Third Wave Georgian Immigrant Women in the USA: Problems of Americanization.

The world migration processes always happened for a reason as they do today. Various kinds of conflicts, wars provoke masses of refugees and push people to migrate to neighboring or more distant countries from the conflict zones. Other political, social and economic problems, such as revolutions, economic crisis and many others, result in emigration.

The above mentioned issues were not foreign the 20th-century Georgia. For that very reason three waves of Georgian immigration to the North America have been recorded just in that century. Each of them had its own reasons. The composition of the emigrants differed in social, gender and age aspects, and in their level of education. Thus, immigrants of different waves differed in the quality of Americanization and the level of success they achieved in a new homeland.

. The goal of this paper is not to investigate the history of specific representatives of any of the waves of emigration. Georgian researchers G. Sharadze, R. Daushvili, R. Nishnianidze and others have produced such studies. I will try to give an answer to concrete questions: What is the degree of Americanization of Georgian immigrant women of the third wave? What impact do the age, education level, social status have on this process? What role does the Orthodoxy play in maintaining the national identity?

Unfortunately, the mentioned issues have not become the subject of special study of Georgian historiography if not one or two publications of the author of this paper which deal with the issues of Georgian immigrant women in the US [Medzmariashvili, 2008: 198-203] and American women's attitude to religion in general [Medzmariashvili, 2009: 185-189]. The American researchers are completely unfamiliar with the problem of Georgian immigrants and moreover, with women immigrants. Nowadays there are no works in the U.S. which study Georgian immigration, though plenty of works are dedicated to the general, theoretical issues of immigration and to the study of such numerous Diasporas as Jewish, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese and so on. Maybe this gap results from the fact that the number of Georgians in the U.S. was quite insignificant during the whole 20th century and that the Georgian immigrants who came from the Russian Empire and later from the USSR (after its collapse as well) were mostly regarded as Russians and not Georgians, whom the Americans didn't know at all for a long time.

Correspondingly, it is impossible to obtain some information concerning the issues under study in American special literature. The only official American primary source, that can help a scientist, interested in the statistics of immigrants in the U.S., is the annual statistical collections of the Commerce Department, the U.S. Economics and Statistics Administration which provides the data about the number of Georgian immigrants in different years. [Statistical Abstract... 2000:10]. However illegal immigrants and the so-called green card holders are not registered. Due to this, to get the accurate data about the number of Georgians in the US is not possible available. There are no data about gender composition of immigrants as well. According to unofficial data it is known to us that females share among the immigrants has rapidly grown.

According to the mentioned statistical source, it is unknown the number of those Georgian immigrants who became the US citizens in 1981-1990 through the refugees act. To my mind their number is rather small. Presumably, they are mainly Georgian Jews and members of their families. It is also possible that part of them came to the US from the third countries. In the following years 1991-1996 American citizenship was obtained by 1834, in 1997 - by 425, in 1998 - by 100 persons [Statistical Abstract... 2000:10].These figures are really insignificant if we take into account that 23 million of immigrants came to the US in 1965-2000 [Gerstle, 2001:275], or almost the same number (24 million) as it was in 1880-1920 [U.S. Immigration..., 2000]. 

We should bear in mind that among the immigrants gone from Georgia to the United States there were not only Georgians, but Armenians, Jews and the representatives of other nationalities inhabiting Georgia. The official American statistics determines the immigrants' number not according to the ethnos, but by the immigration country. This makes it complicated the establishment of the accurate number of Georgians immigrated to the US. Besides this, it is not excluded that those Georgians who appeared in the States from other countries, e.g. from Russia, are registered as the emigrants of those countries in yearbook. Among them must be Georgians forced to flee from Abkhazia who often have mixed families and appear to America mainly from Russia.

Thus, if we trust official statistics, in recent years the number of Georgian immigrants has gone down. But actually during the last decades the number of Georgians in the US has not declined, but on the contrary, has sharply grown. This growth, basically, comes from the number of illegal immigrants, who arrive in the country in different ways (for studies, temporal jobs, private or official visas, this or that program and so on.); they don't come back, and they don't have the US' citizenship. A similar tendency extends to other countries' immigrants too.

