From Ariel: migratory consent and the definition of “home”

I found Ariel’s Feministe guest-post on migratory consent fascinating, particularly because it succinctly put into words some very immediate personal questions that I’ve been going over in my head for a number of years now.

Ariel’s makes the distinction between forced migration and voluntary migration, but leaves a lot of room in-between.  I’ve been wondering where I am on that spectrum, and also been wondering about the way how I sometimes present my own feelings about said spectrum to, say, some of my relatives  – those that do not approve of any voluntary migration whatsoever.

We left Ukraine at a very dangerous time, both for the country in general and for us specifically, mostly because the business my parents had set up was being preyed upon by local gangsters, and although we were never destitute in the States, it wasn’t always easy. My mother now faces the added struggle of rediscovering her Russian background – as an army brat, she was born in Russia’s far east before spending some of her formative years in St. Petersburg, before being uprooted again to Kiev. Taking all of this together, I can’t say that I will ever know for certain if I was personally “forced” into anything. I can get maudlin and melodramatic about the entire thing, but like I said in my previous post, I also know I’ve been fantastically lucky so far.

I hit a snag when trying to participate in Ariel’s exercise: drawing lines on a Google map between the place that I call home, the place that my parents call home, and where my people are from. My parents call two very different places home, first of all. My “people” came from different parts of the USSR. But the biggest problem is – I’ve no farking clue as to where home for me actually is! None whatsoever. Seriously.

Charlotte and Kiev would be the main suspects. But my idea of home also includes broad possibilities for a personal and professional future. Charlotte doesn’t seem like that place right now, and as for Kiev, I don’t tend to fit in a whole lot around here, no matter how blissed-out I feel in the surroundings. My work is in English, for one thing – not Ukrainian or Russian.

I used to have this notion that I could make a home anywhere I could write. That was pretty naive of me at the time. I write the most when I am in Amman, but I can’t call it “home” with any degree of confidence. And while I wasn’t nearly as productive while staying in Dubai, for example, I was also confident that I had my little niche there – a little spot on the food-chain. Go figure.

As much as I would have wanted to participate in the exercise, I realized that I can’t do it. Not today. And it’s an odd feeling – part sadness and part genuine excitement. Zadie Smith once wrote that there is a certain type of person who thinks they belong nowhere, but really belongs everywhere. Maybe I’m a little bit like Millat Iqbal (although I don’t believe I’ll be trying to shoot anyone at a press conference any time soon).

I think that Ariel’s exercise is something I’d like to bookmark for the years ahead. I think there’s lots of us Millat Iqbals out there, and as the world changes, there will be more. We have maps within maps. And while I accept the fact that they will always be growing, another part of me (maybe the obliging teacher’s pet part) just wants to draw three lines and stand back and marvel. 🙂

Thanks, Ariel, for helping me think.

4 thoughts on “From Ariel: migratory consent and the definition of “home”

  1. Someone recently told me that home can be defined by where you are most comfortable and safe; if the job is great and you are loved, “home” can be anywhere – geography becomes irrelevant.

    I’m hoping to grow into that one! 🙂

  2. This is super interesting. I knew this would hit a lot of chords for people — even people whose sense of home is a lot more localized than yours sounds like it is (ie, I’ve been unsure where home is, but I’ve never been choosing between Charlotte, Kiev, and Dubai!) I know a lot of people who don’t know where home is at this point, and even more who don’t know where their families’ “home” is. I feel like I am just starting to approach a sense of home at all, here in NYC, which is somewhere I have no history with; I am up against folks who have been here for generations.

    I really appreciated this post. I’m glad the exercise challenged you. I wish I could think of a way to make a map that had room for all of this ambiguities, or rather, I should say that I’m still working on figuring out how. It’s sort of antithetical to the idea of a map, which makes it great — and hard.

  3. I think about this quite often too. I say “back home” and I mean Baku; I say my home and I mean London…It is not easy, and I always thought of myself as not belonging 100% in either. But belonging enough to both, if that makes any sense. 🙂
    will go and read Ariel’s posting now. Thanks for this.

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