We, the Diaspora

Photo by William Bayreuther on Unsplash

Much is to be said about the diaspora, whether forced political displacements or voluntary transnational mobility, whether expatriate communities deployed for a certain time or immigrant groups for the long haul. We come in varying forms as first- or second-generation, third-culture kids or with mixed heritage. They say:

So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here. 
Never enough for both.

Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Questions for Ada

Being foreign for “here” is a given. Yet there is indeed a distinct phase when one arrives to a sense of otherness where home used to be. Perhaps they came to visit and found that certain things were not the same as before. A longstanding tradition did not evoke the same assurance as it used to. A shared ritual did not leave the same comfort once enjoyed. An unspoken rule now seems absurd. The private jokes and pop culture references do not have the same effect anymore. They have changed, for better or for worse. And there it comes, the sense of loss ―vague but loss nonetheless.

Saudade (Portuguese):
a bitter-sweet melancholic yearning
for something beautiful that is now gone:
perhaps a love affair, a childhood home,
a flourishing business.
There is pain yet also a pleasure
that such loveliness once graced our lives.

The School of Life

Grieve but do not be defined by our real and imagined foreignness. When we think about ourselves as part of the diaspora continuum, we are transcending our original roots and building new ones. Someone described metaphorically that perhaps, we are a tiny flower forming roots weighed down by piles of dead leaves brought by the previous season, burdened by the weight of resistance. But why limit oneself? What if each of us is a garden of our own and the new roots we are allowing to form are just one part of our multidimensionality as a complex human being, yet another addition to our ever-growing spectrum as a person.

Our sense of ancestral kinship and national identity may fade but only because they are replaced by the irreversible and sustained act of intertwining with different peoples who may not exactly look like us but feel like us, that our concern for politics and economics transcend the geography of our birth; that truly and not just giving lip-service, our ethics and principles of humanity and sovereignty apply to peoples other than our ethnicity. Ultimately, our sense of belonging becomes rooted in diversity and the overarching call for equity.

And so because of diaspora, we are not exposed to the danger of lives lived in closed circles in perpetuity lending to exclusivity. True enrichment comes from not developing an acute incapacity to grasp nuances and subtleties outside the similarity of faces and limiting experiences we choose to encounter.

And yet exactly because of this, our dynamics with families we were born with are forever altered. To those whose loved ones were left behind, they have struggled in our absence as we did. There is the unfolding implicit loss of a family member, the empty chair whose person would rarely come to visit. And when they do, they come in a different form ― bringing about disparity in thought, in language, in capacity, moreso in economic mobility creating a sense of lopsidedness ― real or imagined.

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@allecgomes?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Allec Gomes</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/vacant-brown-wooden-armless-chair-9xpnmt41NKM?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Unsplash</a>
Photo by Allec Gomes on Unsplash

And yet exactly because of this, may we develop appreciation for people who opt to stay in all-too familiar structures since birth. May we be comforted by those who safeguard cultural heritage grounded in inclusion. In the same vein, may we be grateful to those who protect family togetherness with openness for others who do not look like them. In the face of the history of movements of peoples, forced and voluntary, among lost arts and dying indigenous languages, may we celebrate them. They weave a rich tapestry of connectedness, finding an audience among us, sometimes with deep longing, in the postmodern digital but disconnected age.

And so within the blanket of the diaspora in our own quiet individual rootlessness, in the tragedy of our isolation and collective nostalgia, in our vague yet palpable sense of loss and assimilation; here’s to us who’ve had to reinvent ourselves so many times that we’ve lost count, to us who’ve had to redefine the concept of home, family and belongingness. We, who weave our own narrative by piecing together our origins and our journeys, may we celebrate the uniqueness of our own story and its commonality with those from generations before us ― the same and the only human race in centuries-old diaspora.

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