Lehrveranstaltungen von Urmila Goel an der Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder

Wintersemester 2004/05: Virtual Ethnicity - Ethnic Identity Construction in the  Internet

Romanians in Vancouver, Canada:  www.rovancouver.com

reports by Alexandra Florea


            For me, the surprises keep coming. It’s not only that the site began advertising for the new company owned by the webmasters, a wed design company (called Prodavis) that the name is completely changed, but also that I received a welcome message, that informed my about the last time that I visited this new site. So, they keep track of the visitors – I am still included in this category, I am not yet a registered user. My feeling of security became for a few seconds problematic, as I understood I am not being unnoticed.

            About the new name: “voices”.ro in translation (“voci.ro); first of all, the domain has changed and it is Romanian one; then, the name has nothing to do with the former one, it doesn’t contain any reference to a Romanian “diaspora” and it does not use ethnic cues; as far as I see it, it could belong to any usual site in Romania. Also, it gives no clue about the “public target” – as the old name gave, because it stated that it belongs to the Romanian virtual community in Vancouver. The “voices” on the new site could belong to anyone – well, any Romanian. My question is, can Romanians in Vancouver still identity themselves on this site (not necessarily as a community, but as a special category of users), considering this ambiguity? Or could it mean that there never was such an identity, so changing the name doesn’t prove any deeper change?

            The difference between the two virtual spaces is quite big, from my point of view. What I find also strange is that they are both active, with a similar intensity; the fact that they still go on together makes my wander if they are somehow complementary (or parallel) or if it is just a question of accommodation to the new space. The difference that actually jump to my eyes is that the new site uses a lot of religious information. The events announced here are mostly religious, the only topics in forum are either religious or philosophic (one can choose to discuss about “the spiritual problems one has”, or about philosophical problems and great philosophers) the articles presented are about faith in God and orthodoxy (one can find titles such as “Science and Religion”, “Faith – the Secret of Love”). There is also an article in English, “A sure Path to the True Christianity” written by the priest Seraphim Rose, which I find quite unusual. (all the translations belong to me, so I try to make them as precise as possible)

A certain webmaster which seams to be pretty active, Barsand, one of the founders, keeps posting a lot of articles on the new site, most of them having religious contents – such as huge, pages and pages long, quotes from books written by priests and orthodox thinkers (in present and past). Some of the last messages on the old site are also a little bit strange, as for example one about a miraculous icon in Romania, who was said to cry mirth, and another one teaching about what church represents and means (“Catehism in short – about the holly Church”). Till now, on the old web site these articles seamed isolated, they didn’t really draw my attention, I just thought they are strange. But connected to the discussion about a Romanian singles-club in Vancouver – under the protection of the orthodox church or not (I presented it in the last report) and to the other articles on the new site, they become part of a wider reality, maybe of a new orientation of the site, a new identity of the site (which doesn’t necessarily mean a new identity of the users or of the Romanian community in Vancouver).

And this new orientation is mostly visible on the new site.

I can allow myself to say and think that the tone lately used on these sites is more formal and spiritually oriented; the liming and small talk are replaced by the intension to have serious debates and a certain ascetic attitude. I start to feel awkward, as I think this attempt to spiritualize the site is a little pathetic – I know I shouldn’t make any judgments, but I want to share my spontaneous reaction to what I read; of course, I will control this first impression of mine, as it could be the wrong one…

  Another topic is the opening of the Romanian communitarian center in Vancouver, with the party and the projects that will follow. From my personal knowledge and readings I can say that in Canada there are a lot of Romanian communities (off line, different dimensions), who meet quite often and organize events, parties, feasts, “traditional” celebrations.

Then, I noticed that today, on the old site, the question suggested for voting “what is your opinion about nationalism?” was moved on the top of the front page. Why is the opinion of the users, in this matter, so important for the webmasters? Why do they insist with this question? Does it have anything to do with the religious orientation? Is there a link between nationalism and religion in the case of Romanians (in Vancouver)? Will the users respond to these changes?

Maybe I will find some answers in the future development of the parallel sites.

In the end, I want to share another personal opinion: I feel that the design of the new web site doesn’t go well with the content; so, the look is more “casual” than that of the old  site, but the “voice” is more dramatic; the pictures and the animation don’t fit the stated intensions of the webmasters. The pictures look more like an advertising for Prodavis, while the articles look more as an advertising for orthodoxy.


            I will first present the “old” site. It seams that it keeps on going, in parallel with the new one. The articles and posts are different on the 2 sites. I have the feeling that the old site had more topics and more subjects for debate. What on the old www took the form of “newspaper articles”, “social messages”, “new, events”, “cultural”, “humanitarian”, “diverse” and also others (such as business related announcements), is now represented only by the category “messages”, which carries the label “all kinds of messages, mostly about life in Canada, but not only”. I don’t know if this is a sign of becoming more exclusive or it is just the outcome of the users’ interest/ webmasters’ knowledge.

            The old site seams to be quite active in the last 2 weeks, the webmasters posted a lot of new articles, at least one a day – which is not very usual for this site, as far as I saw it till now. There is an article about Romanians working abroad and trying to settle in some other European or well developed country; it is about their hard experience and their lack of adaptation abilities – which I don’t know how realistic and objective is. Then there are 3 interesting offers: one is to download traditional Romanian music from north-eastern Romania; the other is an advertising about a drivers school in Vancouver that offers training in Romanian language. The last offer is about Romanian TV channels that are broadcasted in USA and that can be viewed on internet (the motto of the satellite firm is “be happy/ enjoy in a Romanian style” – in my translation). I think these 3 proposals are interesting because they show that there is an interest in something like this; I will not call it a need, but an interest, because I cannot know what the people involved (both users and webmasters) need. But the presence of an advertising shows an interest.

