Staying current or staying sane?

My Facebook feed is home to a variety of perspectives; some of them I applaud, some of them I disagree with, some of them are full-on triggers for all things negative in my head and sometimes my heart.

Today someone posted an article about the rights of EU/UK citizens and Brexit, I read the article and then I read the comments section on the post. The person who posted enjoys discussing politics on Facebook and is rather good at it. One of the comments, however, displayed one of those opinions that trigger me. Out of respect, I cannot copy and paste it here but the contents of it essentially said that UK citizens in the EU contribute to the economy, whilst EU citizens in the UK are merely here for the money, competing for limited jobs and using the UK’s under-pressure public services.

Nobody replied to this person and I considered it for a moment but what do I say? How do I say it? Am I allowed to say it?

I don’t know how to engage in conversations about migration where people have opinions such as the one above. I haven’t learnt to distance myself from the issue – I cannot stand back and discuss like my acquaintance who posted the article. I just sat there and felt hurt. I told myself off for letting this person hurt me, this person who is a “friend of a friend” (on Facebook!). My insecurities, my identity issues rush to the surface when I read things like these.

You see, I want to be a well-informed, open-minded individual who is not afraid to hear other people’s opinions. I also think it’s important to challenge people’s views if you don’t agree but when it comes to migration, I am at a loss. I am a migrant, I will always be and when accusations of job-grabbing, public service-draining, etc. fly about, I feel like I am the one being accused. Now I know that people who know me don’t see me that way and I know that because some of them have told me. “No, it’s not you, it’s those other people.” And I know what they mean but it still pisses me off. It pisses me off because what they mean is: you look white, your accent is not that offensive to my ears, you have a job, you don’t dress a certain way (and by that they mean that I’m not a Muslim woman in visibly Muslim clothing), you don’t seem foreign (most of the time)…

Mental health and newsfeeds

When I talk about triggers I mean things that really hit me emotionally. I used to have depression and these days I feel fine but there’s always the chance that it could come back. I have the odd moment where I feel so overwhelmed that my heart starts racing and I just sob – like this morning at my desk. Winters are hard because of the lack of light. The referendum last year was hard because I felt like I wasn’t welcome. My newsfeed is hard because people say things about “the other” without thinking that someone in that group will read what they say. Do they say it to hurt? Do they want to offend people on the “other” side – that other religion, that other ethnic group, that other gender, that other sexual identity…

There are definitely people who make their points with a degree of decency and respect – they make me think and that’s good. But so much of our media, and that includes social media, is full of poison or what I perceive as poison. This is not about one comment on one post on Facebook. This is about what the most popular newspapers publish on their pages and websites every day. This is about the conversations I overhear on the bus. This is about hearing “for the many, not for the few” and having a suspicion that ultimately you’re not included.

Maybe I am too sensitive to certain things – I am sensitive when it comes to migration. I struggle to see where I belong in society because to some extent what defines who I am is that I migrated. The first few moves were out of my hands and then I made the decision to move here and I stayed.

So what do I do? Do I engage and challenge and argue? Do I read/listen to different perspectives on sensitive issues even though they might open up the gates to a place I don’t want to go? I am terrified of depression. It is the ugliest place I’ve ever been.

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The Good Immigrant: some thoughts on language and national identity.

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This is not a review. Just some thoughts on what struck me when reading this book. It brought up many memories of my own story and some thoughts that I would like to share.

First things first, if you don’t know about this book, go and check out their website at Unbound.

The Good Immigrant is a collection of essays by British black, Asian and minority ethnic writers, poets, journalists and artists. In this book, edited by Nikesh Shukla, they share some of their experiences of growing up in the UK, what it was like for them, the difficulties and joys they encountered and how they live now as British people with an immigrant background.

I found some of the stories very moving , like Kieran Yates’ On Going Home; stories of arrivals and departures always strike a cord with me. She also writes about language:

I know language can be painful, and so too do a generation of immigrants who have arrived here through different pathways. For them, language is the great battle to fight, and for many it’s a war you always feel like you’re losing. Even when you get the language, unless you shed your accent, you’re continually reminded of your difference.

Reading this brings up thoughts about my parents and the time we spent in the Netherlands when I was younger. I did not understand that it was harder for them to grasp the language than it was for my brother and I. I took to it with delight, I was excited to be able to communicate with people from so many different countries. My 11-year-old self thought Amsterdam was the best thing that had happened to me. Nowadays, I see how my parents suffered and I know that at least some of that was connected to language. Being able to communicate is essential when you’re an immigrant, especially when you’re an immigrant from the Global South in the Northern hemisphere.

For me, learning Dutch and English was the gateway to exploring ideas and ways of being in the world that my family perhaps did not understand or approved of. Above all, I saw language as a way of being accepted by the country where I thought I’d live indefinitely. Little did I know that we would all move to Spain, where my Latin American accent would stand out and where I’d be confronted with a people much more extroverted than I was comfortable with.

