The trajectory of any immigration inherently reflects the history and circumstances of the place of origin; populations elect to immigrate, not merely to settle elsewhere and create existences in new and more favorable conditions, but to vacate a location typically long known and presenting barriers to desired quality of life. Western history is replete with such situations, yet it may be said that the movement of Albanians to the United States is a singular case. On one level, this is a decidedly recent tide, yet one echoing circumstances reminiscent of far older immigrations in regard to a people determined to abandon an oppressive state. On another, the unique character of Albanian culture itself, and as a culture largely unknown to mainstream U.S. society, creates obstacles both reflecting traditional impediments for immigrants and emerging as specific to the Albanian. To that end, it is important to examine both platforms of the Albanian immigration experience, as in motivations for the efforts and the conditions in the new homeland.
With regard to those circumstances prompting Albanian emigration, it is essential to note the unusual position of Albania in international affairs. In simple terms, and largely due to the lengthy rule of dictator Enver Hoxha, Albania was for long decades a nation locked in time and removed from the transitions shaping European nations throughout the 20th century. It may be argued, in fact, that Hoxha’s authoritarianism kept in place a regime somewhat feudal in nature. Under Hoxha, Albania was very much a Communist state, but it differed from others in its steadfast determination to be an isolationist nation. Ruling from 1945 until his death in 1985, Hoxha emphatically deplored those Communist states modifying their regimes in any way, and for even the vital purposes of securing necessary trade (Turku, 2013, p. 89). Hoxha held to a perceived ideal of autonomy, and his relentless adherence to this crippled his country’s economy and generated immense ideological and social conflict.
What occurred during Hoxha’s rule was the maintenance of a modern state unlike any other in Europe, chiefly because both the extent of Hoxha’s control and his adamant disdain for the West, and particularly the U.S., severed Albania from international relations. Hoxha emphatically denounced the U.S. as the foremost example of a great power determined to eradicate the Marxist ideal he was bent upon. Inevitably arising from this was the Albanian governmental condemnation of all nations allied with the U.S. (Turku, 2013, p. 110), and this established Albania as perpetually isolated from the international trade and evolutions in government occurring around it. Before and since Hoxha’s death, sociologists and historians have invariably noted that his rule was paranoid and fiercely xenophobic in character and policy, an assessment validated by the course of Albania in the mid-20th century (Turku, 2013, p. 108). Initially dependent upon Soviet support, Hoxha gradually disdained what he perceived as Soviet concessions to the U.S. and capitalism, which eventually resulted in Albania’s severance from the USSR in 1961. Hoxha then turned to China for Marxist solidarity, and for tangible support needed to replace Soviet trade.
The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 signaled the end of Albanian/Chinese relations, and Albania’s isolation increased dramatically (Turku, 23013, p. 109). More to the point, Albanians themselves experienced deprivations most typically seen in ancient regimes. Hoxha declared his nation to be atheist, as he believed all religions to be corrupting manifestations of capitalist agendas. The end of Chinese interaction marked a radical decline in Albanian standards of living, simply because there was virtually no industry enabled by international commerce, and a diminishing agricultural base. By 1989, it was estimated that nearly 50 percent of all Albanian children suffered from malnutrition (King, Mai, 2011, p. 72). Not unexpectedly, and as soon as Hoxha’s regime began to weaken, the desperately poor Albanians, living under a system denying religious freedom, educational opportunities, and social progression of any kind, began to seize upon emigration as a means of survival.
Issues in U.S. Immigration for Albanians
In assessing the difficulties faced by immigrant Albanians, there is an inevitable returning to the issues that trigger the process. Albanian women, for example, were and are powerfully motivated to emigrate by the need to gain education and consequently acquire skills for earning, as Hoxha’s rigid policies had rendered this virtually impossible. Research reveals that the majority of female Albanian immigrant have been satisfied by the educational opportunities available to them in the U.S. At the same time, cultural issues impede the satisfaction, as many also note that they perceives themselves discriminated against by virtue of the immigrant status alone (Stalford, Currie, & Velluti, 2009, p. 217). Interestingly, many also seek to attain education which will enable a better quality of living upon a return to Albania, even as the immigrants watch for signs of progress in their native land.
Not surprisingly, it is also widely documented that these women assert the need to provide better lives and education for their children as a primary motive for immigrating. The U.S. plays a singular role here, for Albanian immigration is marked by settlements in Italy and Greece as well, wherein distinctly cultural forces generate obstacles less prevalent in the U.S. For example, to be Albanian in Greece is to be stigmatized as inferior, and it has been observed that Albanian immigrants in Greece reinforce all the more their insistence on their children’s education; it is a means of restoring cultural identity and pride (Roth, Bacas, 2011, p. 31). Perhaps due to the decades of deprivation, it seems Albanian immigrants prize educational opportunities for their children in ways reminiscent of the emphasis on schooling evinced by the Italian and Irish immigrants of the early 20th century.
With regard to Albanian immigration in terms of social justice, which in turn encompasses education for the children and religious freedom, the Albanian immigrant population reflects earlier immigrant tides in another way: there is a uniform emphasis on the family. Typically, only mosques and restaurants, in fact, serve as cultural centers for Albanians, and this reinforces the immigrant identity as family-dependent. This does not appear to be diffusing in the way other immigrant cultures assimilate in the U.S.; the Albanians work and attend school here, yet seem generally determined to maintain a distinctly Albanian identity. Research supports this, in fact, as common wherever Albanians migrate (King, Mai, 2011, p. 88). There is as well a commonly seen impetus to remain in contact with relations in Albania, as well as facilitate immigration for related Albanians in Kosovo.
It is likely that this behavior is at least partially influenced by a challenge Albanian immigrants face, and one different from most other Europeans. Over 70 percent of Albanians are Muslim, and there remains intense discrimination from the mainstream society in this regard. All Muslim immigrants, modern studies find, are subject to greater levels of bias and stereotyping than any other immigrant population (Vera, 2012, p. 350). This bias, moreover, affects the Albanian in multiple ways. As the religion is associated with the Albanian, job opportunities are as limited as social acceptance. Consequently, the Albanian immigrant inclination to rely only on family is more understandable.
What all of this indicates is an immigrant culture as unique as that of the nation of origin. Certainly, and as noted in the views of Albanian women regarding bias due to immigrant stature, Albanians face the obstacles historically in place before immigrant populations. Equally reflective of other immigrations is the increasing presence of Albanians in the U.S., as opposed to Greece or Italy, due to the greater freedoms available and the lessened cultural stigmas. If Americans are generally biased against the Muslim faith, there are still laws in place limiting the harm of the bias. Then, there is no escaping the reality of the Albanians turning to the U.S. to procure precisely the basic advantages denied them for so long in Albania, icluding – ironically – religious freedom. Nonetheless, when the evidence is examined, this seems to be a population still removed from other immigrants. The Albanian coming to America may indeed enjoy levels of social justice previously unknown, but they are as well subject to discrimination, and this explains why Albanians in the U.S. are inclined to protect the integrity of their culture through a consistent unwillingness to allow that culture to be diffused within the larger, American mainstream.
King, R., & Mai, N. (2011). Out of Albania: From Crisis Migration to Social Inclusion in Italy. New York: Berghahn Books.
Roth, K., & Bacas, J. L. (2011). Migration in, from, and to Southeastern Europe: Ways and Strategies of Migrating. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
Stalford, H., Currie, S., & Velluti, S. (2009). Gender and Migration in Twenty-first Century Europe. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing.
Turku, H. (2013). Isolationist States in an Interdependent World. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing.
Vera, E. (Ed.) (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Prevention in Counseling Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.