and cultures. This can happen when migrants inhabit specific areas in large numbers and turn into the dominant culture. This applies to the case of “bogus refugees” where their increased numbers are perceived as a threat by the wider society in various geographical areas, such as the migration of Fijians into Vancouver in Canada.
On the other hand, when migrants are few or enter into certain societies and find a strong, superior and dominant identity of the existing people, the new individuals and groups are heavily influenced by adopting the existing identities among other distinct aspects of the natives. This can be highlighted by how new migrants adapt to the native”s existing culture, especially children who learn mannerisms, as well as the language of the natives. Additionally, this is usually reinforced by existing place-based identities in terms of the geographical history of the area among other factors in the migrated area. As Nolin (62) avers, events, memory and places are able to significantly transform individual”s and group”s identities.
This highlights how a place can lead people to adapt to various distinctive characteristics unique to a place, leading to the integration and acquisition of those identities. Shannon (par.2) asserts that personal identities are linked to certain places due to personal experiences that they have undergone in time and on the basis of the place or location being significantly integral to those experiences. Physical markers in the geographical area, such as museums, statues of famous heroes and historical buildings, such as the Eiffel Tower in addition to personal experiences integrated into these markers lead people to adopt specific identities consistent with the history of the area.
In a way, this mixture provides a sense of security, definition and stability from the corruption by the entry of other foreign aspects of culture and identity, as well as from the passage of time. Furthermore, the significance of the rich history of a certain geographical area not only creates a new identity to foreigners, but also stabilizes the specific place-based identities. Therefore, place-based identities are usually stable and strong as a result of shared experiences that link individuals to the wider community and the geographical area.
In case of “bogus refugees” migrating to North American states like Canada, which have a rich cultural and historical past, as well as definitive physical markers and individuals who value those place-based identities, will lead migrants to adopt existing place-based identities. As a result of sharing and passage of experiences to younger generations, migrants to Canada will adapt to the already strong and stable identity characteristics, such as language and culture, which are significant influencers of personal identities of the existing people. Evidently, personal identities are considerably affected by place-based identities, as well as peoples” identities in terms of culture among other elements.
Individual and group identities, as well as the related place-based identities that influence formation of those identities are held dear by those individuals and groups. This can be highlighted by Mountz (96), where she avers that politicians in pursuit of votes capitalize on the situation presented by different people, especially refugees, by presenting persuasive arguments on exclusion of immigrants. This is further worsened by the role of media in precipitating xenophobic fears in the native population, due to the increasing numbers of foreign persons who come in a form of refugees. This issue of identities not only impacts national issues, but also international issues where refugees from other countries which are usually close allies or neighbors have to acknowledge that they are mistreating their own people, leading to geopolitical tensions.
Personal identities significantly affect and are affected by the mobility or migration to other areas, which have their own distinct characteristics, such as shared languages and cultures, as well as dominant place-based identities of those geographical locations. With the influx of too many refugees in search of better economic independence, as well as political asylum, this pervasive relationship created by integration of different identities is bound to come with new challenges and problems, considering that situations can be used for malicious intentions. Importantly too is the idea that various places influence and lead to the creation of new identities for an existing group of people and individuals who live there.