Developing a Culture of Migration
Being a commune with many migrants, Cleja is the recipient of a large number of remittances, which contribute to individual and household income (migrants most often invest in household expenses and child education). Moreover, a considerable number of migrants have started or plan to start a business at home—mainly in construction, or by opening bars or stores—using financial gain achieved abroad. Regarding the link between migration and development, it is difficult to see a clear relationship at a regional level, but departures abroad are important one way or another to the economic and infrastructural development of the region of origin.
The interviews reveal that migrants’ remittances are mainly directed to building houses and paying different expenses of the household in Romania. Migrants who earned more and already achieved more than the average are also oriented towards buying a car and starting a business. It is an open question whether migrants have the ability to actually start and sustain businesses at home, since they don’t usually have management skills and small sums of money are only useful for the initial stage of the project. This is why very often businesses are opened only to fail soon afterwards.
On the positive side, there is almost always an increase in wealth as a consequence of labour migration: whether migrants only managed to pay for small expenses and make improvements to their houses, or whether they achieved more and built a house or started a business, salaries obtained abroad are always higher than those at home and bring more financial security. At the same time, this leads to a “culture of migration” in that people find going abroad to find work a desirable strategy for improving their living conditions. This has increasing influence on the younger populations. In other words, the youth have the tendency to prefer going abroad instead of continuing their education, as some of the respondents recall about their own migratory experience:
Q: And you said you went to Hungary when you were 16. A: 16, 17 years old.
Q: Were you in high-school then? A: I quit school and left.
(Male, 22, with migration experience in Hungary, Italy, and England)
I don’t know, I wanted [to leave] because she also went [a friend of hers] and she told me how it was. And I knew many friends and relatives abroad and everybody was leaving and I wanted to see how life is there. And indeed, life there changes you. You know you go there and you have your money. (...) I mean there is a different way of seeing things, you see how life is there, how it is at home, and abroad it’s easier than at home.
(Female, 19, with migration experience in Italy)
Also, parents who have worked abroad encourage their children to do the same, especially since they already have the information and connections that can help them. While there is a strong tendency to go abroad to work, we should keep in mind that there is also a strong bond that migrants maintain with their home—especially since most of them have families here—through visits and plans that denote an orientation towards their country of origin in the long term.13
It should be noted that there is also a negative attitude towards migration, manifested mostly by non-migrants, but also by some of the returnees. In this sense, locals speak about the conspicuous display of wealth and foreign elements on the part of migrants: they criticise migrants for an increasing number of cars with foreign plates, which are mostly rented in order to be “shown around at home”. Migrants are also perceived as being “more arrogant”, as well as for pretending to bring new positive habits—such as not throwing garbage on the streets—only to leave them aside soon. Such stories refer to the fact that migrants may quit habits they acquired at destination countries after prolonged return in Romania.
People also consider migration in negative terms when it comes to the effects it could have on children whose parents went abroad, and on divorce rates. The latter are interpreted as resulting from the decision to migrate on the part of one of the spouses. According to the priest:
Some return more civilised, others return wilder... when it comes to their behaviour. I mean there are some who return with a feeling of grandeur because they have money (...) In general, I can say that families had to suffer as a result of migration. Issues such as faithfulness often arise, and there are families that ended up in divorce.
Such negative comments are more frequently present among nonmigrants, especially if they are more religious and show a stronger local identity. However, such responses are also given by migrants who have had a weaker exposure to foreignness, in other words, by migrants who have returned after short periods of time after working there.
In Cleja, we can find significant practices of migrants visiting the locality and returnees that differentiate them from non-migrants: they improve their houses or build houses after the example of what they’ve seen abroad. They name their children using Italian names and they speak a hybrid language that adds to Romanian and the Csangos dialect many terms imported from Italian (when speaking with returnees, we could observe an “Italianisation” of many words). Non-migrants exhibit a negative approach to such practices, and this can be linked to a certain level of frustration some locals feel due to their inability to also go to work abroad.