Saturday, December 20, 2008

Newfoundland Diaspora

Not all diasporas are created equal. And like universities, each urban alumni network has a different potential. I'm beginning to appreciate the particular kind of landscape that produces such a robust expatriate connection. Newfoundland has "it" in spades:

There is nothing quiet about Newfoundland’s push for betterment. Newfoundlanders are also a people with a fierce pride of origin. Some wrongly characterize or exploit it for political purposes as a form of victimhood. But victims Newfoundlanders are not. They are explorers and adventurers unafraid to cast off the bow lines and set sail to create opportunity.

Newfoundland has its own diaspora. Canadians are familiar with the outmigration of Newfoundlanders to the tar sands of Alberta or the manufacturing heartland of Ontario. Newfoundlanders with a healthy sense of place, like Rick Hillier, have run the military. Moya Greene, a prominent islander, runs Canada Post. WestJet Airlines is headed by Sean Durfy of Corner Brook. The Canadian oil industry is littered with executives who cut their teeth on the Grand Banks oil developments.

The accomplishments of these people are cherished at home and serve as an inspirational road-map for future generations. Equally, these corporate leaders become effective proponents of the province in the rest of Canada and the world. They speak about Newfoundland and in so doing become its brand. They are, in sporting parlance, "homers." Homers are those who taste success and attribute it, in part, to the work ethic, passion and support they received at "home." Their pride drives them to give back; it is something ingrained in the psyche of the Rock.

If you have ever known a Newfoundlander, then I can picture you nodding your head in agreement. Most people are proud of their homeland, but how can we explain the peculiar passion of a Newfie? The drive to give back is a rare form of nationalism.

I think geographic isolation has something to do with it. Cultural archipelagos inform an identity that stands out even in a sea of outsiders. There are newcomers to Alberta and then there are the workers from Newfoundland. Prolonged out-migration, coupled with anemic to non-existent in-migration, is another attribute of strong diaspora networks. Not only does this help sustain homogeneity, but it establishes a tradition of leaving home in search of opportunity. The homeland is dependent on these adventurers as a result of the lack of immigration. The entrenched parochialism also makes outsiders feel unwelcome, preserving the integrity of the cultural archipelago.

While a hyperactive sense of place has harmed the economic development of Newfoundland, the relatively powerful civic pride is an asset beyond the pale. In the age of migration, trust is a scarce commodity. One Newfoundlander will readily hire another because of a sense of shared values. Furthermore, there is a local return on investment in education. The best students leave every region, but few feel the same drive to give back as those from Newfoundland. If in-migration wanes in a boomtown, then there is no diaspora to help. The more geographically fickle talent becomes, the greater advantage for the world's great cultural archipelagos.

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