Being Latin American in Spain is an interesting thing, especially as an Ecuadorian. There are just so many of us! You’d think that’s a good thing but I hated my first few years in Spain. I hated that opening my mouth meant people would know I wasn’t from there. The few Latin American kids in my school disliked me and I must admit that it was my fault — I was judgemental and a bit of a snob. But language…language is still uncomfortable, painful sometimes. Spanish is uncomfortable even though it is my native language. I am not sure where it comes from but I always panic slightly when someone unexpectedly speaks Spanish to me. I have to mentally prepare myself for interactions when I’m on a plane on my way to Madrid. I have felt overwhelmed by emotion when listening to songs in Spanish, something that doesn’t happen at all when listening to music in any other language. Living life in English, including in my head, feels easier and safer somehow. Spanish feels like an earthquake.


There are other essays in The Good Immigrant that touch on the subject of language. In Namaste, Nikesh Shukla writes about his different voices. Reading his essay, I felt like he writes with a kind of assurance that I haven’t yet grasped. In fact, that is the feeling I got when reading many of the essays. I wonder if it is because many of the authors were born or grew up mostly in one country, whilst I lived in a few. Maybe it’s just my personality. In any case, I admire these writers’ honesty when sharing their stories. I admire their boldness. I sometimes wish that I could claim some kind of national identity — I was asked by one of my friends once whether I considered myself Spanish and I didn’t know what to say. All I could think is, what does that mean? The writers in this book mostly identify as British and even though it is an abstract, hard to define concept, I wish I could say it and for it to mean something to me.

I will leave you with some of the other essays that stood out to me:

A Guide to Being Black by Varaidzo
Kendo Nagasaki and Me by Daniel York Loh
Flags by Coco Khan
Shade by Salena Godden
The Ungrateful Country by Musa Okwonga

 

 

Media//Questions

I stay home
whilst nature takes revenge outside
With the world
pouring out from my screen
incoherent
wild
compassionate
angry
senseless

Would it be better
to go out into the storm?

Would my mind find refuge
from the stream
of images
of war?

Is it worth knowing
what happens,
if only for those
few
stories of hope?

Summer Colours.

A couple of weeks ago I posted my Summer in Grayscale. Well, this is the colourful side of summer. I’ve enjoyed this summer very much and I am thankful for all the people who’ve made it possible. Most of all, I am thankful to God for giving me the opportunity of witnessing such beauty. I’ve also been reading a book called Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi; it’s such a good book! Below you can see a photo of one of my favourite passages, where the author reflects on the purpose of a novel.
Earlier this year I went through some pretty sad stuff and one of my friends told me that maybe the spring would bring a little rebirth. The spring wasn’t that great but this summer has definitely felt like a renewal in lots of ways, especially emotionally. Apart from friends, family and the wonderful people I’ve been working with; taking photographs and reading Nafisi’s book have helped a lot, as has upbeat hip-hop! I am immeasurably thankful.

“There’s so much more to life than we’ve been told
it’s full of beauty that will unfold
and shine like you struck gold my wayward son…”
Josh Garrels, Farther along.

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The Med

I swim in the Mediterranean on a sunny day
its waters are warm
pleasantly, they rock me to and fro–
I lie on my back,
basking in the sunshine,
soaking up the experience
of swimming in this
expanse of water.

Miles away others lie face down
immobile
after their Herculean strife to
make it to this continent
in the pursuit of a dream.

Europe, you have become my home
but when this happens I am reminded
that I am an unwanted presence.

Je suis une migrante
And if it weren’t for a piece of paper:
I’d be un sin papeles
illegal
a target for unlimited detention
and deportation.

Today I am just another person
swimming in the Med
I travel across the Continent
without thinking of fences
and borders;
without fearing La Guardia
or the Home Office
But there was a time
when Dutch police
seemed intimidating to a gut-wrenching degree
And there are times when newspaper articles,
government campaigns and uninformed opinions
remind me that I don’t belong.

But it is much bigger than I am.
I wonder if I would still be human
were I trying to jump the fence in Melilla
or on a dinghy on my way to Lampedusa.

What does it take to belong?
What does it take to be seen?
Not as a victim or part of a crisis,
not as a number, not as a burden…
but as a person.

Some thoughts on what happened in Charleston.

Sadness; at the sound of your phone notification telling you that it happened. Again.

You imagine sitting in a prayer meeting and this happening in front of you. Because hatred runs deep in the South. But I’m not even from there. I’m on the other side of the Atlantic.
Why should I care?

Well, racism isn’t an American thing. It happens here too.We don’t have guns but it lives and breathes in the school corridors; and many sayings of European languages. It lives in the petty concerns of the privileged and in staff room banter.

I care because the people who died are my brothers and sisters. We share faith in Jesus. I care because they are fellow humans.