            Then, one of the webmasters launched last week a contest under the name “the greatest reward”; it is about the greatest reward one can receive for one’s work and the competitors should write, on the forum, about their reward expectations. The best answer will be posted in a special form on the web page. It is the first time in the last months (I search the archive of the site, as well, going few months back, in spring 2004; this is the only contest of this kind that I found) that there is such a contest. There is no explanation why this theme was chosen and what is the purpose of the contest.

            I found 2 linked posts, very interesting as well. One of the webmasters advertises, in an article addressed to the “Romanian community in Vancouver”, for the “Vancouver Romanian Business Network”, a new organization that intends to build on-line business networks, to assist new Romanian initiatives in Canada and, most of all, to offer internet representation. Another webmaster posted the article “do you want to be represented on-line?”; he states that, considering the 4 years of experience in the field of web-design and administration, a new service has been added to this site: the webmasters can be contacted and hired to design web-sites for firms. So, as I understand the whole process, the webmasters created their own firm, involving business, design, real-estate, commercials, and they are using the site to advertise it.

            On the forum, the most active topic in the last period is about a new initiative: the project to organize a Romanian singles’ club. 7 users answered since yesterday, some of them wishing for an “orthodox” (my term) singles club – which would join at the church and under the church advice; the others (a minority) wishing for a more casual club, with bar meetings and parties. The main argument pro an “orthodox” club is that people need a place where to be real Romanians, a place to meet and to feel like a community – I would say an ethnic space; so I interpreted the argument as something like we want to be Romanian singles, not any kind of singles. If so, then the phenomenon is strange, because Romania became quite a secular country. But, of course, it is only one interpretation.

       In short, also something about the new site. The only forum topic is on famous Romanian characters – related to culture. Most of the “messages” – as the category is called – are on cultural themes, refereeing to cultural events or sharing cultural knowledge. This seams to me a little bit elitist and I wander if this is what the users want to read or it’s just the webmasters’ interest. Of course, the new site is not yet finished, but I am curious in which direction will it change, in comparison to the old one.


            I will continue to observe both the web sites in parallel, as they are still both active and as they are incomplete one without the other – they are, for now, parts of the same phenomenon.

            The first change that I noticed in the last 2 weeks is on the first page, the introduction page. During the winter holiday and the first days after it, the first page was showing a comic, on a typical winter topic – a snowman. It had nothing to do with the first page that I was used to – as I mentioned in the last report.

The presence of the new site, as the future alternative for this one, was announced through a post in the “messages” section; the post was advising the users to express their opinion about the new site, how did they feel about it and what would they want to have on it; the webmasters were presenting this new site as a success, as a better alternative to the old one, to relate in internet.  

Now, in the last week, the first page changed, as it shows a reduced image of the home page from the new site, with a drawing of a stamp on it, that says: “approved”. It is a new thing that the site uses English words. And most of all it is unexpected to have an English word on the introductory page – because before even the common internet term “home” was translated to Romanian. So now, the first page displays a big link to the new “approved” site and a small link at the top, for the old one. But this old one is still active, as people posted messages here even on the 14th of January.

This week I gave more attention to the new site, as my curiosity was sincerely heading towards it. I tried to write to the webmaster, as I did last time, using the links from the old site, but this time one has to be registered in order to interact directly with the webmaster. Most of the links go to the same articles and topics as in the old site, but the design is totally different, and I have the feeling that it has a different system of symbols.

First, about the “home” page, that kept its Romanian title “acasa”. It has more colors and better technology. It has more photos then drawings. The motto is different, but I do not understand what the image of little girl, up left, in front of the motto, wants to suggest. Maybe a look in the future, maybe growing up together, or just a relaxed atmosphere in this virtual space – these are all just subjective interpretations. Or maybe the girl is someone looking for a friend, as in front of her is written “the friend that you need” and the little creatures in the background are the friends that she could find here – the other “inhabitants” of this space. The other labels for the links are photos that could be as meaning full for a Romanian as for any other internet surfer; they have no ethnic specificity, as the old labels had. There are using more English terms than before. All the “clicks” that have instrumental use (“post reply”, “new topic”, “profile”, “search”, “quote”, “buddy”) are labeled in English. There is no obvious sign of ethnic “border markers” except the Romanian language. At the “proverbs” section I found a lot of non-Romanian sayings and an English saying stands as the label. The calendar has English week days and months. Is the use of English words an answer to the desire of the users to mix languages? Is it the organic hybridity? Is it the need to show that they (both users and webmasters) are already comfortable with the foreign language? Is it the transactional identity, an answer to an external definition – that maybe defined the Romanians as very keen on their language? 

All the links are better explained, there are short descriptions attached to all the “clicks” – one can know better “where” to search for “what” kind of information. But behind these links I found the same articles, pictures, posts, authors, debates.

The new site is not complete yet. The webmasters announced a lot of upgrades. Users are free to request any topics on their interest. A very interesting forum subject is called “Identity crises. Talk about the possibilities of using this web-site” – the webmasters initiated this topic, declaring that the site has an identity crisis, not knowing which orientation to adopt (“culture, art, news, communication…”) and which users’ needs to satisfy. Probably the webmasters were not receiving enough feed-back from their users in the last period; the webmasters were the main authors and the only ones communicating opinions – and they were posting quite a lot of information and articles; I guess it was not a lot of interaction going on in the old site, as people were not very keen on the forum dialogues, the last “confrontations” or sessions of replays were dated in June-July. I guess the webmasters wanted to use the new technologies available, in order to give the “virtual community” a new push. Now it won’t be called “virtual Romanian community” anymore, but group of “friends”, which is a more popular, relaxed concept.

