And we're back!
Before I continue, I would like to plug a podcast episode that I was a part of recently. You can find that here.
Here at Courage: To Question, I often tend to focus on macroscopic or plainly visible issues: ones that affect everyone on some level. However, with my laptop back from repairs, I decided to write about something a little bit closer to home. It is particularly pertinent because there is a lack of black (and non-American) voices about this. Though, I am aware that some may scoff at the body of text due to certain aspects of my socio-economic background.
When people meet each other for the first time, they usually ask:
Where are you from?
For most people, it's easy enough. You state your country's name, or in the case of some Americans I meet outside of the US...they say the name of their state first. I assume that this is because I have an Americanized accent.
However, I dread that question. It would be easy to say Mozambique. That is where I was born and that is where my passport is from. But to do that, would be to be dishonest to myself. Before I was 1 year old, I had already started what would be a long series of migrations. By 17, I had already in 4 distinct countries and cultures. And now, I can say I have lived the greater part of my life (>50%) outside of Mozambique.
Giving that short answer, rapidly grounds the discussion and lets people know who you are. In the case of Mozambique, it tends to be that they know nothing at all. Or they were bombarded with images about the floods in 2000, and the cyclones of 2019. Most people are not interested in the cultural nuances or social subtleties that are a part of my life, and fewer still would understand it.
And that brings me to today's topic.
The term is often used when someone has to forcibly move from one place to another, but has since grown to encompass other forms of migration. To be culturally displaced is to be in a constant state of liminality: to constantly cross thresholds. Your belief system tends to limit your ability to see clearly or be creative because you keep returning to the same ideas.
The most common forms of C.D. are:
- School-to-school (including primary to secondary to tertiary)
I have been fortunate (and thankful) to have experienced almost all of these forms. Worlds within worlds. Cultures within cultures. The benefits of C.D. are a robust cross-cultural experience the more one engages in it. Building empathy, and learning different ways to communicate, and that what language you learn first often colors the way you perceive and interact with the world (future blog post?).
Undergoing these constant changes built an adaptability and resilience that is difficult to put into words. I became open-minded and was willing to try almost anything once. Perhaps this made me too susceptible to new stimuli. But, I always maintain firm core values that were passed down by my parents (and extended family to a certain degree).
This also created, enabled, and nurtured a liminal identity. Being constantly aware that my identity is founded on multiplicity.
But, oftentimes, the reality of my life becomes heavy. Beset by loneliness, isolation, and sometimes existential angst. The realization that I can never truly share my experiences without getting side-eye from most people. Some of it comes off as snark, and the remainder comes through in the form of jokes that seem harmless enough of the surface.
Lamentably, monocultural individuals tend to have next to no comprehension of the loss of character that accompanies the larger variations of cultural displacement. Individuals need and/or want aggressive conformity with the goal that they don't have to consider how their experience is just one of a wide range of ones.
Additionally, moving from place to place tends to convey wealth and privilege. Regardless of how typical your starting points are or how modestly you recount your story, there's continually going to be a few people who feel that you're rubbing your life of privilege in their face. I have a couple of go-to stories that I use to share things about myself or my worldview, and afterward, I quickly move on. I maintain a strategic distance from tragic accounts and vocal self-reflection. I have built a collection of anecdotes, and use them sparingly.
Growing up, I quickly learned to not share details about my life. It is difficult to convey that for most of the places I have moved to, I did not get a say. I was swept along as my parents followed their dreams with grim determination. Do not get me wrong, I am thankful for these experiences.
But...there are times when I desperately wanted to be monocultural, and devoid of the knowledge that sometimes feels like a curse. Because it would be easier to connect with people, it would be easier on my mind and my soul.
Obliviousness brings illusion, knowledge brings reality, wisdom brings freedom. And since you've read up until this point, might as well keep going.
I often think about four flashpoints in my life that have profoundly affected me, for better or worse.
