Where are you from?

julenisse

Norwegian Nisse by https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpellgen/ (Flickr Creative Commons)

THEME: Travel

***

by Kat

First, a scene from my own personal nutshell:

KAT; self. As played by self.

LYFT driver; anyone from anywhere.

(San Francisco; inside a Toyota Prius. The DRIVER in the front of the car begins a conversation with a question straight out of Chit Chat 101. KAT, the passenger in the back, relives, for the 42nd time, the following.)

DRIVER:

How long have you lived in the city?

(Looks into the review mirror)

KAT (sighs to herself because she knows where this is going):

Almost two years.

DRIVER:

Where did you move from?

KAT:

Singapore.

(She hates this answer almost as much as she hated living there because she knows it sounds like an exotic “other” and provokes further inquiry. We fast forward through the forced conversation about life there.)

DRIVER:

So, where did you live before Singapore?

KAT:

I lived in London before that.

DRIVER:

Oh! But you aren’t from London.

KAT:

Well, no.

DRIVER:

Then, where were you born?

KAT:

Well, I was born in the Philippines.

DRIVER:

Ha! Clearly you aren’t Filipino!

KAT (Repressing the urge to give her patented ethnicity/ cultural/ nationality distinction lecture here):

Correct.

DRIVER (As if reveling in cleverness):

I mean, you look European.

KAT (Aiming her eye roll towards the window):

Yes, my Grandfather’s family was German, my mother’s, Norwegian and Welch.

DRIVER (Because now s/he’s enjoying the new game):

Yeah, I thought so… where did you grow up, then?

KAT:

I grew up outside D.C. – in Virginia.

DRIVER:

And that’s where your parents are from?

KAT:

My parents are from Illinois & Washington.

DRIVER (Determined to get one right):

And they met in Virginia?

KAT:

They met in Guam.

(She stares out the window and enjoys the next few silent moments of Driver contemplation)

DRIVER:

Why did you move to Singapore?

KAT:

For my husband’s job.

DRIVER:

Oh, so your husband is Singaporean?

KAT:

No. He’s Australian.

DRIVER:

Cool! What part of Australia is he from?

KAT:

He’s not. He was born in Korea, but went to school in Sydney.

DRIVER:

So you met in Australia?

KAT (Feeling the effects of pushpin-ing a map of her own life):

We met in London.

DRIVER:

And now you both live here?

(The car slowly comes to a halt. KAT reaches for the handle.)

KAT:

For now.

(End scene.)

 ————————————————————————————————-

I am lucky to live a life impacted by migration – my own, as well as others, such as my parents. Living, working, studying in other countries has opened up and – often – challenged my perspective in ways I don’t think would have been possible otherwise. I’ve been exposed to choices and opportunities to view the world through a different lens from that of travel alone.

I’ve also been forced to confront basic questions about my identity, such as, Where are you from? or Where is home? What seems like basic chat to many people, can, for me, on the day when I don’t feel like picking the easiest answer, feel complicated, especially as I continue to shift perspective – and the answer often varies depending on my current geography and to whom I’m speaking. I rarely ask others out of the same courtesy that resists the urge to ask, “What do you do?” As if these answers will sort people into digestible identities. Mostly, I feel lucky to be complicated and, so far, I’ve had almost total control over where and when I choose to live and work.

Many people are not as lucky. Working on migration-related issues, including forced migration and human trafficking, has also made me appreciative not only of the experiences I’ve had, but also the ways in which I am able to navigate the world.

Recently, in the States, we’ve seen the intersection of racism and migration play out as the lives of Syrian refugees are impacted by discriminatory legislators. And as Christmas approaches, the memes abound. Jesus and Mary were Middle Eastern refugees looking for shelter, they point out, and the World tunes in to watch the new, handsome Canadian Prime Minister lead by example to welcome these weary travelers in the course of their journey.*

My own experience is vastly different from these refugees and the space between us occupies many faces of migration. For this post, so near Christmas, we turn to another migrant from Syria’s neighboring country.

—————————————————————————————————-

SANTA CLAUS; self. As played by self.

LYFT driver; anyone from anywhere.

(San Francisco; inside a Toyota Prius. The driver in the front of the car begins a conversation with a question straight out of Chit Chat 101. SANTA CLAUS, the passenger in the back relives, for the 42nd time, the following.)

DRIVER:

How long have you lived in the city?

(Looks into the review mirror at the bearded man in the back adjusting his hat)

SANTA CLAUS:

Oh, I’ve only just arrived and I’m only here for the night.

DRIVER:

Where did you travel from?

SANTA CLAUS:

The North Pole.

(He hates this answer because he knows it sounds like an exotic “other” and provokes further inquiry. We fast forward through the forced conversation about life there with the elves and snow.)

DRIVER:

So, where did you live before the North Pole?

SANTA CLAUS:

I’ve lived many places.

DRIVER:

Oh! But you aren’t from those places.

SANTA CLAUS:

Well, no.

DRIVER:

Then, where were you born?

SANTA CLAUS:

Well, I was born in Turkey.

DRIVER:

Ha! Clearly you aren’t Turkish! I mean, you look European.

SANTA CLAUS (With a twinkle in his eye):

Well, I have origins in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands…

DRIVER (Because now s/he’s enjoying the new game):

Yeah, I thought so… where did you come from, then?

SANTA CLAUS (Feeling the effects of pushpin-ing a map of his own life):

From the hearts and imaginations of children that believe in me.

DRIVER:

That’s deep, man. That’s deep… Uh, so, you travel a lot?

SANTA CLAUS:

Just the one night.

DRIVER:

So where are you off to now?

(The car slowly comes to a halt. With a wink and a smile, SANTA CLAUS reaches for the handle.)

SANTA CLAUS:

Stay on the Nice List. And you can follow me on my app.

(End scene.)

—————————————————————————————————

*Stay on the Nice List. If you’re in the US, find out what your elected officials are doing about the status of Syrian refugees and write to them in support in support of resettlement. Here are some other ways you can make a difference.

 

 

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