Friday, February 25, 2011

On Belonging

So I had a semi-existential crisis last night before finally succumbing to that flighty temptress known as sleep about identity and culture and nationality. In my mind I was arguing with my parents about how they, and my extended family, just assume that I will settle down in the Emirates after Grad school (or God forbid after graduation if I don't get into said Grad school) and build a life there, because it's where we (my siblings and I) belong.
          There's just one tiny problem with that: I've lived abroad my whole life.
I was born in Geneve, moved to Brasilia for four years, then Paris for five, spent all of two school length years in Abu Dhabi and have been living in New York ever since, 10 years this August. Other than that fleeting pit stop in the Motherland and approximately a month every summer to visit family, I've never considered Abu Dhabi home. So how could I belong there?
          Can you really belong in a place where you don't feel comfortable in your own skin, unless you're with family? I'm going to have to interact with strangers/be alone sometimes, I can't realistically always be with my cousin or siblings or parents or holed off at home like an anti-social hermit.

There's no place I feel more comfortable than New York City. But, then again, I'm not American either.

I can only come into the country with my student visa and all hell would break loose if I lost my I-20 these days.

          [Sidebar: I did at the end of this summer and ended up missing a week of school, getting into arguments with my mates and lover, and having an emotional breakdown. Not a fun time]

There might as well be a flashing tattoo on my forehead that says "FOREIGNER." I'm a New Yorker at heart, I know I belong within the confines of this city...but I can't stay here forever either.

It doesn't help that my parents are currently living abroad and have done so for most of my existence (other than, again, brief stints in Abu Dhabi), so I feel that their argument should be rendered moot. Try telling that to them though.
Photo Credit:
          [Sidebar 2 (because I get distracted easily): I wish I had one of those/they actually worked. It's an alethiometer, brought to life in Philip Pullman's wonderful series His Dark Materials and is actually pretty awesome. Wot it is/how to read it:]

          I feel like I need to clarify that the Emirates is a beautiful and (depending on who you ask, the next part does not apply to Dubai) wonderfully culturally rich country. When people ask me where I'm from I have never said "New York," but I always say "The Emirates" out of pride and heritage and, well, there's so little of us Emaraties left that it's also partly to keep alive a culture that is, due to globalization, being pushed out of existence. I love it, and love visiting and spending time there...but I can't see myself living there.

Time to go.