Has the Global Malayalee Arrived?

Poly George, a nurse from Kerala in Florida, USA with his colleague

After the discovery of a sea route around Africa’s southern coast (in 1488) and of America (in 1492) the youth of Europe began their adventures over the sea, went to new countries, and started new trade and commerce. Many of them settled in the new countries where they reached.

Now it seems there is a reverse trend among youth in some of the countries where Europeans settled in the 16th century. Just like most of the adventurous youth of medieval Europe wanted to cross over the oceans for trade and conquest during the golden era of colonialism, the youth of Kerala is now thrilled to migrate all over the world looking for opportunities.

The youth of Kerala seem to be excited about various new possibilities and routes of migration. The youth migration of colonial years not only needed a spirit of adventure, and the ability to survive in new geographies but also skills and resources such as money to buy a ship and to trade with new countries. Similarly, the Kerala youth who venture out to Western countries are not going there as just refugees, but as people with enough money to pay for their survival in the initial few years, at least as a student, etc.

In fact, it was Kerala’s women who migrated first to the West. Earlier, the Christian Missionaries in Kerala started several schools to promote women’s education in the state. They have also encouraged educated girls to take up the nursing profession in their hospitals. Subsequently, Kerala women found opportunities not only in India but abroad too as there were no religion-based restrictions for their overseas travel.

Unlike the menfolk who migrated to the Gulf countries, Kerala girls started to migrate in large numbers to the West in the 1960s. (A recent documentary of around 5,000 families from Kerala who sent their daughters to Germany in the 1960s named ‘Brown Angels’ by Shiny Benjamin is available on Youtube.) Wherever Malayalees went, they were known for their hard work, sincerity, and ability to quickly adapt and integrate with and contribute to host cultures. They were also experts in surviving in adverse circumstances with a basic minimum of food, clothing, and shelter.

Many of the migrated nurses came back to settle down in Kerala later. Many sent a lot of money back home. The demonstration effect of the upward social and economic mobility of these women and their families encouraged many others in Kerala to follow their route. While some of the migrated women found matrimonial alliances in their host countries, the majority got married to unemployed men in Kerala and these married men also migrated to the West and found some kind of job and many flourished eventually as entrepreneurs.

Today men, especially those in the IT sector started migrating on their own to the West, without depending on their women. By now Kerala’s IT and Nursing professionals have become the most preferred brands in the West and they will continue as unstoppable brands for the next several years.

A new group of youngsters are now on their way to the West as students. An estimated 50 lakh migrant students from India are now seeking work permits in Western countries after their studies. A good number of them could be from Kerala.

Today Malayalees or Malayalam-speaking Keralites are supposed to be the most migrating mammals in the world. There are around 33 million Malayalees today migrated to various parts of the world. Almost all countries have some presence of Malayalees; a significant presence is found in Malaysia, Singapore, the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia.

Most of the youth of Kerala have already become global citizens with their higher education, skills, and cosmopolitan approach to life. This is the result of centuries of efforts in human capital development by multiple players – governments, Kings, missionaries, and so on. For these youth, there are no geographical limits in this ever-expanding virtual world, and they know they will play a key role in the global arena in the coming days. We can say the global Malayalee has finally arrived.

There is nothing wrong in reviving the old folklore based on a prediction by Nostradamus, which is, people from a region where three seas merge will decide the destiny of the world in the next century!!!

Kandathil Sebastian is a migrant Malayalee and author based in Delhi

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