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PORTRAYAL OF GENDERED EXPERIENCES IN SELECTED AFRICAN MIGRANT NARRATIVES

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

  • Background to the Study

Due to the volatility in the political terrain in African states, migration of the citizenry has been on the increase daring all odds just to escape from political violence and victimisation and also seeking for greener pastures. Constantly, African writers have narrated their experiences and memoirs alike. Some of such memoirs are based on personal experiences of the writers while others are either fiction or observations of the writes. In all, migration remains a recurrent theme in the current literary circle and has been broadened with close relation to other fields and areas of interest such as gender, child development and so on.

In the politics and governance of migration, migrants are studied in the new nations of settlement they occupy. However, in according preferences and conditions of service and living, migrants are assessed based on gender. There are therefore militating factors in the life of the immigrant that arise as a result of gender politicking and gender roles. The migrant narrative is arguably one of the best ways to understand these influences. According to Marita Eastmond (2007;248), “Placed in their wider socio-political and cultural contexts, stories can provide insights into how forced migrants seek to make sense of displacement and violence, re-establish identity in ruptured life courses and communities, or bear witness to violence and repression”. The effects of gender politicking further come into play in the making of decisions “in the workplaces of immigrants, in neoliberal or welfare state policies towards migration or foreign-born populations, in diasporas, and even in the capitalist world system” (Donato et al. 2006: 6) as well as other areas involving the migrant.

Migrant narratives usually focus on international migration and the ordeal of the migrant seeking for a better self or a better tomorrow in countries other than theirs. And the narrative perspective is usually the scenario whereby the migrant writer that engages extensively in the literary preoccupation of telling migrant stories is a migrant or have been a migrant at one point in life. Therefore it is safe to say that the migrant writer usually writes from experience, that is, in fictionalising stories he or she may have witnessed while a migrant. So in effect, a study of migrant narratives reflects the reality of the migrant’s new milieu.

An understanding of what it is to be an international migrant is essential. In the apt description by Mary Chamberlain (1998):

International migrants are by definition global people whose horizons and allegiances, education and enterprise, family and friendship are both portable and elastic. What, finally, unsettles about international migration is that it internationalizes the nation-state and globalizes identity. Fluidity, not fixity, characterizes the migrant, contemporary nomads and cultural gypsies.

The effect of international migration internationalizing the nation-state according to Yurick (1995:205) is that “Newly emerging states had to make political choices upon which all aspects of national and economic survival depended and to position their autonomy not merely within a regional perspective, but a global one.” The outcome of this new global order is that “trade emerged not as .a precursor to territorial and imperial expansion, or as an economic lubricant but as a display of ideological finery, to sell and seduce”.

This idea of ‘selling and seducing’ in the type of trade that largely accommodates the migrant is an offshoot of gender politicking in effect. The purpose of this research therefore is to examine portrayal of gendered experiences in African migrant narratives. In view of this, migrant narratives and “oral histories can tease out ways in which gender differences impact on, or are impacted by, transnational lives” (Chamberlain & Leydesdorff  2004:227).

  • Statement of the Problem

Several decades back, studies on gender and migration has essentially focused on the female folk. The female migrant has technically been used to imply or connote gender in gender and migration based researches. Researchers in gender and migration field had focused more on female migrants owing to the assumption that women migrate to accompany or reunite with their breadwinners and in other cases migrate to escape the largely patriarchal society or seeing migration as another means of securing greener pasture especially for single mothers.

Nonetheless, gender is the biological reality that there are two sexes. Over time, gender discourses as it relates to migration has focused more on the female gender and subjugated the experiences of the male gender in its discourses. This has led to a dearth of critical work on the real focus of gender migrant experiences as encompassing both sexes. There is therefore a need to fill this vacuum and examine the entire migration process as a gendered phenomenon by studying in detail migrant narratives and the militating effects of gender politicking and gender roles in the lives of all the migrant characters they present. This study unlike previous researches focuses on both the male and female gender without downplay on the male counterpart.

  • Objective of the Study

The main objective of this study is to highlight the portrayals of gender experiences in selected migrant narratives. The specific objectives are to:

  1. identify peculiar experiences of male and female migrant characters as portrayed in the texts;
  2. investigate the effects of gender politicking in the experiences of identified migrant characters in the text;
  3. examine the coping and survival strategies adopted by identified migrant characters and the roles gender play in this and
  4. identify cases of gender role reversals in the selected texts
    • Research Questions

The following questions shall guide this research:

  1. What are the peculiar experiences of male and female migrant characters portrayed in the texts?
  2. What are the effects of gender politicking on the experiences of identified migrant characters in the text?
  3. What are the coping and survival strategies adopted by identified migrants in selected texts and what roles do gender play in this?
  4. What are the identifiable cases of gender role reversals in the selected texts?
    • Scope of the Study

This study evaluates solely African migrant experiences. The works analysed are written by African writers who are either presently domiciled in diaspora or at one point of their lives migrated out of their country. The texts have been carefully selected to cover the four major regions in Africa; West, East, North, and Southern parts.

To demonstrate how well a new generation of African migrant narratives can help to ascertain the effects of gender politicking and gender roles in the diasporic life of the African migrant, four migrant narratives were selected for this purpose. They are: Ike Oguine’s The Sqatter’s Tale (2000), Bulawayo NoViolet’s We Need New Names (2013), Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Thing That Heaven Bears (2007), Miral Al-Tahawy’s Brooklyn Heights (2010). The four titles were written in the 21st century,

To ensure the desired gender balance, two of the narratives were authored by male writers (i.e. Ike Oguine and Dinaw Mengestu) while the other two are female writers (i.e Miral Al-Tahawy and Bulawayo Noviolet). This selection was purposive to ensure that neither of the genders is downplayed in this research work.

  • Significance of the Study

Pessar (2006: 55) asserts that human migration is a gendered phenomenon. To understand the ordeal of the migrant, it is imperative to begin from the foundation by understanding the type of treatment and situation meted out to the migrant on the basis of gender. As indicated by Elaine Bauer and Paul Thompson (2004:334), “Migration and gender are two areas in which oral history and life story evidence has been recognised as having a special potential”. Since migrant narratives reflect the day-to-day experiences of the migrant as written from experience, this study therefore helps in elucidating certain themes that can be found in narratives about gender. In addition to this, it makes a strong case for the premise that gender truly matters in migration studies. “Gender matters. [Therefore,] To incorporate gender in migration research is not to “privilege” it but to accord it the explanatory power it merits” (Mahler and Pessar 2006:52). And since gender in migration has been downplayed in situations where only the female migrant is analysed, this study add to the body of literatures where both the male and female migrant is analysed on equal basis.

  • Methodology

This study is text-based inclined with a textual analysis of the primary texts. Secondary texts of renowned scholars shall however be used to corroborate or support some of the views made inside the research. These materials were sourced from journals as well as online and print materials.

The study is also qualitative. It comparatively studies the

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