I care because it is indignant that people are using mental illness as an escape goat — yet again!

I care because this freedom-preaching, democracy-adoring society has a government
that claims to be waging a war on terror and they clearly do not recognise an act of terror when it stares them in the face.

I care because it doesn’t matter how many times we Tweet and share the disgusting fact
that we categorise criminals according to their race, it doesn’t seem to change anything:
Muslim; terrorist
Black; thug
White; mentally unstable “introvert”

I care because if anyone involved is listening, I’d like them to know that they’re not alone in their grief.

I am writing this because even if it doesn’t change anything and even though I know it will happen again. It is better to speak up joining the voices of those who are countering the clutter.

I am writing this because all I have is anger and sadness right now. And I am called to forgive and to love my enemies. Saying that it’s difficult is an understatement.
But I believe God’s grace is enough. And even though my heart rages at what the shooter did; Jesus died and rose for him, too.

We’re all mixed but… — A reflection on racism among Latin Americans.

I’ve been reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The many stories in this book have sparked thoughts, opened up old wounds, helped me understand my family better…and so many other things that will take a long time to process.

One of the things that I’ve been struck by is the shapeless, oppressive enormity of the issue of race in the US. I find the whole thing confusing to an embarrassing degree. More so because of sentences like “in America you do not choose what race you are, it is decided for you”. Throughout the book there are instances where the story briefly dips into how Latinos/Hispanics view themselves, how it works in the US. Apparently, I didn’t know this, “Hispanic” is also a race. And race is about sociology and the way you are perceived, race is about looks. It is not, as I’ve often thought, about heritage. I have often tried to explain to friends that where I come from people are of mixed ancestry — because of the way history has gone, in my family there have been people from different ethnicities and backgrounds. I thought the way I see myself, what I know about my history, should have an impact on my “race”. But I’ve learnt in the past few years that it doesn’t. People will tell you what you are and that’s that. So I gradually stopped arguing. People tell me I’m white, so I’ll be white. Even though I’m foreign wherever I go and that brings its own problems. I guess this post is me saying: I don’t care anymore. I will talk about it because it’s on my mind and because I care.

Whilst reading Americanah I came to the conclusion that many Latinos are in denial about this race business. Where I live there are very few Latinos so I haven’t had a conversation with any about this. So I went on the Internet, did a bit of looking around and found that Latinos are wary of identifying as black. I watched an AlJazeera news report about this blatantly racist advert that ran on local radio in Esmeraldas, Ecuador a couple of years ago — for some incomprehensible reason the people who made it and those who ran the radio station thought it was completely fine. And if that wasn’t enough, the comments section on the video was full of hatred. There is also a documentary about being black in Latin America, which I intend to watch. I am appalled by some of the things I’ve found. Just looking around it seems like any attempt at calling racism out in Latin American countries and in Latin American communities in European countries or in the US is met with dismissal. Apparently Latinos often hide behind the “we’re all mixed/mestizo” mantra. Call me naive but I didn’t know people did that. When I tell people that my ancestry is mixed, I’m not trying to erase the fact that there is discrimination and prejudice on the basis of race in Latin American countries, and particularly in Ecuador (where I’m from). Yes, we are all mixed. We are mixed because sub-Saharan Africans were traded by Europeans as early as the 16th century into what was to them “The New World”. We are mixed because when the Spanish and French and Portuguese were busy colonising (and “evangelising”) the native peoples of what is now Latin America, they also raped women. See the pattern? If you’re white European, please don’t see this as an attack. It’s not.

Latinos are mixed but that doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist. I haven’t lived in Ecuador for 15 years now. I left when I was little. But I remember looking around and clearly seeing the divide among races. And whoever is thinking that it’s about class and not race, think again. I was a child but I remember being told I couldn’t go in “that neighbourhood because that’s where all the blacks live, and it’s dangerous”. I remember going to the market, where all the white people bought groceries and the indígenas sold them. I remember my father talking about how he’d been hired at a particular job because luckily his skin wasn’t too dark and his accent not too heavy. I remember people on television being white, speaking a certain way, making fun of people who were different. Despite being Ecuadorian I was never encouraged to learn any local languages, either by my parents or school.

Racism — nowadays understood as a sociological system whereby people are discriminated according to the colour of their skin. A system that hands out privileges to those who fit the acceptable mold and hands out punishment and rejection to those who don’t — is an ugly thing. Just like with things like sexism, if asked a question about it, we’d all probably say “Of course I’m not racist/sexist/in favour of rape culture”. We don’t want to admit that something that is so ignorant and hateful perseveres in our societies, communities, and in our minds. We don’t want to admit that people who are otherwise kind and friendly harbour hateful thoughts and prejudices towards someone just based on the colour of their skin or the texture of their hair. It’s there though. There’s no point in trying to hide it. This goes for Latinos as well as for everybody else.