Diaspora Definition & Explanation

Updated: 2018-11-20.
Diaspora is the flung-out population of a group of people from their original homeland; these dispersed peoples usually come from the same national or ethnic origin. Each diaspora community often shares their own traditions, language, or culture among themselves, as a way to stay in touch with their ancestral homes.

Traditionally, the word diaspora referred to the involuntary, long-term displacement of people, rather than people seeking adventure or following a long-distance relationship toward its happier conclusion.

One visible example of the diaspora definition today is the African American community in the US, as well as the African diaspora elsewhere, integrating into modern societies based on a history of slavery, for the most part. Other current examples are what’s termed as the “migrant crisis” in Europe and the Central American migrant caravans attempting to reach the US to seek asylum from gang violence back home.

William Safran, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, distinguishes migrant communities from a true diaspora with these six rules:

  • they, or their ancestors, have been dispersed from a specific original “center” to two or more “peripheral,” or foreign, regions
  • they retain a collective memory, vision, or myth about their original homeland—its physical location, history, and achievements
  • they believe that they are not—and perhaps cannot be—fully accepted by their host society and therefore feel partly alienated and insulated from it
  • they regard their ancestral homeland as their true, ideal home and as the place to which they or their descendants would (or should) eventually return—when conditions are appropriate
  • they believe that they should, collectively, be committed to the maintenance or restoration of their original homeland and to its safety and prosperity
  • they continue to relate, personally or vicariously, to that homeland in one way or another, and their ethno-communal consciousness and solidarity are importantly defined by the existence of such a relationship.

As language inevitably evolves, this word, too, changes in meaning. For example, the Polish diaspora often now refers to Polish citizens, descendants, and ethnic Polish living outside of Poland, such as in New York or Toronto.

In diplomacy, the embassy and consulates help to keep citizens of their home countries safe and out of trouble.

The word diaspora first appears in its modern sense when the Hebrew Bible was translated into the Greek Bible. Deuteronomy 28:25 says, “esē en diaspora en pasais tais basileiais tēs gēs.”

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