As we observe in the current discussion around immigration reform, recognizing and including foreigners may elicit strong emotional reaction and ongoing disagreement. A sense of oddness and disturbance is elicited by what is different, both in others and in ourselves. Foreigners, in their unusual behaviors and habits, tend to be experienced as an unknown threat, inhabiting an uncertain reality that we are unsure about digging into. In this era of globalization, I still wonder about what, beyond the easiness of traveling and the adversities that foreignness may impose, propels one to search for a place in another land. How does one choose to become a foreigner?
Obviously, there are the ones who are fleeing from war and poverty, looking for asylum due to despair, fear and exposure to violence. It is easy to think about them as not having a choice. Beyond that, I am left wondering about the brave ones who leave, and in which ways they are different from the ones who stayed. Along with Kristeva (1991), I wonder if the ones who left have always been foreigners from within, carrying throughout life a sense of not-belonging that has been left unheard for generations.
Immigrants have been flooding our consulting offices, in search for a place to create a narrative of their own experience of otherness. Louise came to see me when feeling stuck in her creative life, not able to find a voice in a foreign land. She wondered if she became a migrant to deal with what was unspoken in her immigrant family history. Being a foreigner has become a way to join her ancestors, travelers for whom travel itself became a familiar place. Being misplaced, dislocated, uprooted, and nomadic made Louise feel at home. Her grandparents fled, only to establish themselves in a country where they have never been included. The marks and masks of her past were so completely present in her immigrant status and, in an uncanny way, made her ancestor's history real and extremely disorienting. As Bowles (1949) poetically describes, travel itself may bring about an 'illusion ofimmobility'. Moving around became the one and only possible solution to Louise's dilemma in an attempt to make sense of inter-generational experiences of inner homelessness. Like Louise, immigrant displaced souls wander, trying to find what they may have once lost in a very distant past, claiming to fight ambiguity and exclusion. In their brave act of leaving, they force us to encounter the otherness that has also been silently haunting us from within throughout generations.
Bowles, P. (1949). The sheltering sky. New York: Ecco Press.
Kristeva. J. (1991). Strangers to Ourselves. New York: Columbia University Press