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.

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

 

 

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.

The evening of November 4th.

It’s been an evening jam-packed with interesting links to photographs, articles and videos. From hearing Zooey Deschanel, Zach Braff and other well-known people read mean tweets aloud to reading about a journalist’s struggle with anorexia, it has been an evening of letting my curiosity roam free and explore. My head explodes with information as I think about how late it is, 23.28 – I should be sleeping, not writing. Since my over-stimulated brain will find it hard to sleep, I thought I’d give publishing my spontaneous thoughts a go. I wonder why I spent a whole evening reading about all these things: it’s kept my mind busy but I think there may be more to it. I’ve been out of my head the past few hours, it’s nice. But is it a healthy exercise or pure escapism?

Anyway, if you care to read/watch some of what has occupied my evening, here are some links:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2000/jun/21/fashion.hadleyfreeman A very old article but well worth a read. The writer shares some thoughts on anorexia, her own experience with it and how it all relates to the fashion industry. It’s not your typical blame-it-on-the-fashion-magazines kind of article.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFXl27z5sIE A teenager’s words and joyful tears.

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/facial-changes-caused-by-smoking Interesting. Seeing the external effects of smoking might be helpful for some people.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/bolz-webers-liberal-foulmouthed-articulation-of-christianity-speaks-to-fed-up-believers/2013/11/03/7139dc24-3cd3-11e3-a94f-b58017bfee6c_story.html An article about a woman who leads a church in Denver. One of my favourite lines in the article: “She’s a tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left.”

http://www.aviddetention.org.uk/ Associacion of Visitors to Immigration Detainees. I’ve been looking into volunteering to help refugees or migrants. My heart aches at the thought of what happens in detainee centres. I used to live close to one in a southern European country and sometimes you could hear people cry at night… I might write some more on this subject another time.

http://www.ted.com/talks/hetain_patel_who_am_i_think_again.html Who am I? Think Again, by Hetain Patel. I watched this for the first time about a week ago. Insightful. Entertaining. Funny.

I started writing this more than half an hour ago…I’m so slow =( Ah well, please feel free to comment and let me know what you think about any of these topics.

Yessica Dædalus.

On unaccustomed earth.

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.

– Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom-House”

Thinking about migration.
Sometimes I can see how interesting it is to have travelled and seen so much of the world in such a short period of time. On bad days my being yearns for some sort of tangible collective identity, I want to claim a nationality, a language, a culture – I want one of those things to be mine, to define me. It never works. I know that even if I could fully identify with a specific culture I’d always be painfully aware that culture doesn’t answer the question of who I am.
Reading this quote reminds me that there is something very valuable in having lived in different places, however painful the experience. Unaccustomed earth can be confusing, extremely painful, humiliating at times… But if you choose to endure and learn to walk on it (even when it stings) you flourish. That sounds much better than longing for “the same worn-out soil”.

– Yessica Dædalus, 2013