One cannot enter the forum without being registered – this is also new on this site. One cannot express an opinion without being registered – but in the guestbook. I don’t know if this is for a better control from the webmaster upon the posts or to encourage users to sign up, to become more active (in social psychology there is a theory that says that if an individual is persuaded to do something not very important/ difficult in a certain direction, it is easier then to convince him to do something more important/ difficult in the same direction); so maybe registered users tend to become more active, tend to express themselves more than non-registered ones, turning the site into an interactive space or a better “need-provider” for them.

The forum didn’t inherit all the topics from the previous site, only “matrimonial” chat, shopping and sports. Also, the list of main links, up left, is smaller. The presentation of the webmasters is more obvious now, it is posted on the main page, but I couldn’t find the rights and conditions till now, they are probably shown only as one registers.

As a lot of things are changing in this space, I think this is the right time for me to change status, to get visible, to register and to start posting questions or my opinions. 


In almost one month the website suffered enough changes. Due to the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity to be online so often as usually, I was not lucky to catch the changes in the days of their appearance; also, I hope I didn’t miss too many “virtual events”; but all in all, I was still able to get the general picture of the new features. To make a brief description of these features: some of the changes are very visible; most of the changes made me ask myself a lot of questions about the Vancouver Romanian community – both virtual and material, about the webmasters, about identity development in a larger sense.

First of all, opening the website you will be surprised with a new look: the first page of the chat is not here any more, so the fast link to the intimate conversations and to the picture with the traditional dance-circle and the traditional outfits is also gone! Instead, the greeting picture is a non-ethnical, universal winter image. This change is quite remarkable: the former first page was showing a lot more exclusivity, it contained a lot of statements – mostly linked to the site’s identity and intensions, to the users identity and intensions, and maybe also to the internally/ externally perceived “national character” (as I explained in one of my other reports). Now, this winter comic is restricting access to possible users only by having a Romanian tag. But, although it is more “inviting”, it doesn’t say anything about the site; clicking on it, one could enter any kind of site.

My point is that, as an introduction to the site, this picture is not so functional, as it doesn’t give any information on the content or on the characteristics the webpage has. The idea of a community is not so visible from the beginning, anymore. Maybe because the site already produced an audience, who knows what it’s all about. Or maybe because this community became more opened to the exterior.

The other important and visible change is the presence of a new site. The same webmasters are creating an entire new site for the same purpose. The new site is called www.voci.ro and it is still in the experimental phase. It looks very different, although it contains most of the links given here. I don’t know for sure, but it could be that the intension is to abandon, in time, the old site and to move the community to the new one. It is a very courageous move; it could mean that the webmasters gathered enough legitimacy to launch this move; that the community is already strong and the risk to be destroyed by a relocation is low; that the idea of “virtual community” is well applied and the users are able to understand that a new site doesn’t mean a new emigration.

The interesting phenomenon is that the new site almost lacks ethnic symbols; there is no Romanian map, no Romanian national costumes, no traditional dance. The pictures on the links don’t refer to Romania. It contains a lot more English terms. The chat is more hidden, one cannot have access to it unless registered (before, the first page of the chat was posted). The only unchanged thing is the flash presentation on Romania. Keeping this presentation as it is could be a clue that Romania has the same value and the same meaning for the webmasters; and maybe this presentation is the best way to express their view upon the mother country.

I ask myself a lot of questions about the meanings of all these changes. It could mean that the users don’t need these reference points anymore, that they become more familiar and closer to the Canadian reality. It could mean that their organic, unconscious hybrid identity is moving to another faze. It could mean that the community grew stronger and it doesn’t need these virtual, symbolic fences anymore. Or, the opposite, that external conditions (for example: critics, unfavorable comments, Canadian citizenship duties’ side effects) forced the community to give up its ethnic orientation. The explanations and causes can be very complex.

This new site is generating not only an issue of security for the users (relationships perceived as secure) but also a issue of coherence, of continuity in the site goals, in the material community’s online manifestations, in the virtual community’s development of some kind of identity. In this point, I should mention that the motto of the site changed from “the virtual Romanian community in Vancouver” into “the friend that you need/ we are here for you”; it changed the public statement into a more personal register; is it because public legitimacy is already acquired? Is it because the next step is to acquire people’s affection?

Not so hard to notice is the new question that the site asks; the users have to vote about nationalism’s value in the present century, they have to answer whether it is a.) a progress factor; b.) a stability factor; c.) has no social value; d.) it’s an impediment to progress; e.) destructive for individuals. Why did this question replace the one about the Romanian traditional music? What do the webmasters actually ask or what do they want the users to think about? Is it because the global nationalism problems and crisis? Is it an intension to highlight the need for keeping a national identity? Is it an intension to make people aware of their attitude towards this identity trait?

I will continue now with the description of other findings. In the “see messages/ diverse” link, the second link, up left, I found a very interesting poem posted by one of the webmasters. It is all about the Romanian language and the way some Romanian emigrants on the American continent loose it, for some cheep Romanian-american pseudo-language; I find it to be a very harsh critic. Indeed, it is somehow funny the way some “ex-romanians” speak Romanian, when they come back in the country; indeed, some of them exaggerate the foreign accent; but why is the author of the poem so much against this defect (or intentional defect)? Maybe because the language is considered to be the most valuable traditional heritage and this heritage is part of the author’s identity; and he takes this hybrid Romanian-american language as a personal offence.

I found an announcement about delivery of Romanian mineral water; it seams that in Vancouver, Romanians are great fans of Borsec, and that there are lists of orders that cover all incoming transports. Does this mean that Romanians are still keen on the familiar products or that posting this announcement on the site proves the intention to highlight this product?

A very unusual article can be read at the same link. It is an admiration message for a Romanian writer and painter – Nick Sava – from one of the women users. She praises his works and she declares that she wishes very much to establish a contact with him. It is very unusual to read such declarations on this site; it is very unusual to witness such intellectual/ artistic passion on this site. Maybe the admirer had no other public means to express her feelings – so the site was an important help for her – or the webmasters wanted to show exactly this: that the website can be used to express all kinds of feelings and to try to establish contacts with others.

