Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Croatians in Western Australia: Migration, Language and Class

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Croatians in Western Australia: Migration, Language and Class

Article excerpt


This paper explores the migration and settlement experience of two post-Second World War waves of Croatian migrants in Australia. Being from non-English speaking background (NESB), they come to `live in another language' and experience difficulties in their practical and emotional integration because of this fact. Practical integration (finding appropriate employment in the first place) is inevitably connected with emotional integration (feeling at home, feeling of belonging), although practical integration does not necessarily mean emotional integration, as will be shown in this paper.

The difference between the experience of NESB and English speaking background (ESB) migrants has been acknowledged in the Australian research on migration. (1) The aim of this paper is to further emphasize the difference in migration experiences of ESB and NESB migrants, prompted by a realization that this difference is often underestimated. The relevance of this topic stems from the fact that, since 1947, the Australian NESB population has been on a continuous rise as a proportion of the total population. (2) The onset of the ideology of multiculturalism in the 1970s, and the political and theoretical correctness that reflected it, somewhat blurred the importance of understanding the difference between the experiences of ESB and NESB migrants in Australia. For example, the rather popular phrase about the `nation of migrants'--presumably an egalitarian phrase that expresses a benevolent and politically correct multicultural attitude on the part of the dominant Anglo majority--implicitly puts ESB and NESB migrants into the same category and also disregards the indigenous population (for example, Drury and Drury, 1976; Freeman and Jupp, 1992). I argue that specific integration problems of `culturally diverse' NESB migrants did not necessarily lessen as Australia abandoned the ideology of assimilation and adopted multicultural rhetoric and policies. (3)

This paper presents the case study of two cohorts of voluntary Croatian migrants (non-refugees) who came to Australia as adults and at the time I conducted my fieldwork (1998-9) lived in Perth. The first group of respondents is part of the Croatian `working-class' 1960s-70s' wave, the largest that has ever reached Australia, and still predominant in numbers. The second group is part of the relatively large, late 1980s-early 1990s' Croatian immigration of predominantly professional people. (4)

I collected data for this study in semi-structured interviews with two random sub-samples of 20 interviewees from each migrant wave. The same number of men and women were interviewed. It is interesting to note that 14 out of 20 interviewees from the recent professional wave were engineers. This is consistent with research that identified an enormous increase in the immigration of engineers to Australia after 1986, especially NESB engineers (Hawthorne, 1997: 396). As a participant observer, I attended gatherings in Croatian clubs, homes and other venues. Only two interviewees (professionals interviewed at their workplace) chose to be interviewed in English. The interview consisted of four clusters of questions pertaining to socioeconomic profile, involvement in the ethnic community, integration into mainstream society and values. In this paper, I am using data from the first three clusters.

The age of respondents, their socioeconomic profile and self-assessed English proficiency are presented in Tables 1-4.

Tables 2, 3 and 4 show three correlated characteristics of the sample that affect migrants' socioeconomic position in Australia: education, the type of job they do (or did before they retired) in Australia and English proficiency. As the tables show, the two subsamples of interviewees are sharply polarized in all three characteristics. Their class--working class vs middle class--is for the purpose of this paper, and relying on a Weberian analysis of class, determined by their education and type of job they held (cf. …

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