By Jasmin Singh from GEN M #1 “Generation Migrant”, 2017.
As a migrant and member of the Indian diaspora, I find the notion of home to be confusing and loaded. Disjuncture’s of identity are common to migrants and those from diasporic cultures.
Where are you from? Is often tied to difficulties in explaining my identity, I often pick the lie, the easy way out ‘I’m from Malaysia.’ But it’s never as simple as this.
Where do I belong? The question that is always in the back of my mind. The question gnawing at me as I prepare for a trip home this year.
I often call Malaysia my home. I say ‘I’m going back home for the summer’, but this is a lie. When I leave Malaysia, I have a sense of relief coming home to Auckland, a sense of comfort and home is often both places.
Home is Auckland and Ipoh and my mum’s village in India.
Taiye Selasi’s TED Talk ‘Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m local’ talks about how coming from a country, is suggesting you come from a changing concept. It is not based in experiences and complexities of belonging.
It is tied to notions of statehood. And often tied to notions of patriotism and nationalism.
It privileges conceptions of coming from a singular notion of a state as opposed to the large patterning of human experience that often forms the identity of migrants and members of diaspora
It resonated with my experiences of being asked where I’m from.
Often when Indian people around Auckland as if I’m Indian I respond, ‘No I’m Malaysian.’ Then they say but you look Indian and I retort ‘I am Indian but I’m from Malaysia.’
How do I explain an identity I don’t fully understand?
I don’t feel fully Indian, because I have never lived in India, but my mum’s family is from india, some of my fondest memories of my grandparents are from India, my cultural experiences are Indian.
I don’t feel fully ‘Kiwi’, I have lived in Auckland for 6 years and call this home, but for many I am a guest. But some of my most important formative experiences of being independent, learning who I am happened here in New Zealand. Most of my closest friends are from here. I am tied to this place through these.
I don’t feel fully Malaysian, even though my passport says I am. I again have fond memories of my childhood and adolescence there, I love the family I have there and I love the food. But even there I am unwanted, immigrant, foreigner, pendatang.
I am a jumble, a mix, a rojak, with my American accent, my crop tops, jeans and bindis, my love of rice and mee over chapatti.
The question of where are you from Selasi suggests is tied to power. Stating which country, you’re from tells people how much power you have. All these notions of identity are tied to nationhood and is something that migrants of colour need to learn to disentangle.
As Taiye Selasi says I am multi local, I come from my complex deeply layered experiences and not from the changing borders of nation states, but from the fragmented experiences of place that make me who I am.