The Effects of War and Migration on Cultural Identity

Access and Inclusion December 08, 2019

As migration rates soar to an all-time high, hugely as a result of war, the process of globalization accelerates at a historical magnitude. Traditions become integrated, lost, and transformed, altering the lives of millions and creating a widening gap between generations. We want to explore how war has affected our relationship with traditions and values, how it can create new practices and beliefs, and the broader cultural implications that come with these new changes. Even in countries where wars or acts of violence have not occurred, it still plays a large role in the countries’ values, as it indirectly influences and changes its culture.


Cultural Identity 

Defined as features that are shared and bind people together into a community, identity is the totality of one’s perception of self, or how we as individuals view ourselves as unique from others. The key components of cultural identity include religion, rites of passage, and language. A multi-cultured person is someone who has multiple cultures that they identify with. 

A person becomes multicultural largely due to factors such as migration or displacement. War-torn countries rip families apart and the only hope for a better future is to ensure security for yourself and your family. The only way to do so is by moving somewhere far away from your own to ensure safety. By moving somewhere very far, you will have to interact with different cultures, thus contributing to the process of cultural migration that we see today. 


Loss of Language

Language is more than simply a function of speaking to one another, it’s the way in which we communicate and learn about ideas. Language is crucial to how we think, as varying languages create different interpretations of the same idea. Language and culture are very much interconnected because “a language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers” (Cesar Chavez). It doesn’t just shape culture, but rather it is a part of the culture, a gateway to the perspective and values of the community.

In 2000, there were over 7,100 languages spoken around the world. In 18 years, 600 of those languages were lost. That’s 600 different aspects of a community’s values and cultural identities forever lost. Over the next decade, it is expected that languages will rapidly be lost as the world becomes more interconnected. Alongside language, many cultural references and ways of thinking will also be lost, including the ideas, traditions, and sense of community.


Cultural Enforcement

In many countries around the world, we see the constant enforcement of culture and identity on newcomers and asylum seekers. Powerful authorities have adapted from powerful force to creating a social shift by achieving the same purpose through indirect means. Governments can pass laws and regulations that discourage the freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Refugees are in a vulnerable state, leaving dangerous situations and places that took away their human rights. The least they can expect is to have the human rights they deserve but even that can still be taken away from them when they arrive in a new place. Although there are many ways in which cultural identity is affected by the general nature of moving to a new place, the use of cultural enforcement by the host countries is majorly contributing to this growing issue. 


Loss of Tradition

Around the world, different communities have long-lasting traditions that they value and often associate as being a vital part of their cultural identity. In defining tradition, the idea of continuity is greatly emphasized because tradition cannot exist without a long term dedication to it. Is tradition truly being passed down from one generation to the next? And what is the effect of this on the shaping of individual cultural identity? 

In previous years, a tradition was easier to pass along, thus creating uniformity between generations on the ideas being passed down. Due to accelerating globalization and the devastating effects of war, traditions have become harder to uphold. The citizens of a war-torn land are not completely losing the concept of tradition as a whole, but rather are adopting the traditions of other areas as they migrate and stay there throughout generations. They are assimilating into the environment in which they are living, leading to an overall loss of tradition globally. 


Cultural Integration

Cultural integration can be seen to be much easier in later immigrant generations due to the openness and acceptance they have towards new cultures. This can be a result of being exposed to more cultures and having the ability and awareness to see the values in another culture.

The core of integration is ensuring that multiculturalism is embraced, it’s the combination of many cultures in one place. The key is to allow freedom of culture and acceptance and to make sure that people who travel to new countries have the capability of keeping an open mind. People should be encouraged to find creative ways to integrate their own culture into the country they move into. By doing so, the country becomes diverse, and its level of awareness and openness increases. 


To Conclude

Around the globe, thousands of communities share common values, languages, ideas, practices, and ways of life. It is what ties them together and makes them a community. It is a beautiful dynamic in our world that should be treasured and honored, but war threatens the very existence of this dynamic. Not only does war cripple the economy and politics, but on a deeper level, it taints society and forever alters the cultural identity of those people. They are forced to migrate for the sake of their safety and a better future, carrying their culture with them, but in the process altering it. As these languages and traditions interact with one another, they start to drastically change as the process of globalization speeds up, further connecting us as people, but losing the cultural diversity that makes this world so unique and interesting. And as these cultures start to interact, not all of these interactions will be positive, leading to clashes between cultures, and further conflict and violence as a result of war and migration. 

With a newfound understanding of the components that make up your cultural identity and a deeper understanding of how these cultures interact, you are now able to be an agent of positive change. Regardless of whether you are first, second, or even third generation, you have the ability to take your own cultural identity and integrate it into the community in which you currently live in. You have the ability to accept other cultures, integrate them, and become an advocate for diversity. 

In the face of inevitable war and conflict, we can learn to combat its harm by becoming advocates for diversity and embracing people’s culture.