 For example, according to the data of 1999, over 7 millions of Mexicans lived in the US, the citizenship had around 1.5 million, of 1.5 Philippians - half million; the majority of the Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Koreans and British, more than half of their total number have no American citizenship [U.S. Immigration... 2000:49]. As famous American scientist, Samuel Huntington says, in the 1990s illegal immigrants made up a quarter of the immigrants. [Huntington, 2005:182]. It is possible that these data by Huntington are not accurate but there are not enough reliable sources to prove the opposite. According to the data of the immigration service of the British government, around 30 million people entered illegally to the various countries of the world only in 2000. We have no data as to what is gender ratio of immigrants. According to British Government's immigration department's data in 2000, in this or that country from the world's different regions 30 million came illegally [Economist, 24 June, 2000:63].  It is unknown to us what the gender correlation is.

In spite of the absence of necessary official statistical data by using concrete examples and with the help of interviews with immigrants it is possible figure out the problems that bother the women of the contemporary Georgian community. While working at the issues interested us, namely problem of Americanization and the role of Orthodoxy in keeping the identity of Georgian immigrants, we mainly used the materials obtained during interviewing Georgian immigrant women. Each conclusion contains generalization of numerous concrete examples.

Probably, the words that Alfred White, MA student from University of California wrote in his master theses in 1923 about Mexican immigrant women, is topical nowadays and can also be said about Georgian immigrant women: "The Americanization of the [Mexican] women is as important a part as that of the men. They are harder to reach but are more easily educated... The children of these foreigners are the advantages to America, not the naturalized foreigners. These are never 100% Americans, but the second generation may be. "Go after the women" and you save the second generation for America" [White, 1990:250].

In contemporary America, there are not special programs of Americanization, if we don't consider language courses that should take those, who want to get Green Card or those foreigners who already have it. Though, just knowing language is not enough. Nowadays, demands towards immigrants increased considerably and it is much more difficult to get the US citizenship than it was in the beginning of the 20th century. If earlier those who desired to get American citizenship had to prepare 100 test questions, from 2007 they have had 150 questions which mainly cover the US history, domestic and foreign policy, constitutional, federal and state structure, party system, composition of the contemporary American government, the symbols of America, local governmental bodies and its representatives in the legislative and executive organs, English grammar and orthography. Examination tax also increases. However, the stimulus to pass the exam is very high. Actually this exam can be considered the first step on the path of the immigrant's Americanization or more precisely familiarization acquaintance with American values.

     As early as in the first decade of the 20th century, when illegal crossing of the US frontier by numerous neighboring Mexicans occurred, there were designed special programs aiming at Americanization of Mexican immigrants. However, the realization of this program faced lots of difficulties. Finally, an emphasis was made at Americanization of Chicanos born in America [Sanchez, 1990:250]. It is interesting to note that in the 1920's, establishing quotas on immigration from Asia and South and Eastern Europe was justified with, that assimilation of these "foreigners" coming from these regions of the world is difficult and because of that, they are undesirable guests. In their opinion they endangered "American living standards", and for the example they had Mexicans, as unreliable citizens for the democratic society [Reisler, 1976:151-169]. About Georgians generally, and especially about Georgian women, probably, no one can say so.

Naturally, it depends much on woman whom and how she will bring up: her children will be brought up on national traditions, whether a child will be grown up on national traditions, whether he will be defender and aware of the cultural values, or an American citizen, to whom the motherland of their ancestors is strange.

Because the quantity of the Georgians families in the U.S.A. is not so large and they, as a rule, don't live compactly, there is quite difficult for them to preserve their national identity. Especially in these conditions much is depended on women.  Georgian families can be considered as separate institutions in American reality, which persistently resists the assimilation in the United States and tries to preserve their own cultural values, that for example, is not so difficult for Armenians, since they have Armenian schools, TV, radio, newspapers, and churches.

From this point of view, Armenians are in better state than Georgians because they have Armenian schools, newspapers, television and well organized community. This does not mean that Armenians are not assimilated. As a rule, such Americans are called "bicultural" and they are considered ordinary Americans. The majority of Georgian immigrants are such "bicultural" Americans, though less assimilated.