Under the link “news/ events” I read some articles that gave me the impression of reading from a Romanian newspaper. The political articles were both pros and cons about the new government/ the new president. Presenting the New Year’s Eve happenings, the articles gave me the feeling of being at home (I know I’m being subjective, but this feeling that I have is quite unexpected, because usually I’m not easily impressed by stories about the “mother country”). They were about the presidents discourse and about the way officials spend that night. They were about the hope for a better life in Romania and about being tired to hope in vain for this.

My biggest regret is that I didn’t see any reactions on the website in the days just after the last tour of elections. In Romania, after the victory of the former opposition party, there were huge marches of joy and the enthusiasm was general on the streets of the larger cities. I was expecting some kind of enthusiasm in the virtual behavior of the far-away Romanians’ community as well. Maybe because the new site was being under construction, there was no time for such reactions

A lot of cultural events took place in Vancouver, with the Christmas occasion. The most important and admired Romanian singer, in the traditional carol-singing style, Stefan Hrusca, came to Vancouver. Also, a very popular chorus, the Crescendo, also presented a concert here. It is relevant that these popular artists came here; it means that they knew they have a great audience here; it means that the Romanian community here wanted very much to have them close and to hear them live (the tickets were not so cheep).

On the 20th of December an article was posted by one of the webmasters. It is called “Diaspora takes Action”. The title is quite aggressive, I think. It is about the makers of the campaign “go to vote”, a campaign conceived for all the Romanians outside Romania. The interviews with them show some interesting aspects. The first interview is with Cosmin Paun, the webmaster of www.casa-romanilor.ch in Switzerland. He says few words about the campaign and also about his site. The declared intention of this site is to represent the Romanian diaspora in Switzerland. But, according to what Cosmin Paun says, the real intension is to improve the image of the Romanians in Europe, to turn them into “friendly strangers”; he says that he fears the racism in his host country so he intends to turn it away from Romanians; he sees the hatred against Muslims and ex-Yugoslavs as a chance for the Romanians to stop being “the enemy”. His statements made me wander about the immigrants situation in Switzerland and it doesn’t seam so good. The other interview is with Ciprian Dinica, from Germany, creator of www.ro-de.org . He says that the site he is administrating offers opportunities to make friends easily and to speak the relieving Romanian language. So, I guess that the sort of problems encountered by Romanians in Germany are loneliness, cause by language difficulties.

In this category of articles, the creation of new Romanian-diaspora sites in Vancouver is announced: www.romaniansbc.ca; also “the team for dialogue” offers a new site. This means an increased number of possible users; an increased request for this type of sites.

The church also posts some donation days and the holiday program. It announces the Day of the Traditional Romanian Costume, quite an interesting feast. This means interest for the church’s manifestations – at least from the webmasters site.

 Going to the “newspaper articles” link, I found some texts taken from a serial published in Romania, called “Romanians on limited Period”. They are adapted by another webmaster. They present different people coming to live in Romania, who managed to obtain a good status and who enjoy their life in there, more then anywhere else. A Turk, three Greek students, an American. In my opinion, the texts generalize a lot, make value judgments and are very optimistic. They present idyllic aspects of life: drinking wine, beautiful Romanian girls, cheep products, traditions and traditional food. Is it the nostalgia for the mother-country that made the webmaster use these texts? Is it the will to show that the roots are not so awful as they seam (or maybe as some external categorization imply)? Is it a prove of still existing feelings towards the Romanian culture? Is it a drop of the “returning myth”? one doesn’t exclude the others.

 “Social” category of articles: first of all, lots of advice about places to go, for Romanian emigrants. This means that a lot of Romanians intend to find better places to live. It is true, more then 10% of the Romanians study, try to immigrate and work outside Romania. Then I noticed a comic, about cultural assimilation in Canada; it shows a child who doesn’t understand his grandfather’s story, but needs the English translation from his father; it is again about language and the heritage; but I think that Romanians in Vancouver don’t face this situations yet, as most of them are first generation immigrants.

Again I found an article about nationalism, in the “cultural” section. It is about the problem in the former communist countries, where it is said to be in action an ethnic nationalism – a bad form – while in the western countries, it is all about a civic nationalism, sustained by the constitution, built on citizen rights and not on ethnic majority. It also talks about nationalism in Romania and Magyar nationalism in Romania. The article tries to be objective, I think, but my “anarchist” or “cosmopolitan” formation makes me disagree with all kinds of nationalism, even constitutional ones. Still, the fact that this subject is taken into deep consideration on this site could mean that the identity development of Romanians in Canada faces some issues on rights, minorities, tradition, culture, assimilation, tolerance, duties.

 My conclusion for the site’s activity during this whole period is that the webmasters where very present, they posted most of the articles and comments, tried to launch new subjects of debate; they sometimes became a little aggressive with their titles and statements; they are very attached to what they do on the website; but I am not sure what their personal goals are (related to the mission of the site) because some of their statements are contradictory. And maybe I shouldn’t worry about the personal goals, just about the social results.


            As I went on observing the web site, I wandered if there is any intension of building a non-virtual community of Romanians, in the real Vancouver environment. Also, I was wandering if this site was the result of a community work and desire or, the opposite, if it was the lack of any Romanian community that pointed to the need of such a site. My feeling is that there is no a-priori Romanian community, but there was a lack of this certain type of relationships – the “diaspora”-like relationships (to use a term that we tried to analyze and explain. I believe that the statement of the site’s founders is true: that they wanted to provide assistance to the numerous Romanians in Vancouver and that they wanted to materialize – in a virtual space! – the vague solidarity and feeling of closeness that they had towards all the Romanians there.

