I travel a lot. In many capacities, meet many people. I have one disappointment that exhausts me. I hear from people all over the place the language of Othering and the language of Hating. I see borders being drawn between people all the time. I am not even talking about the big levels like flagrant racism, flagrant nationalism. I’m talking about Othering on small levels. I mean saying that all those people are like that. I’m talking about a person’s sense of their own regional, communal, or individual exceptionalism. I hear it all the time in every common language; othering someone else even in their own community. Hating on other women, on other queers, hating on other artists, on non artists, hating on the mainstream. Hating on, judging on …
It exhausts me actually. I think, at the end of the day, we are all just more the same than different. I think that every act of violence that we see, from a hate crime to a school shooting to a beheading is a reflection of the structural violence of our society of which we ourselves play a role. I believe that we have to concentrate on our similarities, as a body of humans, rather than a our differences. I believe that we have to begin this process on the smallest levels. The most microcosmic.
Sometimes I like to sit. I like simply to sit. Like we did. Stop moving. See what will happen. Sleep outside on cardboard. Hitch a ride. Wait for what will and can happen. Sometimes we wait and see. Then to talk and speak based on what comes to us. Sometimes when we sit next to each other on the ground we understand better we are all the same.
I astounds me our level of disjuncture from people. From each other. We might say we are not judgmental against certain people. We might say we are not afraid of certain people. But what do we do to expand our sense of community to each other? What do we do to actually know people? I will speak for myself. What do I do. What can I do better.
We waited the other day outside the detention center at Milo, Trapani, Sicily. We both thought, we will not meet anyone this way. How could it happen? How will our project begin like this. But we were wrong. Our project began simply by coming. Sitting, being there.
We—Adrienne and I—through our music/performance group HYENAZ began our next project this week in Sicily. It is called “Foreign Bodies” and is about migration.
We took a city bus from central Trapani to a place called Milo where we thought the detention center might be. An old airport. We found it. I think we both thought—What will come of this, how will we get inside, how will we make connections? Our project, we thought, it cant simply just happen like this. But we were wrong. Not five minutes went by and some guys came out of the center who were filing papers, since they have to file papers at the jail. Imagine that. You have to file your papers at the jail as though you are already trying to prove you are not a criminal.
They were friendly and eager to talk to us, it wasn’t hard to make a connection. We told them about our project and already they invited us to speak to them in their homes—centers which are like group homes for migrants. One of them said to us, It warms my heart that you are here.
Here in Palermo there are plenty of homes for migrant young men living together. Receiving 2,50 a day. That is just pocket money so they can get around. They are expected to eat at home, the food given to them. They have “what they need” there. This pocket money and the roof over their head is meant to be enough. But how to integrate into a society that is obsessed with consumerism? That might be the real question of integration. How can you integrate when you cant go out to a movie, buy an icecream. When you cant go to university as an 18 year old young man or take a job.
Yesterday we were invited into a group home for young men under 21; basically what Germans call a WG where 11 young men live, many of whom are have no papers with them but tell us they are from Egypt, Gambia, Mali, Senegal. A person comes in three times a day, 8 hour shifts, she works 36 hours a week, as do the other educators. She says she gets paid 700 euros a month for this 36 hour shift, which includes sleeping at the group home. She hasn’t been paid in six months. Neither have the other carers, the educators.
The young men invite us to sit with them over their dineer. They each take turns cooking every day. I am eager to learn personal stories and to understand differences. I talk mostly to one person from Gambia, who tells me his story of being an orphan and leaving home where his uncle was abusing him. He left to go travel and work, but ended up in Libya. He said he got kidnapped in Libya, they try to get money out of the families. Jf they want to go back to Gambia, they get killed. It was hard to follow al the details, and I didn’t want to press him, so there were things that he said that I didn’t fully understand, things that remain unclear.
I want to stay with this idea of UNCLEAR and in face I want to be okay with it. I understood that he was kidnapped, that he escaped. I understood that he was forced onto a boat to Italy, that he didn’t want to come and that the boat in front of him, everyone died except one person. He was on the second boat. I understood that he was applying for political asylum and that the other boy with whom we spoke, who works as a translator, has a different status, called “humanitarian” asylum status. I understood that after these boys turn 18, the police can decide whether or not they can stay until they are 21. And then they are either turned onto the street or, if they have received a positive approval for asylum, they may have papers. In which case they might be able to legally work. But if they have received a negative, and they age out, they are stateless persons because they have thrown away their passports. I understand that at this moment it is okay that stories do not all make sense and fit together in perfectly logical order.
There is an obsession in our humanity to find the truth of measurements, where and when, how and which. To be able to document and record, often to quantify or put into numerical data, each and ever fact. If this were consistently applied and adjudicated over all swaths of society, there might be less to say on this, but it is clear that the scrutiny of detail is a thing we choose to use “hin und her” to our liking. Many people when asked might agree that one should have a legitimate “story”, a “right to asylum”. But how scared do you have to be to return to your country? Is it a question of statistics; that if you were actually to return, there must be 100% certainty that indeed you would be killed? Or is it enough to say “reasonable fear of persecution”? What about economic need, structural violence; is this so very different than direct violence? Is it important that all the facts are correct to a 100% certainty, to no degree of doubt?
I see that the discrepancy of facts does not matter all that much to me. I see that the OPACITY of a story is not that important. Nor do I think it should, to a larger public. Almost every immigrant I know has bent their story in order to get the outcome that they want. Whether it is a forged temporary health insurance, or a forged letter promising some “work as an artist” or a letter fabricated from parents saying that they would be able to financially sustain them, or a temporary bank transfer putting lots of money in her account so that it looks as though she has savings—these are all perfectly natural tactics of the first world’s brand of migrants. But to be orphaned and kidnapped, beaten and neglected, survived a boat ride with 150 people aboard a tiny dingy, the Italian and European governments must scrutinize the relative “danger” of this person in fact staying in their country of origin. In so far as the truth of this migration be “adventure” “fear” “searching” “persecution” or a mix of all of it, it does not concern me. I too came to Germany looking for adventure, for sexual freedom, for new identity. It is an adventure worth having as people.
What have we as nation states to lose?
To let down a loss of borders is like deciding to let go of ego itself. This is not different from how polyamory, multiple homes, multiple familial constellations and nonmonogamous sexual relations are so difficult. And this is why I see that we can work on our borders both personally and globally.
The idea that Africans coming to Italy is not different from Italians coming to the United States, or Australians coming to Europe or Brits coming to India, the idea that this is more similar than different symbolizes a loss of ego, the scary and subversive idea that we are a unified humanity with similar wishes and goals. That we have commonality in our differences.
To speak of cocks and cunts as more similar than different is loss of personal identity and ego, not so very different than saying that culturally Mexico and the United States are more similar than different. To let down the national borders, ethnic borders, is the same challenge to our ego and to our fundamental identities.
This is not different from refusing to OTHER—each other—even other the difference, the foreign we see inside our selves. The foreign body we find ourselves in fact occupying. This body I have with breasts and cunt. It is not so very different from any other. And yet I occupy this one. I could manipulate it, but still it would be then THAT body. Not so very different from any other.
Here is my question now for myself and others: seeing ourselves as more similar to the persons we see ourselves as most different from, rather than more different.