In our Identities article, 'Private empowerment and public isolation: power in the stories of migrant ‘Mother-Poles’, we seek to understand what kinds of empowerment and disempowerment narratives can be linked to migrant motherhood and mothering in the case of Polish women raising their children abroad.
By linking two perspectives of migrant mothers themselves, as well as at looking at stories of adult children brought up by Polish mothers outside of their country of origin, we investigate maternal power which may, on the one hand, ground women as managers of their households but, on the other hand, does not seem to alleviate the general isolation they face in regards to the broader society.
To gain a better understanding of the specific type of Polish migrant mothers we call ‘Mother-Poles’, it is vital to clarify that the particular Mother-Pole construct is a significant yet somewhat blurry notion of Polish motherhood. Moulded from both a religious inspiration of the Virgin Mary’s cult in Catholicism, and an experience of managerial matriarchy which described women’s resourcefulness during the time of State Socialism in the Central and Easter European block, the Mother-Pole figure is omnipresent in religious, social and political discourses, imbuing a reference point for the everyday life of many Polish women over 40.
When migrants move abroad and start their life in a different location, they may keep their loyalties and links to their place of origin and combine them with newly built connections to their new location. Such transnationalism, though it is a well-known phenomenon, is perceived as problematic from the state point of view as it is difficult to predict the loyalty of such migrants (if they are loyal to their new state or the state of origin).
However, it also brings many dilemmas for individual migrants. One of these dilemmas is how to answer to question, 'who am I'. New identities developed in a new place need to be combined with existing ones. This is extremely difficult in the case of national identities which are built on an opposition of ‘us’ and ‘them’. If I define myself as a member of particular nation in opposition to other nations, how do I develop a new identity related to a foreign land where a foreign national lives? How do I solve a conflict of loyalties between my old and new national identity? My Identities article, 'Game of labels: identification of highly skilled migrants', calls the process of building new hybrid identities ‘a game of labels’.
Game of labels is a game played by migrants who try to avoid conflicting identifications. They can do it by playing with the scale of place. The place where we live can be understood as home, street, neighbourhood, city, country or even continent. Some scales are more important to us than others, and usually the national scale is the key for a person’s identification (Lewicka 2012). However, it is often not the case for ethnic, racial or religious minorities. It is also not the case of highly skilled migrants who live in Opole and Wrocław, two cities located in southwest Poland. Mahi, from India, who for several years has lived and worked in Wrocław, says about her Polish city:
This is where I found myself, where I developed myself, where I became a mature person. For me this is home. I know that even if I move to another country, another city in the future, Wroclaw will still be my home because I know everything there is to know here.
Mahi has developed a strong belonging to Wrocław and not to Poland. This may have happened because she needed to combine a new identity rooted in a new place with her former identity of being Indian. She explains:
For me saying that I’m Indian is not a complete truth. I know I am not just Indian… I’m also a Wroclawian [Wrocławianka].
My Identities article argues that migrants avoid combining two national identities and instead use a ‘game of labels’. The most important rule in the game is to not combine two different national identities. Therefore, instead of calling themselves Polish, they express their new identification through different scale labels: city level (they call themselves Wrocławianin – inhabitants of Wrocław) or supranational – European, human. Coming to a new country, migrants not only learn a new national habitus but also build belonging to a new neighbourhood, new city and sometimes a new continent. Interestingly, by obtaining these identities, they join the groups that include both migrants and members of the hosting society. Both Poles and migrants may be citizens of Wrocław. Both Poles and migrants can claim to be Europeans. Membership in cross-national groups, above national or local groups, lets migrants overcome their exclusion, which appears when national identity is discussed.
 Polish name for female inhabitant of Wrocław
Lewicka, M. 2012. Psychologia miejsca [Psychology of place]. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar.
Blog post by Agnieszka Bielewska, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poland
Read the full article: Bielewska, Agnieszka. Game of labels: identification of highly skilled migrants. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1522794