As I look at it, the specificity of this site is that the founders and the users are all first generation immigrants, their children are still too young to have identity problems or identity decisions, their families back home (and the people back home, in general) consider them as being Romanians, so they themselves must decide how to live their condition. They must decide on their own if they want to be Romanians, diaspora, Canadians, just people, immigrants.

            I noticed two attitudes, very different, on the site. First, the wish to hang out with other Romanians in the same virtual space, the familiarity, the feeling of a common base; and secondly, the feeling of being something else then the Romanians back home (with which they communicate) and the feeling of being something else then Romanians in other cities in Canada – so a new feeling of territoriality. I just read in a book by Vincenzo Roggiero, called “Movements in the City” that a home implies possession, social interaction and experience, symbolic action – which means identity. So maybe the Romanians who settled in a pleasant home and who gained a good status, started developing a subconscious regional (territorial) new identity. On the 4th of October someone called Moko said that he cannot forget Romania and the people in Romania, that’s why doesn’t want to have anything to do with them anymore, any real contact to Romanians – but he was there, using the site – a very contradictory attitude, reflecting this indecision in choosing identity, I was talking about.

            I asked myself why there are no articles about the Canadian politics and popular culture, there is no special reference to any event in the Canadian society. I also asked myself why there is no comment about the result of the first round of elections in Romania. Lately, the site seems quite inactive. Someone just said in the forum that people are really busy and have no time to surf the net anymore.

            Could it be because of some alternative relationships took the place of these virtual ones? Could it be because the users pass through a difficult time? Could it be that reality substituted the virtual community? The site advertises for some happenings in Vancouver, that could bring the Romanians together, in a real community action: concerts, parties, football games in certain neighborhoods in Vancouver, against some other ethnic based teams, theatre plays and dinners. The concerts are mostly traditional music or chorus concerts in Romanian, and all the bands that come from Romania are not “new wave”. But there is also an advertising for a new Romanian radio with modern music. There are also traditional recipes for the community dinners. Also, some business meetings among Romanian associations took place. So the offer for real interaction is quite generous.

            The matrimonial chat is not so active as I expected. Most of the presentations and new entries are very shi, and most of them are women, in search of male partners. I cannot say if their dialogue contains some “Romanian values” or flirt rules. It is probably because of the age of the users – they are not adolescents anymore. And maybe some of the Romanians are interested in cross-cultural partners.

            My impression now is that the sites desires to share basic on line information about Romanians’ life experience in Canada, and beyond that, to create the opportunity for a real community. If it succeeds or not, and with what costs, I will continue to search.


"nothing yet about the elections in Romania, on the site! strange! are they lazy?"

            I mentioned in my first report about the use of some images on the web site, as for example, the pictures on the page top – the Romanian miniature map and the sculpture with the ancestors on a battle field. They could mean that the intention of the web master is to set the markers of this virtual community, to show inside which real borders does the community find its “roots”. But there is also a comic with a little boat sailing – this could be interpreted as the other feature linking all the users of the site – the “routs”, across the ocean (not only a characteristic of the Romanians settled already in Canada, but of all the Romanians thinking about emigration – they are all related through the “routs”).

            I should say that this web page doesn’t present itself with a usual face, but with something very particular: when you click www.rovancouver.com the first link is the chat (few lines of greeting messages), so the user comes into first contact with the people, with the dialogue, with the other users. The intension here could be to prove that there is a sense of community, that the people here are really friendly and opened – to encourage other Romanians to take part (or at least to visit the page). But it can also be the response to outside categorization – because the Romanians are said to be very talkative.

            Also, when choosing the link for the chat, the first page loading shows a picture of a traditional dance formation, with dancers dressed in traditional costumes, in front of old style country houses – it could be the sign of nostalgia for the passed life style, or a new interpretation of the internet chat, in a typical Romanian way and with original Romanian atmosphere.

            There is a flash presentation on the web site: it is a picture like presentation of Romania, with music (a popular folk band), as the web masters see it, or as the Romanians living abroad see it, or maybe as the foreigners look at it. It shows some historical figures, some kings and presidents (and the communist dictator), some top athletes, famous landscapes and monuments. These images are used to create – as far as I took it – an ironical yet full of melancholy panorama over Romania and over the “Romanian heritage present in our every day lives”. I used the brackets because I used the words in a self ironical way.

            Trying to answer the question “how does the web side respond to the needs of the Romanians in Vancouver and how do these people use the virtual space”, I looked first of all at the obvious things: information about jobs, about real estate, about business, about community gatherings, about concerts and artistic events – related to the Romanians’ lives in the host country. Matrimonial advertisings – related to universal “quests” in life. Information about the life in Romania – that seems to play a very important role in the users’ lives, so it is related to the “roots” side of the migrant identity.

            So the site intends to respond to some pragmatic problems and also to gather the people under the same umbrella of belonging – thus answering to the need of human interaction (interaction with similar human beings – which is a safer interaction). It intends to say: look, here we can all be Romanians, if we desire so.

            Beyond these intensions, the people use the space not necessarily to create the feeling of community, but to argue and to get passionate about different issues in a most Romanian style. By this I mean Romanian language, idioms and specific discourse techniques, such as “market place bargaining” speech arguments and the self ironic “making fun of the trouble” (“a face haz de necaz” – as it goes in Romanian).

            So maybe the Romanians in Canada use this site to satisfy their need of familiarity and of group identity – but I cannot be sure that such a need exists in this case, or if it’s all just about the need of internet relationships – that are also safer.


            The contact with the Romanians in Vancouver site offers me new information and clues all the time, leads my on a different path each week. I have to adapt my theoretical and methodological approach, I have to keep flexibility all the time – as we decided together, I have to ask so many questions and I get so many different answers.

