Our guest writer today, Mostafa Haque. New York, United States of America. August 2020.
I’ve been an adult for around 9 years now – and eight of those I’ve spent on foreign soil. Going abroad always came with the questions of when and where, rather than if. This had more to do with privilege and less to do talent – though I do not claim to be untalented by any means! Some of the most talented people I know stayed back home to serve the nation and – by God – some of them have more than made their presence known.
We’ve all changed, I imagine, from the kind of people we used to be back in the day. At least, I hope we have. For me, though, the growth has come with a somber realization – my nation, my culture will never really accept me for what I am.
At the beginning of freshman year, when I was still talking fairly regularly to my fellow diasporic friends, they’d talk about how much they miss home. And they weren’t talking about just missing their friends and family – they were missing home in all its entirety.
I couldn’t quite relate. I missed my mother, my father. I missed my brother and my grandparents, of course. But I didn’t miss my old living situation. My mother, for the most part, kept me isolated from the more nuanced aspects of living in Dhaka. At the time I thought she was being overprotective, as many parents are. But she knew, maybe before even I did. My only chance at acceptance, beyond my family and close friends, lay beyond the border.
For a while, I reveled in the distance that now lay between me and what I once considered familiar. I reveled in getting to grow my hair out – at travelling at night without worry or a chaperone. I reveled in being able to practice my Faith without the Overly Faithful encroaching on my space. But more than that, I reveled in self-righteousness. I saw all the people around me who were different, and in them I saw an opportunity to “bridge the gap” as they say. For four years I toiled away at trying to “disprove stereotypes” and “finding common ground.” I was so drunk in my own self-righteousness that I began looking down on those who weren’t actively “trying to continue the conversation.” I looked down on people who were just trying to live their life under the radar – I saw their sense of self-preservation as cowardice and selfishness. I was wrong, of course. So very, very wrong.
And then, November 2016 happened. There were people I’d had lunch with every single day for the past 4 years. I thought my familiarity with them would stop them from voting for a man so transparently against my best interest. I was wrong.
There were people who confided their deepest secrets to me. They trusted me enough to bare their soul to me. I thought this trust would be enough to stop them from voting for a man whose platform relied on mistrust to function. I was wrong.
There were people who had taken me into their homes, who, unequivocally loved me. I thought this love would be enough to stop them from voting for a man who spread so much hate about me and people like me. I was wrong.
I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong. The next four years proved just how wrong I’d been. I saw rights stripped away, red-tape piling up. I saw, again and again the relentless engine of xenophobia march onwards. I saw the future I envisioned for myself crumbling away. But none of that hurt. Not until some of the people I had grown to love so much looked at the same exact events and smiled. All was well in the world, they said – four more years, they hoped. I did not understand. I did not understand how they could, with the same eyes as me, see the situation and not feel their blood boil. I did not understand how they could watch everything cascade into a sea of chaos and continue smiling. I understand it now though. When they said that everything was well in the world, they meant their world. I was never a part of it. I was always just a curio – the brown token to play when someone rightfully called out their xenophobia and hate.
I re-evaluated my friendships, some silently – some not so much. The people I still have in my life are some of the best people I know. And I will always be grateful to them. I feel genuinely loved now, but I felt genuinely loved back in Dhaka too. But the thing that is missing now is the same thing that was missing then – this nation, this culture will never really accept me for what I am. There are more good people here than bad people – I have no doubt about that. But my friends, my family their voices are stifled – across the Atlantic by corruption, and here in America by unrelenting, xenophobic fury. I am driftwood carried away by currents unending.So here then, is my dilemma: what does a person stranded in the currents between two hostile shores do? I can’t row any harder. But I can still scream.
And so I scream every day and every night: against injustice, against hate, against sheer self-centered stupidity. My mother and father warn me against it: I know they’re right – my screaming won’t change anyone. But I don’t scream for them. I scream for myself. I scream as a reminder that I still exist – that I am still here. I scream so I know this void isn’t empty that there’s something else here other than the two unwelcoming shores. I still hope though that my screaming emboldens others – that they join in if only to shout. Maybe one day, the chaotic choir would grow loud enough to change the tides – maybe it’ll rend a hole through this void. Or maybe it’ll just make the river louder.
I don’t know the future. But this piece of driftwood will keep on screaming.
New York University