Tuesday, August 08, 2017

On Being A World Citizen

I'm a world citizen. So is Salma Hayek.

People tell me that I'm a world citizen, "a citizen of the world". The Guardian calls Salma Hayek a world citizen as she's Mexican-Lebanese, lives in London and is married to a Frenchman.

Some time ago somewhere, my awful memory can't remember how or where (#migrantlife), but I think it was in L.A. - I met a black Londoner who told me that she's from Islington. I then had to explain for the somewhat-thousandth time the reason for my accent. I've always envied people who can definitively say that are from somewhere, that they can claim a place. Once at a friend's gathering in Jackson Heights some years ago there was a go-around of intros, and people had to say which place they can claim. I honestly can't remember what I said for myself. Bihar? London? UK? Michigan? Metro Detroit? Certainly not New York, in a room full of many actual New Yorkers.

I very recently met a journalist who calls herself a "permanent migrant" on her Twitter bio. I think that is a terrific term. As HXA, I often use "#migrantlife" to comment on the many ways that all of my moving around has permanently affected my psyche: I'm often confused (see above), having vivid flashbacks, and will forever be an outsider - a "forever outsider".

It's not only that I don't belong to anywhere - I will never belong to anywhere. Ever. It's impossible for that to happen. I will never be "from" anywhere. For even if I were to move back to any of the places I have ties to - I can't say I'm from them, remember - I will still not be from there, I will still not belong - India, London, New York, Michigan. Because I have spent too much time already in other places. I explain to L.A. residents who I meet that: "I was raised in the UK and Michigan, and lived in NY for several years before coming here" and it's always a similar reaction: "Wow, you've really moved around" / "Wow, you've seen a lot of America", etc. Yes, yes I have. Yes, I am messed up as a result. Yes, I as a poor person use film, the most expensive medium, to express how messed up I am because of my migrant life.

Is there an advantage to being a world citizen? I can look at America as both an insider and an outsider I suppose, and other places too. To me though that feeling feels overrated because being a world citizen is quite lonely for me; my brothers have been much more successful at finding life partners for themselves (mashAllah). And there are other things; the reason I am typing this actually at 4:17am is that I had a very early appointment at the passport office yesterday at 7am, and then after work I came home and my nap became me sleeping until 3am. Being a supposed world citizen ruined my sleep cycle - thanks, world.

Also, there's a comfort and an ease that someone has when they can say something like "I'm from Islington" so effortlessly, confidently, and with poise. Whereas I have to say a paragraph just to explain why I'm standing in front of someone, of how I ended up HERE. Right here, in this spot, let's mark it with an X. I can't say "I'm from XYZ" so easily, because it's just not true. It's why I'm going to London next month for a few days; I just want to see the city I was born in, to reconnect with it in some way, in my own time, hence I won't be staying with relatives. I want to see what London is like with Sadiq Khan as mayor (yay!) and after Brexit (Goddammit).

"Where are you from?" is a question that I and many others who aren't white Americans, really hate. Because for me when I'm asked this question, I can't just say one place, I'm forced to mouth my whole paragraph. But most of the time my soul resists answering so fully, because I honestly don't think this complete stranger who I will never talk to ever again, deserves to hear or know my life story - it's not worth my time or energy. So I try to deflect the question as much as possible but sometimes I can't escape it and give a forced answer, to not come off as completely rude. Fuck that though.

Whiteness still annoys me. Even though I feel like in the last few months because of an essay I read (that I have to write about soon) that I'm aiming to move past looking at identity markers, especially as a writer who develops characters, I still cannot get over whiteness or white supremacy. And I probably won't, and I think that's perfectly okay, because white supremacy is not ending tomorrow (how AMAZING would that be though?!). So when a white American asks me where I'm from - a European doesn't matter as much, as they clearly are also not from here - but when a white American asks me that I internally get pissed off, as I know what they are really asking is "Where are you from? Because you're clearly not from here" (hey thanks for reminding me whitey!) or "Why are you brown? / Why do you look the way you do?".

However, when an immigrant and/or a person of colour asks me where I'm from, I don't mind, because I see it as we're comparing notes on our life experiences. Hence when NY taxi drivers asked me where I'm from, I usually just said "My parents are from India". Because I knew what they were really asking me was which Muslim country I'm from, as they were often Muslims themselves if not also South Asian, or they had lots of Muslim friends. But a white American from Massachusetts - "from", hah - asking me the same question pissed me off immensely, and I left that convo as soon as I could.

By the way, I have enough labels on me that I either stuck on myself or that other people stick on me, so I'm not going to add "world citizen" to that silly list.

P.S. the head photo on this blog was taken at DTW in 2009 in what I like to call its "techno tunnel". Yes, taken at an airport. Like I said, #migrantlife. Wow, I really can't escape it.