            This week, for example, I discovered, in many articles and statements, the use of the terms “Romanian diaspora”. The web masters didn’t use this term – the reason for my hesitation last week to consider this virtual community part of a Romanian diaspora – but many of the users do, in their dialogues. The main texts on the web page don’t contain this controversial word, but on the “back stage” so to say, this word becomes the name of a “character” in the social and political play.

            Taking the research a little bit further, I was curious to see if I can find some elements that could show the possible existence of a hybrid identity carried by the users/ the creators of this virtual Romanian community. The concept of hybrid identity covers a process, an exchange of symbols and meanings, that’s why it can develop in parallel with the concept of transactional identity.

            This time I focused on the forums, I wanted to actually get to know the voices of the site. The dialogue is quite complex: there are the people who enjoy living in Vancouver and have the “know how” to do so; there are the people who feel they don’t belong there; there are the ones who would rather go on forgetting about their past and the ones who think about going back for good; there are the Romanians in Romania, who wander if they should try to find their chance for a better life in Canada. There are the optimists and the pessimists. And, very peculiar, I noticed the rise of a conflict among the Vancouver inhabitants and a Romanian immigrant settled in Montreal. The nickname, his attitude and the language that he uses remind me of another user of the Romanians in France virtual community site – could he be the same character? And if he is, then why does he use both sites? This is an interesting question, as he is an interesting character…

            As far as he states, his identity looks rather hybrid – he uses a Romanian regional language, combined with very “high class” terms, with English or French words and Romanian grammar mistakes – are they real mistakes or just a spelling game? He always argues that one should not forget one’s own roots and that the ethnic origin is a main element of social identity, but in the same time he advises everyone to find their own places “to feel good” and to call them home – his philosophy is “ube bene, ibi patria” – in contradiction to his ethnic attachment. In the same time, he argues that HOME cannot be rebuild as in Romania, as BACK HOME (“acasa”) and yet he fights so hard to convince people that Montreal is the place to be for a Romanian.

            He is not the only one proving mixed elements of identity. People talk about Romania as home, but from the vintage point of a Canadian, of someone who knows more then just the little east European culture. They use English terms instead of their Romanian equivalents, they argue that the Romanian mentality should be corrected – as an “overtaken” one. All these could be seen as elements of an organic hybridity, as a subconscious identity transformation.

            But there are other forms of mixed identity elements, that could be seen as hybrid. For example, the stereotype about Romanians is that they are smart and lazy people, who always know how to find their ways out. In the dialogue between the Romanian Canadians and the possible future immigrants in Canada, the use of this stereotype is very debated: 1. some take this stereotype and turn it into a sign of superiority upon the majority of the host citizens: “yes, we are smart and lazy, only fools work hard for regular money, we should be recognized as superior, be given more opportunities and be free to do what we want to; they should adapt to our way”; 2. some take it as a sign of incompatibility with the host society: “we are not like they are, it is too hard for us to adapt, we will build our own community, where we can understand each other”; 3. some take it as a negative trait “yes, we use to be like this, but it’s wrong; now we work hard and fair and that’s the way it should be”; 4. others refuse to identify themselves with this stereotype and argue for everyone’s right to be different and to be seen as such (and not to be judged as a certain species). All in all, this stereotype is somehow changed and mixed with other characteristics or attitudes, becoming part of a new identity. I say it’s new, because it cannot be embraced by the people back in Romania (they do not meet this stereotype face-to-face). Being new and altered, it could be called hybrid.

            Another external definition uses to call Romanians “gourmands”. The web masters made a special link for exchanging recipes and for traditional food presentation; so they turned this stereotype in a bridge towards Romanian tradition and they made tradition accessible and practicable. So, a stereotype is reinforced and related to tradition, which make it ready to become a possible part on a hybrid ethnic identity.

            It is often said that Romanians are not able save money. Again, reactions to this stereotype are different among the people I observed here. And again, the character I mentioned earlier has a strange approach to it: he argues that saving money is stupid, that one should spend money and enjoy life, that paying mortgage turns people into “land dependents” and “static” individuals. This means accepting the stereotype and going even further with it – quite an anti-capitalist attitude. Most of the people here deny the stereotype and go even further on this path – that rationality is the right method to obtain something in life, saving money and investing in something palpable – quite a western way of thinking. I conclude that towards this stereotype, the Romanians using the site tend to exaggerate it or its opposite and to use the result of this exaggeration as their characteristic. This could be a reason for considering the “exaggerated stereotype”, with its positive or negative “sign”, as an element of hybrid identity.

            Taking all these features as elements of a developing hybrid identity, doesn’t take them out of the “transactional identity” picture, on the contrary, could define their position is such a transaction.


            In my last report I used the term „diaspora” while describing the virtual community of Romanians in Vancouver. I should explain more and I should give more arguments for doing so. I will highlight the elements of a diaspora, those that I had the feeling of discovering on the web page. Also, I will continue to observe the way transactional identity is manifested at this level – I will try to develop a general survey upon the process of identity building, in order to have a better approach towards this symbolic transaction.

            Reading about the meanings of this concept of diaspora – a concept that one can find nowadays in so many public discourses – I came to the conclusion that the term is related to the ethnic community identity, but it goes on a parallel road, so to say. The diaspora is an ethnic community, that takes one step towards the outside categorization, builds its identity as a united hole and calls itself “diaspora”. So, from my point of view, a diaspora exists only if it identifies itself as one – if not, the applicable term is “ethnic group” or “ethnic community”, which covers the phenomenon well enough and corresponds to reality. My mistake, in my last report, was to call the Romanian community in Vancouver a diaspora, although it doesn’t see itself as one; the reason for doing so was the proof of the existence of diaspora characteristics (or elements), at the roots of its developing identity: the deep concern with the future of the home country, the strong relationship with the people back home, the solidarity towards the Romanians in Vancouver, the sympathy towards Romanian tradition (despite the decrease of this sympathy in the home land).

