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By Paniz Hosseini

Instagram: @Panizniz

I moved to the UK at the age of three all the way from what I sometimes call my home town, Rasht, Iran. See, that’s the funny thing, I only sometimes call it my hometown, because I never really know where home is anymore. Sure, I have been living in the UK for over twenty years and now in London, specifically for over half of this duration. I have my family, friends, loved ones, and a physical house here. I have memories of school, university, and work environments. I’ve been to places all around the world, and when it’s time to come back home after a long day, my home is here.

But you must understand, it’s hard for me to call the UK my home when it’s hard to feel welcomed by some who don’t see you as “British”. It’s hard to believe that the UK is your home when people ask you where you’re from, but when you tell them you’re from London, they reply, “oh no, I mean, where are you originally from?”. It’s hard because, throughout my entire childhood, I lived in a small city in an area where my family and I were the only people from a different ethnic background. I could see the way people acted around my parents; I could feel the judgment from my fellow peers at school, where I was the only “foreign kid”. I felt like an outsider, like someone who shouldn’t be with these people, even though it’s hard to feel this way at the age of nine. It got to a point where I avoided telling people where I was “from”, told my parents to stop speaking Farsi with me when around my classmates, and just generally did everything a kid could do to hide their identity, their culture.

It was no easier in Iran, where you get treated differently, like royalty, for being from the UK. Some think you are better than them, while others just make fun of the British accent laced in your Farsi. You sometimes really want to look them in the eye and tell them it wasn’t easy to learn a different language, or that you are just another human being like them and want to be treated as normal, to belong somewhere just like them. Even though I go back “home” to Iran every summer to visit my family, it’s hard to call it my home when I look around me and don’t recognise all the roads, houses, and people. I’m grateful to have my family there, who I have countless memories with, but I have no friends, no school, university, or work memories. I don’t know what it would be like to be a young adult there, or what it would have been like to be a teenager or a kid, and sometimes I really wish I could know. It’s funny because even when I’m there, I always must again return “home” to London.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that people like me have trouble calling anywhere our home because we have bits and pieces of life missing from all these places we come from, live, and move around in. We have had stages in life where we didn’t know where we belonged, if we belonged and how long our isolated identities would roam around for. I am twenty-three years old and still don’t know where exactly “home” is, but I can tell you that home needn’t be just a city or a country. Home can be where happiness, love, and euphoria are, where the people we feel most alive with are and where our favourite restaurants, beaches, nature, and moments are. For that reason, home is not one fixed location, but a feeling that may change and adapt with you over many years across all areas of the world.

I am happy to say that throughout the past years, I have been in touch with my identity and my culture, both the Persian and British. I no longer need to hide my culture, my identity, language, or anything in between, but rather try to wear it like a heart on my sleeve, exposing myself to the world for who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming every-day. To the people like me, who don’t know where to call home, or to those of you who have tried to hide all the wonderful parts of your identity, know that your uniqueness, history, and experiences have shaped the person you are today, and that is nothing to hide. Rather, it is time to embrace it and express it in the world around you.

Homes change, people change, but your identity will always remain with you. How you choose to embrace it is up to you and only you. Do not fall into the stereotyping, judging, and belittling of those who know little of your identity. Speak up on all the dynamic elements that have shaped you into the person you have become, whether your home is one place or a thousand and one.

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Identity International.

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By James Alexander

Contributed by author: “Self-Portrait”

I feel as if I am on a journey, rapidly progressing from one understanding of the world to another. I’ve learned that happiness is fleeting, but that contentment and love may endure.

It’s my life’s hope to reconcile my identity with love.

Looking at a photograph of myself from 20 years ago I could say “that’s me”, but I wonder how true it is as an identity claim. My hair has darkened, I’ve grown taller, and my interests have since expanded beyond ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’. To discuss the importance of personal identity first requires the acceptance that there is such a thing as identity. Herein lies the problem, defining oneself when one feels that there is more than one true self. With much of our understanding of identity rooted in psychological continuity, I’m left wondering what’s left if streams of consciousness divide and discontinuity prevails.

My parents first met as patients in a psychiatric unit and would later continue to frequent psychiatric care. My formative years were defined by periods of instability, danger, emotional, and sometimes financial impoverishment. When I think of right and wrong, I wonder where incapacitation by mental illness, addiction, or transgenerational trauma fits into this sometimes-simplistic narrative. My parents made the mistake of being poor in a rich and unequal nation, and over their lives have suffered immensely. Statistically speaking I’m a textbook case for an identity founded upon a fixation with one’s internal mental state. Being born into the perfect storm of genetic fallibility and adverse childhood experiences have made certain that I could do no other, but to be this way.