From the viewpoint of cultural assimilation it is of great importance as to which strata of society the immigrants belong to, what kind of traditions they carry, how patriotic they are, what roots they left in their homeland, how strong is their national self-consciousness, it is also essential to know what  is the character of Georgian immigration in the U.S.A.

In order to find out the Georgian immigration character, we must know what was going on in Georgia in the end of the 20th century: destroyed economy, unstable political situation, the hardest social background.  Therefore the number of Georgian immigrants in the US has grown greatly in the 1990s and it is called the third wave immigration of (the first wave comes to the twenties of the 20th century, the second - to the period after the Second World War). Due to hard social setting among the Georgians came to the USA the females whose purpose was to support their families at home prevailed. They either left their jobs or had to work at such a low income that it was not enough to maintain their children and husbands who were unemployed. Many of them had high education. The truth was that the Soviet diplomas appeared useless for them. Many did not know English and majority of them stayed illegal in the country which made their situation even tougher. The only way out for them was to agree on non prestigious, often humiliating work. They joined the ranks of housekeepers, babysitters and nurses for elderly, i.e. they found the jobs which are usually refused by Americans. The immigrant women were paid less for the mentioned jobs than Americans. Thanks to the miserable wages in the U.S.A., but solid ones in Georgia (around $1000-2000), women could keep their families in tough times.

These women mainly employed in the big cities and of the US East cost and its surroundings. They lived in the families where they worked and, correspondingly, their environment was not diverse. For them these families represented small model of America. They spend the whole time there, they have no insurance policy or other benefits offered by the government to their citizens and by which America is so attractive for many people. They have no opportunity for traveling to explore the country better. Correspondingly, Americanization of such category of female immigrants is rather hard. A great part of elderly immigrant women do not even try to share local values and dream on coming back to their country, though in the uncertain future.

The young immigrant females of this category manage to adapt more easily.  They learn the language easier. Many of them do not attempt to go back to their homeland because the American way of life for them becomes more admissible than Georgian. First of all this concerns young women came to the States from Georgian regions. They love everything in America, including the "boyfriend" institution which is still alien in Georgia, moreover in its provinces. Some of them manage to create mixed Georgian-American families, and the children born in such families are already "mono cultural". Proceeding from the mothers' position, their Americanization is no problem at all. Frequently in such families the children do not know Georgian and identify themselves only as Americans. The mothers themselves become American citizens and the process of their integration into American society is simplified.

Many lonely young (sometimes elderly) Georgian women came to America dreaming about the creation of such a mixed family.  They know well that in such case they get better chance to realize an American dream; security of property, respect for human rights which is declared in the Declaration of Independence of the USA and is an organic part of the American political culture, for Georgians getting American citizenship  it becomes reality.

One more group of Georgian immigrant women constitutes those who appeared in the USA legally from the beginning and as a result of great efforts managed to find the job according to the profession. They managed to get American diploma and today they represent middle layer Americans.  It is interesting to note that as a rule, the immigrant women of such category are rather Americanized but, despite this, one part of them does not lose Georgian national identity. They identify themselves both as Americans and Georgians. They belong to those American citizens who do not renounce the membership to their own ethnic group and are "bicultural". The American government leaves the possibility of choice to each citizen. As an American scholar writes, generally it is typical for Americans amicability to new comers because they personify everything good [Mann, 1987: 79], with their language, religion, traditions, music, dishes, etc. Otherwise they enrich American culture.

The children raised by such bicultural women as a rule, can speak Georgian, familiar with Georgian values but they do not wish to live in Georgia any more. It is already alien for them. As a rule, the immigrant women of this category have close ties with their homeland but they plan to return back only in a distant future in their old age. The children of some of them study at American universities and intend to continue their life in America. It is interesting to note that among the representatives of the third wave of immigrant women interviewed by me the number of this category of women was not small at all and made around 30% of all interviewed.