            Most of the articles created or just presented, most of the debated topics are related to the Romanian present situation; most of the subjects are inspired from Romanian newspapers; most of the characters involved are Romanian popular figures. The web site enables the communication between people in Vancouver and people in Romania, it helps developing relationships between the two spaces – as I could conclude from the exchange of questions and answers, the tone of the dialogues, the poems/ thoughts/ hopes/ fears/ worries that people express in this virtual space. The most important link on the page – the first link – is the one relate to the approaching presidential elections in Romania, which shows the web masters’ deep concern with the future of the home country.

            All the advice for the new migrants, the network of community activities, the interest topics from the forum, sharing information, memories, pictures and even recipes – show the will to create solidarity among the users of the site, to create a community. Also, people at home are always in touch with the happenings in Vancouver, with the Romanian community’s life and day to day reality; the channel home country – “peripheral” community is always wide opened (to communication and all kinds of symbol exchange).

            I also found a very interesting transformation: the myth of the “holly land” turned into the reality of the “holyday” – so if one really wants to talk about diaspora in this particular case, one should consider the fact that the people in this community don’t have a “dream” of returning home for good, but for visiting it during holydays! 

             All these clues can be seen as characteristics of a Romanian diaspora community, but they can also be interpreted as elements of a transactional identity building, a response to the attitudes and questions addressed by the Others. It can be a response to the ignorance of the people in the host country – the ones that don’t know where Romania is and what happens there; the ones who consider Romania as a non-civilized country, belonging to the “Third World” (another social construct, of course!); the ones who should learn more about the tradition and the cultural value that it has. This kind of response was theorized as the “frustration of the small cultures”. It can be a response to some discourses in the home country, that blame the migrants for their “giving up” the real fight for a better Romanian future. It can be the response to some international discourses that show migrants as a non-creative social class, as only a problem (this response can state community empowerment). And not less important, a response to the question often asked by the people back home: don’t you miss home? (the response says “but we have a home right here”).

            To sum up, these elements can be looked at from both the paradigms: they can support the argument for the existence of a diaspora, or the one of a transactional ethnic identity. My point of view, after reconsidering the theoretical texts, is that using the term diaspora is dangerous, if the community doesn’t call itself by this name (especially when I am dealing with a “young community”, of first generation migrants). The most important difference between using the term “diaspora” and using the term “ethnic community” is that “diaspora” implies the feeling of not being integrated in the host country, while this feeling is not necessary included in the ethnic group identity. The Vancouver Romanian community doesn’t express these feelings of not being integrated, not that I noticed on the web site, till now. 

            Also, till now I couldn’t really see how the web master acts as a moderator for the dialogues going on at the site’s level; the founders are visible, they showed their names, pictures and a short introduction to their intentions, but no other clear, visible intended action followed this introduction.  


            I will continue by describing the left side of the web page. The design and the “user friendly” distribution of the links facilitate this method of observation. In the same time I will try to discover the traces of a transactional ethnic identity, in the process of communication. I expect the transaction to follow mainly the path inside è outside and less proof of an outside è inside exchange. The group’s self-image will be a lot more visible then the categorization done by the “significant other”.

            On the left side, starting from the top, one can visit the following links:

1.      the future elections in Romania – a link that encourages the users to take part in the election process; there are also shown all the Romanian web sites that carry on the rending people responsible towards voting campaign. Their huge number and, most of all, the huge number of the sites of this kind used by the Romanians outside Romania, can be taken as evidence for the existence of strong Romanian diasporas. My reason for drawing this conclusion is the fact that the concern for the mother-country/ for the events in the mother-country/ for its future and wealth/ for the civil duties linked to it – is a sign of active and conscious ethnic communities outside the mother-country – that can grow into diasporas. Also, participation as social actor in this national event can become a marker or a binder for the community, thus becoming an element of the transactional identity of that community.

2.      register – under this title I found the site’s goal: “to unify the members of the Romanian community in Vancouver”; this statement is interesting to analyze: it says in fact “this is what we want to be, this is how we want you to see us: a united Romanian community; this is how we want the users to feel: a united Romanian community” so it’s a double identification trait. I found another interesting feature of the site: in this section the users can register their opinion towards the traditional Romanian music/how much they appreciate it or dislike it; it’s not only the subject – the traditional music, which is always dear to Romanians of all ages – but also the words used in the question: an untranslatable expression (something like “share your feelings”) that could be taken in consideration as another element of identity building.

3.      messages: general, among users, already Canadian citizens or future immigrants; newspaper articles about Romania; events and small-talk about Romanian stars or personalities; social problems concerning migration or Romanian realities; the culture section attracted my attention: besides the articles concerning arts and exhibitions, there is an article about the ethnic origin of some of the Romanians living in Vancouver, with a lot of history, serious research, maps and official sources – here I could notice a strange phenomenon of triple identity Canadian/ Romanian/ Romanian ethnic minority; I didn’t go deep in the others articles, because they were presenting day to day business so to say (finance, journeys, sports, job offers, jokes…); I will return to them later.

4.      info Canada, for new incomers and for future immigrants

5.      games

6.      services: forum, chat, community calendar – including a conference on the 6th of November, that called up all the Romanians interested in an economic field carrier. And a very interesting page for partner finding – interesting because the short presentations of each person can bring a lot of info about the perception of selves: women, men, Romanians, Romanian-canadians, expected partners, reasons for looking for a partner abroad; I will pay attention to this link, I will try to get inside it, if possible. And other services…

7.      useful: orthodox calendar, other forums, events, dictionary, science and technical news.

8.      presentations: the famous Romanian football player Hagi; photo album with the users’ memories; online bible – quite an interesting presence, for in Romania the religious activity is passing through a bad moment; this could be an attempt to strengthen the religious bindings between Romanians everywhere.

