Hometown Associations: Transnationalism, Philanthropy, and Development

By Orozco, Manuel; Garcia-Zanello, Eugenia | The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Hometown Associations: Transnationalism, Philanthropy, and Development


Orozco, Manuel, Garcia-Zanello, Eugenia, The Brown Journal of World Affairs


TRANSNATIONAL MIGRATION AND GLOBALIZATION HAVE transformed the relationship between individuals and their surrounding communities, particularly between migrants, their homelands, and their host countries. In the context of this new transnationalism, new players have emerged, expanding the scope of international interaction. One such player is the hometown association (HTA) formed by immigrants seeking to support their places of origin, maintain relationships with local communities, and retain a sense of community as they adjust to life in their new home countries.

An HTA is an organization formed by migrants living in the same community and sharing a common nationality. Through an HTA, migrants can transfer money and resources to their home countries. While the total number of HTAs worldwide is unknown, it is clear that their presence is significant. Mexican HTAs, for example, number approximately 3,000, Filipino groups may amount to 1 ,000, and there are about 500 Ghanaian organizations.1

According to a survey of migrants in the United States conducted by Orozco in 2008, there are differences among certain groups when it comes to membership in HTAs (see Table 1). For example, 38 percent of migrants from Paraguay belong to an HTA, compared to 20 percent of Dominicans, 16 percent of Mexicans, and only 6 percent of Bolivians and 4 percent of Salvadorians. When it comes to African migrants, 57 percent of Ethiopians in the United States participate in an HTA, 23 percent of Ghanaians do, and 22 percent of Nigerians are members. Meanwhile, 13 percent of Indians living in the United States belong to a hometown association.

It is interesting to note that in the case of Ghanaians abroad, the percentage of migrants who are active in a HTA is relatively higher among migrants living in Europe, especially the Netherlands, compared to those in the United States.2 Similar trends are seen in the Southeast Asian region, suggesting that dispersed communities may be more organized in certain places than in others.

It is difficult to pinpoint the factors that may lead certain groups of people to participate in an HTA, but they may have to do with political culture, family links, material circumstances, cultural identity, and levels of integration.3 Specifically, there is a relationship between the migrant's identity and his or her social context: Identities are shaped by socio-cultural surroundings. At the same time, individuáis can express their identities through the social channels around them. Tb do so, they often engage in activities that allow them to experience both a sense of belonging and identification with the broader community, as well as give them an opportunity to contribute to the society around them. Influenced both by the experience of transnationalism and by a desire to connect with their home and host countries, migrants often seek an instrumentalization of belonging, not just a search to define the self, through the activities of their hometown associations. Thus, belonging to HTAs has both symbolic links with the migrant's identity, as well as a tangible impact on the community that surrounds them. HTAs represent channels through which migrants can make a difference in their country of origin and of settlement and are means for them to engage in philanthropy.

The desire to maintain a cultural identity and contribute to society provides the foundation for the link between philanthropy and development. In an effort both to maintain roots in their host countries and, most importantly, to contribute to the development of their homelands, migrants often engage in philanthropy and typically do so through HTAs.4 As a result, migrant associations have gained potential as development players, given the possible link between philanthropic activities and the economic development of the migrants' homelands. With this in mind, it is important to evaluate the capacity of HTAs as effective development players and the possible ways in which the activities of migrants can be leveraged for development. …

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