Affected by Encounters

Today and yesterday, I had the pleasure of conversing with a very mobile man who has moved around a lot, but who considers himself as remaining to be rooted in Palestine, and who qualifies himself as “half-Gazan, half-West Bank.” He said that many of his family members had perished in Gaza. He is safe here in the UK, he said. Yet, his own safety comes with heavy emotional luggage. He lives a good life here, “Thanks, God,” he said, as he touched his chest with his lightly clenched fist, which he then he brought to his lips, and he ended his gesture in gratefulness to Allah by looking up above us. He said that although life here is not perfect, he is painfully aware of the struggles back in his homeland: that his people suffer and die every day. His own survival comes with guilt: how about the rest of his family, the rest of his people? His being in the UK, he acknowledges, is a contradiction to this survival, as he knows that this very empire caused this contemporary suffering, and that it continues to fan the flames of war in Palestine by supplying its Zionist occupiers with weapons that attack his own nation.

I am thankful for this conversation because aside from meeting a new friend, it also gave me a moment to reflect on my own existence, as a perpetual migrant, and as a migration scholar. As migration scholars, how heavily and deeply do we allow our personal and academic lives to be moved by such everyday encounters? Sitting in front of our computers, like what I am doing now, requires an intense engagement with the pages of typewritten text before us. We experience an everyday pressure to produce — transcribe some minutes of interviews, encode this, read that… But migration is real and it is beyond these many forms of text. It is everywhere, and we are affected by it and by the stories that migrants carry with them, every time, even in places such as this basement of the building where I now sit to work, and where such conversation is unexpected. Now back from our respective field sites, we have the task of writing up, but where do we start when daily, our newsfeed brims with stories of Filipino workers trapped in many miserable conditions, and when unexpectedly, stories come down and follow us to the basement?

He would like to move to another place again, this man that I met told me. “Where the weather is good, and where the summer is real.” I laugh at that note, because he pointed to the portable radiator that I had left turned on to warm my legs, and continued to tell me, “Look at you, it’s summer, and you’re using the heater.” We will always encounter stories such as these that will touch us, and that will propel us to glance away from our engagements with our “personal” computers, and to instead allow ourselves to be unsettled outside our field sites, to be affected, to be sad a little bit, to place our relatively comfortable lives in juxtaposition with the stories of many others around us, to give a moment for other stories to settle in. Giving advice is easy, and I told this man that he is exactly in the country where he could make impact, evoke solidarity, and organize with people who believe in his cause. I want to tell myself the same advice and I hope myself listens intently – affirm solidarity with Filipinos and other migrants everywhere, listen, be heard when you need to be heard, to not settle for second-class citizenship because all humans need to be treated fair and square. Like this half-Gaza-half-West Bank man, I also often crash and think about the contradictions embroiled with my own privilege. What about my only brother who remains in the Philippines as all of his immediate family members have gone overseas making a living? What about the over 10,000 Filipino workers who could not board the last chartered ship leaving war-torn Libya? But privilege acknowledged is a tool, not a burden. And so, we must continually pause to listen, be in solidarity in thought and in action with many other displaced peoples, and continue to write.

August 15, 2014  @ COMPAS, Oxford U

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