9.      contact: who are the 5 founders of the site and their intensions: to produce an unifying information system – “ the info that brings us together”; they also have a motto, a classic Romanian writer’s poem, about memories, roots and changing in time. I think the intension couldn’t be more clearly stated! The desire of a real community in a virtual space.

10.  poetry: “a poem a day” – this shows that the site is active.

11.  guest book: 108 quests last time I checked, last entry the 8th of November, a very sad poem or confession of a troubled woman in Romania, who lost her hope of coming to a better place – where she could get appropriate medical care, a place like Canada. This shows not only that the site is active, but that feelings are expressed through it and people share intimate experiences – as a community, maybe.

12.  experience: this link looks quite old, probably it didn’t have the expected impact.

13.  funny images: 8 pages of funny pictures.

Till now, my conclusion is that this virtual space is quite complex and coherent, with goals, expectations and links with other communities, real space and real life. Next week, I will focus my attention on the active forums and the new incoming articles, I will also insist on some links that I consider to be rich in ethnic identity evidence and in responses towards “outside group” categorization.


During me first week of observations, I focused only on some parts of the web page: I explored only the upper part and the left side of the main page; what was I in fact looking for – some clues that could confirm my assumption that there is an identity linked to this web site. For now, I don’t what to call it ethnical or national and I don’t inquire if this identity is build by the site, sustained by the site, or that in fact the site in build on the base of this identity.

            In order to find these clues, I must search the content of the site, but also the intensity of its activity. Because the lack of activity is the sign is an abandoned site – which means a site not related to any identity-generating phenomenon.

            I first noticed the name of the site, that clearly stated “The Virtual Romanian Community in Vancouver”. Using the terms “Romanian Community” the site shows its link to a certain group of people. The first picture on the left is a copy of an ancient stone sculpture, representing the “Daci” – the first people who lived on Romanian territory – during the war with the Roman Empire (the Romans conquered the Daci, which led to the beginning of the Romanian people forming process).

            On the upper side of the page there is also a small map of Romania, in the colors of the national flag – an evident “marker”, as well as the picture with the ancestors; I think that the main “binder” used by this virtual community (I will call it this way, although I didn’t prove its “real-virtual-existence” yet) is the language – that is exclusively Romanian – and the use of untranslatable expressions, from the “vulgar” speech.

            The links posted on the upper side of the page: betting on-line for the football championship in Romania; Romanian proverbs; emigration info – meaning they keep in touch with the people back home interested in joining the community, in the future; online dictionary; photo gallery (images including Romanian landscape; the National Romanian Holliday celebration on the 1st of December; the community’s last football match against a Korean team; the Romanians in Vancouver celebration, with traditional dances; a traditional celebration in Romania in march “Martisor”); Romanian traditions – with date, picture of the celebration and explanations; news from home; Romanian links; Romanian forums. I didn’t go too deep in each of the categories, I just browsed through them.

            The site had, last time I checked, 145 736 visitors. This is not a bad number, for national minority site. Everything I saw was updated, meaning the site is indeed active and taken care of – there are people who believe in it.

            My first conclusion is that the site is linked – if not to a strong conscious Romanian identity – at least to a strong Romanian solidarity and a feeling of responsibility towards all the Romanians in a similar situation.


I choose to focus my research on the “Virtual Romanian Community in Vancouver” site, one of the many web-sites created by Romanian communities all over the world; the number of sites and – even more relevant – of Romanian communities in Canada is quite impressive, which gave me enough “raw material” to choose from.

First of all, I wanted to monitor a Romanian web site so that I could understand all the dialogues and the connotations of all used terms, in order to get the deep meaning of the statements as well. In the same time, my choice allows me to be an “insider” – as I am Romanian – and I am aware of the national context, the events, the typical problems, the customs and tradition, the style of making jokes, the complaints, all contained in the articles, activities, plans, forums present on the site.

In addition, I am an “insider” towards these communities, as a Romanian citizen living abroad for a longer period (although not as an immigrant) and sharing sometimes the same feelings: feelings of distance, being far away, being apart from dear ones, nostalgia; and, at a lower intensity, the pressure to adapt to different standards.

Moreover, I will be able, if needed, to take part in debates and chats, I will be able to use the participative observation as a research method.

The reason for selecting a Romanian virtual community in Canada is mainly based on my knowledge that the Romanian community is very strong in Canada, very active and, in time, has build a “good name”. Also, Canada offers very friendly conditions for Romanian immigrants: the paperwork doesn’t take too long, the Romanian University Degrees are valid without requiring other exams, the Romanian women are “highly rated” on the matrimonial market, other communities are rather tolerant towards Romanians (I would have said “friendly” instead of “tolerant”, so that I avoid the negative connotation of the last, but I don’t have the personal experience that allows me to use a word referring to intimate interaction).

Secondly, I find several phenomena related to this community to be very interesting: in Romania people talk a lot about going in Canada for good; this is one of the most important migration waves in Romania; then, a lot of educated people choose to emigrate in Canada, which develops a “brain-drain”; the community is strongly politically oriented against the Romanian present government (this summer there was a long-lasting scandal raised by the president’s visit in Canada – the Romanians there organized a huge demonstration against him); the Romanians there have real interest in giving something back to the country and helping the people back home – they turn their nostalgia into something pragmatic.

It will be really interesting for me to see how things develop in this virtual community, now that the presidential elections are approaching; how the information is structured, how the news are presented, how involved people become (knowing that in Romania, the vote absenteeism is a real problem in all elections).

Finally, I decided on this particular site due to its good looks and design, the coverage of many aspects of life and community problems, the full agenda, the up to date covering. I hope to notice the way this site helps in building identity or expresses the users’ already formed identity.

You can access the “Virtual Romanian Community in Vancouver” site at www.rovancouver.com


© Urmila Goel, www.urmila.de 2005