I’m facing some personal upheaval at the moment, it is good just stressful. This has made me ruminate on a few things. Once casually in conversation a friend mentioned that traveling to the Pacific Islands was the first time she had been marked visibly as an outsider or not a local. She is white and had traveled mostly around Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I balked a little when I heard that. The concept was so bizarre to me. There has not been one place in my life where I have not been marked as someone that is other. Even in Malaysia and in India there is something about me that telegraphs ‘not from here’ despite the markers of my face and skin. Perhaps it is the way I dress, or the way I carry myself, I’m not sure. There is not a single place I have been in my life where people haven’t looked at me and asked “where are you from?” It was something I hadn’t really considered I suppose, the idea that other people can pass in places in a way I can’t, even in my home country. It is a strange thing.
I have no idea what it is like to have that seamless belonging. To be somewhere and know that everybody here looks like me, that I obviously without a doubt or question belong right here in this space. Perhaps that is why I am so passionate about the concept of safer spaces, because deep down I know that no public place anywhere is truly safe for me, because I don’t belong. This is a confronting thought, even for me to face it for myself. I will always be other. I have no choice about that fact. It is a simple truth.
There are places I call home, there are places that I have such connection to and feel so deeply about that sometimes I feel physical longing when I’m not there. However my belonging there is never just accepted, it is always questioned. “Where are you from?” “How did you get here?” “Why are you here?” valid questions to the people who ask them, but to me reinforcing the knowledge I have always had but often denied. I am other.
My safe spaces are ones that I fight for and defend at all costs, because their denial, is a denial of my right to have ‘home’. A place where I belong, where I am accepted and I am free. My community is one that I have built for myself over time, it is about shared values, but it is not a community that people can look at and say ‘you belong here.’ I make a conscious choice everyday to be a part of and engage with my community, not only because I love it and want to nurture it, but also because if I don’t, then my community might disappear and where would that leave me?
I am not from here but I am of here. I have laid blood sweat and tears here. I have grown here and I have flown here. This is my place and you cannot take it from me.