The Integration Question with Princess Pamela Toyin
‘I just wanted to experience a different culture.” That was the bold step taken by Emma Diaz when she emigrated to Ireland in 2008. Exploring a different environment, as well as learning about other people’s cultures, the American former immigration lawyer says she believes the experience gave her the potential to provide the migrants she works with now a mirror image of their own experience.
American culture certainly differs from others in many obvious ways, but exploring an alternative culture was a necessity for a change for Diaz. Aside from appreciating “the beautiful green countryside”, she describes Ireland as a friendly country with a multicultural people and history that provides her with endless fascination.
Immigrants often contrast their own culture to that of their hosts, but Diaz is of the school of thought that believes when people become more aware of their cultural differences with others and try to explore their similarities, this helps shape their communication more effectively. She feels she is now part of the fabric of Irish society because the Irish “are very open and hospitable”.
Retiring from legal practice in her early 40s, Diaz was by no means tired of work, and was determined to venture into any viable business that caught her fancy. At the time she relocated to Ireland, she was unsure of what the future held for her. “I didn’t expect [the Irish] would be nice and loving people,” she admits.
Yet Diaz remained open to learning about people from other cultures, because she believed interacting with those of a different background to herself would bring enlightenment. And rather than be challenged by the change in her economic or social status, Diaz says Ireland energised her to take on the challenge of improving her community through charitable work.
After eight years here, she considers Ireland her home and has no plans to return to the US. Having worked there for over 20 years as an immigration lawyer, Diaz says her role now is to impart her knowledge and expertise to those who need it in Irish society. Her role today involves educating and helping people within different communities who need legal assistance, and her services range from consultations to immigration advice, available free of charge to individuals and families in need.
Looking through the integration lens, which serves a common good in strengthening minority communities’s position in Irish society, Diaz shares the perspective that migrants like her – who find the fundamentals of the culture easier to adapt to – are integrating well because the Irish system permits it. But that same lens also highlights the things that stain the fabric of society in Ireland – the city streets littered with dog mess, or the threat of drug addicts wandering the streets.
Diaz also believes immigration clearance needs a major overhaul in Ireland, as the last decade has witnessed repeated criticism on the State’s failure to pass extensive immigration reform legislation. Against the prevalent assumptions that integration has been handled well in Ireland and that racism is not a major problem, there are immigrants like Diaz who would rather not speak about the issue but believe that even if racism is not elaborately demonstrated, it is still mildly displayed.
As long as prejudice and stereotypes persist in separating migrant groups that might well be beneficial allies, Diaz says she longs for real contact with other arrivals like herself, no matter how long they’ve been here.
- If you’re an immigrant anywhere in the world and have a story to share, whether on our own behalf or on behalf of someone else, please email email@example.com.
Princess Pamela Toyin is a journalist and author with over 25 years’ experience in various roles, including as an executive PA to company directors, as a public relations executive, reporter, editor and publisher, research consultant and workshop facilitator.