Being from one country, and growing up for most of your life in that country, means that you are constantly exposed to dogma (and perhaps propaganda) that can generally lead to patriotism. But this patriotism can sometimes devolve into jingoism, and both are founded on shaky ground.
Our histories, both familial and on a larger scale, are never truly known to us. We operate based on things that people (and governments) have deemed acceptable to share. What both have deemed palatable enough to be considered a general truth. There might have been resistance to this, but we'll never know.
I honestly cannot relate, because I feel borders are an outdated concept that have outstayed their welcome. They are used to justify violence (physical or otherwise), and benefit a relative few.
I was sexually abused as a child, by a woman. As you can imagine, it did wonders for how I processed relationships with women. Especially ones that I had physical intimacy with.
Of course, the sexual violence is overwhelmingly conducted by men (and boys), but it revealed to me that women can be guilty of the same thing. Regardless, it still is not taken seriously enough socially and institutionally. And it happens EVERYWHERE.
I am EXTREMELY, EXTREMELY fortunate to not be on the receiving end of racist treatment. Hell, I did not even think about it as a concept until I moved to South Africa.
I observed it around me, I heard tales from people, but I never had a direct experience with it myself. I always chuckled to myself whenever I heard South Africans refer to their own country as the Rainbow Nation. It was a term coined by Desmond Tutu to describe a post-Apartheid South Africa.
In my first month in the country, I found myself next to three black colleagues. I saw an attractive blonde (white) girl making her away across campus and guided their attention in that direction. As all young men are wont to do. Their reaction was visceral.
"Look at that hot girl."
"The blonde one in with the red top."
"Bru, why are you looking at white girls? That's disgusting."
And he spat on the grass next to us.
Rainbow Nation indeed.
But it gets worse. A gut-punch combo I never thought possible. During my time there, I experienced complete and utter discrimination against other black people (read: non-South Africans). Many times, I was looked at in contempt and perhaps even hate for being from Mozambique, or for not speaking one of the 11 official languages that were not English. While xenophobia and racism often overlap, the strand that is practiced by some black South Africans still leaves me dumbfounded.
I suppose it is easier to punch down, than to punch up.
It easy to fall into the trap of being an Anglophone and expecting the world to bow before you.
It is fitting that English is the lingua franca of the world, but not because of British and American dominance. Historically, English is such a hodge-podge of different languages that struggles to maintain its own grammatical rules.
Being in a relationship with women who did not speak English fluently, if at all, made me learn a lot more about communication. How to communicate with intent, about contextual transmission, about the economy of words (and yet I wrote so much here). I knew about all these before, but I engaged with them deliberately and often for brief periods.
This was different. It was daily. It became subconscious.
Being culturally displaced is difficult. Being black is difficult. I can only imagine that if I was part of the LGBTQ community, it would have been even harder.
Many people, even today, remark about how they would like to be in my position. Attempting to chase their dreams with every gasp of their breath. But, it is not easy.
It is not easy to leave the comfort of your parents (if you’re still fortunate to have them).
It is not easy to hold an immense sense of guilt when you're in an airplane. Knowing that more than half the world will never get to experience the joy of being above the clouds.
It is not easy to live in a place where you are a minority in a physical and mental sense.
It is not easy to deal with the dissociative effects of a unique blend of cultural displacement (not that that others aren't unique, but you know what I mean. hopefully).
It is not easy feeling being aware of that privilege, and yet feel that you should do more while staying true to yourself. And it is not for the lack of trying.
So what now?
For the past month and a half, I have thought about how to end this post. I wrote and rewrote, and I was never happy with the conclusion. So...I'm going to cheat and just add a divider.
I often see pieces of home in other people. Some grew bigger over time, some grew smaller, others disappeared completely. It’s this last batch that is often hard to process and archive for myriad reasons. The realization that for me, home is forever changing, a way of life that can never be returned to. A constant evaluation and reevaluation of what the word "home" is.