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What is a Diaspora?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “diaspora” is used to refer to the dispersion of religious or ethnic groups from their homelands, either forced or voluntary. The word is also used to refer to those people as a collective group and community. Human history has included a number of diasporas, and some historians have made the phenomenon a focus of study. Being uprooted from one's native land and culture can be a huge event in the life of an individual and his or her culture, so the study of diasporas is very important.

The word comes from an Ancient Greek term which means “to scatter or sow seeds.” Several things distinguish a diaspora. The first is the idea that members of the diaspora leave together, or during a short period of time, rather than slowly trickling out of their homelands. As a group, the individuals resettle in a new place, retaining connections to each other, their culture, and their homeland. Unlike some migrants, members of a diaspora retain cultural and religious traditions, and attempt to preserve their culture.

Some scholars use the term specifically in the context of the Jewish diaspora, which began in 600 BCE. The Jewish people are often also used as a classic example of a diaspora, since they have relocated multiple times, not always voluntarily. However, despite multiple relocations and a variety of hardships, the Jewish diaspora has retained a strong sense of community, connection to the Holy Land, and cultural traditions.

The concept is also used in a discussion of the African diaspora, which could be said to have begun with the enslavement and subsequent relocation of Africans by Europeans. Native Americans also refer to themselves as a diaspora, talking about their forcible relocation into reservations and their attempts to prevent their culture from being diluted or absorbed. Numerous diasporas throughout history have been documented, with causes ranging from natural disasters to a quest for self improvement.

For people of mixed ancestry, the idea of a strong connection to a homeland can seem somewhat unfathomable. Yet, for many members of a diaspora, retaining this connection through multiple generations and in varying places in very important to their identities. Members of a diaspora tend to cluster together within a larger community, often adopting conservative values to retain their culture, and inculcating their children with ideals about their homeland. They may teach their children the language of their homeland, cook traditional dishes, practice an ethnic religion, or dress in a way which distinguishes them from members of their adopted country. Many members of a diaspora also hope to some day return to their homelands, to visit if not to live permanently.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon33870 — On Jun 13, 2009

I need more information regarding Indian diaspora & an Indian diasporic writer.

By anon8523 — On Feb 15, 2008

this article was excellent it gave me a full intellectual understanding of the meaning of the word diaspora and also it went beyond that and expand what persons of a diaspora do, or wish to obtain

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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