Fieldwork · Work

Second-generation Pakistani-Irish Individuals Face Identity Challenges

By Amy McCaig 

Published first on Rice University News and Media

Second-generation Pakistani-Irish individuals are facing identity challenges among Ireland’s mainstream views of national identity or “Irishness,” according to a new study from Rice University.

“What Does It Mean To Be ‘Irish’? Perceptions of Irish Identity Among Young Pakistani Men” appeared in a recent edition of Diaspora Studies. Fifty percent of the 20 second-generation Pakistani-Irish men interviewed for the study said that they believe their ethnic background is seen as a threat by citizens to conventional views of the country’s identity – namely, that Ireland is homogenous and predominantly white as well as Catholic.

“Throughout Irish history, various waves of immigrants – including the Celts, the Vikings and the Normans – have settled in Ireland and called it home,” said Craig Considine, a lecturer in sociology at Rice and the study’s author, who received a Ph.D. from Trinity College in Dublin. “These groups have overwhelmingly been white and Christian immigrants. The current period in Irish history is unique because Ireland is opening its doors to people of all colors and backgrounds, from all over the world. What it means to be Irish is more complicated today than ever.”

Over the course of the study, Considine identified three views of Irish national identity within Ireland:

The cultural view, which defines “Irishness” in terms of the culture that an individual adheres to in everyday life.

The civic view, which defines people as Irish if they have Irish citizenship.

The ethnic view, which defines people as Irish if they have – or at least are believed to have – Irish ancestry.

Half of the study participants felt that ethnicity is the defining feature of Irish identity and expressed that they are not – and believe they never will be – fully accepted as Irish because of their ethnic background.

“Many of the participants discussed ‘Irishness’ in terms of ancestry and whiteness, both of which they feel are deeply ingrained in Irish society,” Considine said.

“There’s natural attributes I can’t change,” one participant said. “You can see … if you look at me, I’m not from Ireland. People will say that straight away to you. My family, my ancestors, weren’t born here and raised here. I’m not ‘Irish.’”

“Even while young Pakistani-Irish men can learn to mirror ‘Irish behavior’ by speaking Irish or even English with an Irish accent, particular to Irish national identity are certain histories and specific ethnic underpinnings, which other ‘non-Irish’ ethnic groups cannot simply insert into their cultural psyches or everyday social lives,” Considine said.

The remaining individuals interviewed believed that most Irish citizens identify with the cultural national identity.

“We’ve all become sort of more Western because … it’s all about Ireland and what’s going on here,” one participant said. “I suppose I would say that we’ve lost Pakistani culture and identity. We’ve integrated into society, into the culture here.”

The same participant noted that he and his family even speak the local language, and he considers himself “fully Irish.”

“We speak Gaelic, even my kids. They have to speak Irish. I can read Irish no problem, you know, with the pronunciations and the spellings,” he said.

Considine noted that the individuals surveyed should not be viewed as outlining the only definitions of “Irishness” and that societal and cultural circumstances are “constantly in flux.”

“The young Pakistani-Irish men interviewed for this paper may change their personalities and perspectives as they move forward in life,” he said. “The viewpoints on Irish national identity are constantly changing.”

Considine ultimately hopes the research will help people understand different types of national identity in Ireland by attempting to identify themes in the lives of ethnic minorities.

His research paper considered the views of 20 second-generation Pakistani-Irish men between the ages of 18 and 35 shared during interviews and focus groups conducted in Dublin between fall 2011 and spring 2014. Considine used gatekeepers (influential leaders in the community) to help gain access to research sites, including mosques, cultural centers, restaurants and university settings, to select study participants. He used the snowball sampling method to select a range of participants while accounting for the ethnic, religious and cultural heterogeneity of Pakistanis in diaspora.

Approximately 7,000 people of Pakistani descent live in the Republic of Ireland, which has a population of about 4.5 million. Considine conducted the research as part of a cross-national ethnographic study comparing Pakistanis in Western Europe and the United States, which will appear in a forthcoming book from Routledge Press – Taylor and Francis Group.

The study is available online at www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09739572.2016.1183893.

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