It should be also mentioned that for many Georgian women "the American life style" appeared rather admissible. More than one Georgian immigrant women try hard to "mix" among Americans but some of them fail to do it. It is true, the first generations of Georgian immigrants and sometimes the second generations too, frequently preserve the national identity but at the same time they are distinguished with loyalty in relation to their new homeland. Although even today the majority of them identify themselves as Georgians but at the same time they are law-abiding citizens of the US. As other ethnic groups, Georgians are also well aware of their responsibilities in relation to the country that has given them the opportunity of new life.

One of the distinguishing features of immigrants is their religion. In my view, whether male or female every Georgian who lives in America if he/she is not an atheist or of other confession remains faithful to Orthodox Christianity. An American Georgian may forget the language, not have a firm connection with motherland but preserve the Christian belief; though it is also possible that due to certain objective reasons (lack of Orthodox churches and so on) fail to attend services. Perhaps, the same can be said about the Russians and Gregorian Armenians living there. And especially Jews [Smith,2001:807-808]. Proceeding from the religious belief, the Jews perceive themselves in a special way even in America. On the one hand, Judaism plays the central role in uniting the Jews and, on the other hand, distinguishes them from other nations.

Orthodox Christianity in such liberal country as the USA is, unites but does not separate. Frequently, it can unify the representatives of various ethnic background Orthodox Christians.  The words said by an American researcher Wendy Brown [Brown, 2006:196] referring to Jews: If a Jew loses the Judaism, he can be considered ultimately assimilated. The same is true about Georgians: if a Georgian loses the Orthodoxy, he can also be considered assimilated. 

The immigrants of the first wave, except the Catholics from the South Georgia and atheist socialist-democrats, must have been religious and, correspondingly, could have preserved the Orthodox Christianity better. The state of the second wave immigrants was quite different. They had lived in Georgia during the Soviet times and grew up as atheists. That is why their children were less religious. These people appeared in totally different, liberal, pluralistic environment where the attitude towards confessions was completely tolerant. Consequently, such conditions, on the one hand, encouraged their assimilation and, on the other hand, the full religious freedom gave them the possibility to retain Orthodoxy in the case of mixed families (if the spouses were Russians or the Ukrainians). Those who left the independent Georgia had special attitude to church. Many of the Georgian immigrant females of the third wave are religious which contributed to the increase of Orthodox Christians in the USA.

As the number of Georgian Orthodox churches in America is rather small a great part of Georgians attends Greek, Russian or Ukrainian churches. It is this Georgian parish that preserves its national identity best of all. From this viewpoint, religion, orthodoxy, is a kind of barrier on the way to Americanization. Historically it is known that the Orthodox Christianity has been a considerable means of preservation thorough the centuries. 

If we survey the history of Georgians living in America, we will see that in the course of the whole 20th century part of the immigrants tried to preserve Orthodoxy. They celebrated religious holidays, invited known clerical men to this or that religious ritual. The same is done by the immigrants of today. Moreover, in accordance with their demand Georgian Patriarchate intends to open two new Orthodox churches.

Thus, from the viewpoint of preservation of national uniqueness of Georgian immigrants, their identity and consolidation, Orthodox Christianity plays the most significant role. Today this can be explained first of all by the fact that the church in Georgia is also the most important ideological means.

If an immigrant fails to adopt Americanization, i.e. political, social or cultural integration into American society, and has not enough proficiency in English, he will never become the representative of the upper layer of the society.

It is true that the boundaries are opening and the possibilities of immigration to other countries are increasing but for such small nation as Georgians the loss of their citizens is not desirable. If there are no such political, social-economic cataclysms in Georgia any more, the wave of immigrants will definitely decrease even to such desirable country as America the United States.

Those people who take the status of immigrant benefited with social and immigrant welfare. For political refugees and immigrants with low income study at colleges and universities is free of charge for 2 years. Moreover they get allowances.  Study at public and special English language schools is also free of charge. The government makes an emphasis at education in order for the newcomers to master the professions. For example, by special program they can master the notary profession free of charge. The government gives them monthly assistance ($1000) to the needy immigrant families. The government also helps the immigrants in jobs finding. But these jobs, as a rule, are not prestigious.

3 The majority identify themselves only as Americans.


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