A person detained involuntarily under the mental health act once told me: “You get it don’t you? You’re one of us!” I was one of ‘them’ not by virtue of sharing a mental state per se, (I shared the space with them because of my work) but because my curiosity and desire to empathise necessitated a suspension of belief in the reality around us. My stoic retort ensured that they did not know the veraciousness of their questioning assertion. I don’t know whether it was an astute observation, or a lucky guess primarily designed to catch me napping. Either way, conceptually they weren’t wrong.

"When things are bad, imagine a sound akin to T.V static. A sound that encroaches and builds relentlessly in my mind to a crescendo that robs me of all focus and slashes at my remaining tether to a shared reality."

It’s a truism to say that we all hear voices, you’re hearing one reading this now. Moreover, we’ve all experienced stimuli that weren’t really there: a vibration of a silent phone in one’s pocket, or sighting a mysterious figure transiently synthesised from the shadows against one’s wall. These are harmless and no barrier to the prerequisite of sanity that is required for the superficial shared reality that our societies rely upon. Issues arise however when one’s inner mental state is projected upon the external environment and the incongruity causes disconnect. What does one do when they feel that they are going mad, and has seen the consequences of madness first-hand? Can one, with appropriate help, think oneself back to the safety of sanity? Or, do we merely delay an inevitable demise? Cycling through sanity and insanity ad infinitum, always pushing Sisyphus’ boulder and cruelly ‘living’ in absurdity, until we live no longer.

I’ve heard and seen things that lie outside of a shared reality. I’ve heard voices, heard the thoughts of others, seen invisible images, and felt colours burrow their way into my mind. These distortions of a reality, not perceived by others are real only to me, but through my experiencing of them, remain real. When things are bad, imagine a sound akin to T.V static. A sound that encroaches and builds relentlessly in my mind to a crescendo that robs me of all focus and slashes at my remaining tether to a shared reality. Colours desaturate and an intractable melancholia pervasively cleaves reality into irreconcilable fragments. Me, myself and I are left to pick up the pieces. Likewise, I’ve wept at the mercy of ecstasy, colours so intensely saturated and deep that I could bathe in their form and expression. This euphoria feels like nothing else; it is the height of passion and is wholly consuming.

I am wary of romanticising or fetishising the intricacies and outcomes of an altered mental state. A protracted state of elation does not allow for a meaningful quality of life and can turn destructive.

The more that I read, converse and think, paradoxically the less I feel that I understand. How impossible it can be to understand the world in any way that is not merely a superimposition of our internal reductionist frameworks onto the external world. I believe that this question of relating the self to the non-self is something that we must all in time come to face. Wherever one lies on the spectrum of sanity, our negotiations intra- and inter-self become, by definition, the very basis of who we are in this life. In recognition that words are merely the shadow of experience; I include a sophomoric attempt to visually represent the expression of these thoughts. I invite the reader to observe the image and allow it to serve as a bridge between my introspection and the mind ubiquitous. Within each one of us is something identical and yet entirely distinct, the very foundation of our identities and presence.

"I’m coming to the realisation that through it all, I was loved, but that love isn’t always expressed kindly or altruistically. "

I used to fear that if my stream of consciousness were to separate, that it may never reconvene. [For] now stable, owing to years of introspection and help, I instead relish this existential challenge. I’m developing systems of thought that focus on what the right way of thinking is, focusing on processes rather than outcomes. So rarely do we ever pause and wonder whether an experience or information matters because of how it makes us feel.

I’m coming to the realisation that through it all, I was loved, but that love isn’t always expressed kindly or altruistically.

I work in a prestigious field centred around caring for others, but it is underpinned by conservative social hierarchies and power structures. Thus far, I’ve been disappointed by the surface-visible lack of diversity of opinion and experience. I’ve become accustomed to a prevailing institutionalised misunderstanding that anything lying outside of traditional mechanisms is a threat to the survival of the field. Instead, I believe that to best care for others, to best explore the feelings and wellbeing of another, to best understand the human condition, we must change our ways. We need to think more deeply about ourselves and others. This is imperative if we are to better professionally understand suffering and injustice and to remedy them with due conscientiousness. We need to start from a position of knowing the self, and how we may best express love. I believe that a well-reasoned and righteous internal compass underpins our ability to best love. We owe it to ourselves and everyone else.

