Migration is an important characteristic of human behavior. People migrate for all sorts of reasons, moving from place to place in search of economic opportunities, refuge from political or social oppression, educational opportunities, health resources, fulfillment of family needs, or simply the pleasure of travel itself. From our earliest ancestral beginnings, humans have moved from place to place, sometimes on a seasonal basis and sometimes permanently.
The earliest hominins migrated within and out of Africa, settling parts of Europe, Asia, and eventually Australia, adapting to their new environments and diversifying biologically as a species. The last major continental settlement was North and South America. Archaeological evidence shows early human occupations in the Americas as early as 20,000 years before present. These humans may have arrived by several possible routes, including across the Bering land bridge and along the Pacific coastline of North and South America.
Historically, global forces have also contributed to migration, including seafaring explorations, colonialism, and the transatlantic slave trade that led to a diaspora (dispersal) of millions of African peoples into the Western Hemisphere. Today, many of these historical forces continue to impact our lives as migrants seek opportunities and better, safer lives. Finance, media, and ideologies increasingly entangle the global world today.
Anthropological research has shown the reach of globalization into small communities where peasants and Indigenous peoples, once mistakenly thought to be simple rural farmers or subsistence producers, negotiate the market value of their labor and products, sometimes against large countries or corporations and often facing unfairness and injustice. This disparity typically leads to internal migration from rural areas into urban zones. As with any form of migration, culture change and adaptation have always been a part of the migrant experience.
Because of emerging global forces of all kinds, there has been a rise in voluntary and involuntary migration within geographical regions and across countries, leading to inequality along the margins. Contemporary migrations include labor migration, forced migration or displacement, forced labor, human trafficking or modern slavery, and environmental migration, typically caused by global climate change. There are numerous well-trod migrant routes worldwide connecting countries in both formal and informal ways. One of the most violent routes is the Central American route, which connects South America, Central America, and Mexico to the United States. Refugees are among those in greatest need of humanitarian aid today.
People and goods are not the only things that migrate. Along with human migration, there are secondary movements that can affect the human population globally. Diseases move along with people. Historically, there have been many epidemics within populations and pandemics across regions and countries. In 2019, COVID-19 began migrating globally, eventually affecting every country and causing deaths, chronic illnesses, and economic devastation. As our world becomes increasingly interdependent, it is critical that we understand the important role of migration in so many aspects of our survival.