Transnational Identity Maintenance Via the Internet: A Content Analysis of the Websites Constructed by Second Generation Caribbean-Origin Students in Post-Secondary Institutions

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INTRODUCTION

In 2000 there were an estimated 451 million Internet users world-wide, which represented 7.4% of the world's population. By 2008 the number of users had jumped to one and a half billion or approximately 25% of the world's population. The growth in Internet use from 2000-2008 has been especially dramatic in certain parts of the world. In Latin America and the Caribbean there has been a dramatic 860% growth in the number of Internet users since 2000 while the rate of growth in North America has been more modest at just 133%. (1) It is in light of this increase of the Internet as a mainstream communication and information medium world-wide that this study endeavors to explore how second generation Caribbean-origin post secondary students living in the international diaspora construct and use Internet web pages as a symbolic bridge that connects familiar Creole cultural values and practices with the feelings of object loss and cultural mourning. The constructed Websites also provide a therapeutic, social, and psychological means for maintaining a transnational identity in the international diaspora.

As social constructions, Internet Web pages capture more than a moment in time. Unlike a still photograph, a web page is a visual image that grows and changes as the Web master adds or deletes images, text, sound, or hot links. Web pages like photographs can denote a certain apparent truth, provide documentary evidence, or tell the Web surfer a little about the individual or group who constructed and maintains it (Becker 1995). The connotative meanings of the Web page emerge from the social and historical contexts under which it was constructed; particularly in situations where the conventions are like road signs. Just as we have learned to recognize the meaning of road sign symbols almost instantaneously, we have learned over a short period of time in which the Web has existed to decode the denotative and connotative content of Internet Web pages.

In the past two decades there has been much scholarship on ethnic and cultural identities. Scholars like Anzaldua (1995), Hall (1996), Rosaldo (1989), and Nagel (1994), working within a postmodernist framework, theorize identity as hybrid, dynamic, fluid, and multi-layered. They argue against essentialist notions of identity as fixed and bounded.

The discussion of hybrid identities focuses on the cultural conflict between ancestral culture and dominant mainstream culture in many diasporic locations for second generation Caribbeans. The conflict can be something as simple as whether or not to listen to Western-musical genres like Rock or to listen to Soca or Reggae music. Whether or not to keep one's heritage distinct from that of the mainstream dominant culture is a complicated question of identity that many second generation Caribbeans face in their growing up experience. Deciding to stick to one's cultural heritage or deciding to assimilate and conform to the mainstream dominant culture can result in being ostracized from either group, when in reality the individual belongs to both cultures. Given that members of the Caribbean international diaspora live in a world of high modernity, they have created their own world as reflected in music, fusion of language, food choices, styles of dress, and other markers of authentic transnational identity. Scholars like Maira (1999) Vertovec (2001), and Waters (1990) have pointed out that although the work of postmodernists have contributed significantly to dismantling essentialist notions of identity, they run the risk of homogenizing the notion of hybridity and neglect to capture the complex view of the lived experiences of American, Canadian or British-Caribbeans.

Furthermore, cultural critics often neglect to take into account the diverse experiences of the second generation, particularly in terms of social class or ethnicity. Second generation Indo-Caribbeans, for example, position themselves very differently from African Caribbeans in diaspora primarily because they are racialized in different ways. …