My journey of knowing the self revolves around best understanding love. I’m actively rewriting a narrative that would have otherwise consigned me to a life of miserable instability, whilst accepting some of the inevitability of my predetermined identity. I’m learning of the moral ambiguity of how love may be expressed so that I can learn to be more compassionate and to forgive, and to love more and love better. I have no doubt that I owe my life to the love and intelligent actions of others and I recognise its power as a transformative force. Ultimately, I desire to love and to be loved, and because of the journey of knowing myself, and the impact of others, my life’s hope is cordially progressing. For this, I am immensely grateful.

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Identity International.

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By Bava Dharani

Twitter: @bavadharani101

Source: Edgar Su/Reuters

I am Singaporean, Singaporean-Indian. On my national identity card, my name is written in English, then underneath it in Tamil, my mother tongue. The Indian population makes up about 9 % of the population here, most of which came during the late 1800s to early 1900s as labourers, merchants, and civil servants. My family came as labourers.

I studied in SOAS, London. The friends I met there allowed me to imagine a lifetime of learning. I am very grateful to them. I also realise the enormous privileges afforded to me, to be able to study, dig up, collect, and write these stories as someone in a Western university.

This idea that our histories are separate. That what happened in Singapore and Malaysia in the 1960s did not in some form impact India. Or England even. If we dare to even claim that sort of power over the Global North. I think this distance- that colonial historical narratives have drawn between us, between our communities, between our histories- is the biggest inhibition to our coming together. One incident helped me understand this, which I’d like to share.

Not too long ago, my family tried to gain more information about the villages from which my ancestors might have come from. This led us to a village called, Karisalkullam (Black pond) in Madurai, Tamil Nadu; my grandfather’s village. He had a family there before he had travelled to other colonies in Southeast Asia prior to settling in Singapore. It was an incident in this village that has left a deep impact on me and made me understand how my life was connected to that of my aunt’s- my atthai’s.

In Karisalkullam, my atthai lived in a small brick house painted bright green. My parents and I went in after praying at our family goddess’s temple nearby. As the afternoon passed, I had to use the washroom. Of course, my atthai did not have a washroom, she used a more environmentally conscious method that involved going out in the open with a bucket. Something I have not been accustomed to. I tell my mother that I need to use a washroom, she tells my atthai while snickering the whole time, covering her embarrassment of how whitewashed I sound.

My atthai calls out to another woman, and three very loud children come with her. This woman takes me with her to her house, her three kids follow, giggling very loudly at the purpose of my visit to their house. She tells me how her house is the only house that has an “English toilet” in the entire village. I listen and nod. She tells me how she had this toilet built because her husband makes good money from Dubai. Her husband was a construction worker in Dubai and has been for years. She then tells me how the entire long row of houses where her house is situated, all the husbands and young men are either in Dubai, Qatar, Malaysia, or (while brushing my shoulder lightly) Singapore.

I reach her house, and I see her toilet. The toilet is the first room at the entrance of the house. I walk in, and it is the cleanest toilet I have ever been in. It was a toilet at a showroom. I was confused, but I then realised that no one actually uses this English toilet, rather it was a status symbol. South Asian people are known to do that. Conventionally they love buying gold, so this English toilet was a more unconventional symbol. But a symbol, nevertheless.

I come back to my atthai’s house, and I sit with her. Her father had left for Malaysia or Sri Lanka under the pretext of finding work. And this woman, the one with the only English toilet in Karisalkullam, her husband is now in Dubai. Very different times, very different labour migration routes, and yet the idea of working abroad is a promising future for you and the preservation of your community.

To imagine this possibility, that these stories too are deserving of books, poems, and learning. People have moved, and people are moving, and people will move. These people get written with such little words in the news and are often reduced to only figures and case numbers that receive little attention. It is wild just to imagine the stories behind each case file. When I was working as a paralegal in this small employment firm after graduating from law school, I saw hundreds of case files. Hundreds of names followed by coded numbers. Some have committed petty crimes, some were complaining that they had not received their payments, and some were badly injured. Imagine if you traced each story, and each person’s journey, to their village home where the story of how they have gotten an English toilet awaits you.

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Identity International.

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