Not long ago, I told a friend how I felt rootless. And I don't mean it as in not having a background, or tradition and ancestry or culture. I mean how it feels like to not know where your home is. Something more in the line of… un-rooted, I guess.
I haven't really been able to let go of it ever since. I thought perhaps, writing would still that aggravating itch that the subject has left in me, or at least, perhaps spilling my guts will close the subject at least momentarily. But the more I contemplated on writing, the more it got me thinking. And I realized that I have to follow this through if I ever want the feeling of being lost to leave me be.
I was born in Sweden in 1985, to a Persian couple in their late twenties/early thirties. I have been raised here together with two younger siblings, and in the eyes of my friends, and in some ways even my parents, I am now a Swedish woman.
But I’m not, am I?
My parents, proud of their language and culture, have done the best to raise me exposed to both sides of this coin, and I grew up a bilingual child who celebrated both Christmas (not for religious reasons, but because it was a festive and happy holiday in the midst of cold and dark winters) as well as Norouz, the Persian New Year, during the spring equinox. They never felt that making me aware of my heritage would make me any less Swedish. Rather, they felt that being a part of two worlds would only make me that much richer, and they gladly made me part-take in traditions and festivities from both sides of my cultural map, which I thank them for.
But, I will never look like a Swede. Now don’t get me wrong, Swedes these days aren’t all blond and blue-eyed. But they naturally don’t look like they came from the Middle-East either. And I don’t blame people for taking one look at me and thinking immigrant, even though it is technically incorrect. And I never find it offensive when people ask me where I’m from, because I find curiosity to be quite natural. But, I never see myself answering that question with “Sweden”, while in Sweden. That’s not what they’re asking of me - really. They want to know where I came from originally. And I myself find it so much more natural to answer with "Iran". I look Persian, I speak Farsi, my parents are from Iran, what is there left?
Only the fact that I’m not really at home in Iran either, that's what’s left.
In Sweden, I will always be a girl whose name will bring her trouble at job interviews. They can’t even tell my sex by hearing my name, and let’s not forget to mention the fact that they can’t even pronounce my last name correctly, since the first letter doesn’t exist in their alphabet (I don’t hold this against them of course, that would be ludicrous). And regardless of the fact that this country is quite open-minded in comparison to, oh say its neighboring countries, prejudice is a fact. I will always be just a little bit off. Just a little bit wrong.
And in Iran, I will be the one who dresses a bit too different, acts a little different. The current situation there is not liked by its population, but growing up in a society at least makes its rules social code. And in Iran, as a young woman in particular, if you want to stay out of trouble you’ll keep your head down. Don’t dress too wild, don’t make the way you act an open protest, and don’t be loud when you’re a girl because it’s vulgar. In Iran, everything about me screams tourist, except the fact that I look like everyone else and I get what they’re saying. So I should know better, but I can’t really blend in even if I tried. For though I enjoy being there, visiting people I love, I still feel like I’m in a cage. Clipped wings.
The surprise my cousin showed when I told her that being in Sweden when you’re Persian, is just like being Iraqi or Afghan in Iran today, was actually quite shocking for me. The fact that she didn’t have a clue about how it’s only a wide range of bad when you’re in a situation like that:
You are abused, never have the same rights to work, the law looks differently at you, you are always the first to be accused, and people think treating you different is OK. It upsets me to be in Iran and see prejudice there towards other groups, because I can relate though I still have it so much better. It’s despicable. You will always be left out. And you’re expected to accept. Because either you clench your teeth and you do your best, or finally you snap. And when you protest wildly, you’ll be a troublemaker, just like everyone thought, and you’ll just set a new example to feed upon when the fire needs fuel.
(You can’t say that people that immigrants are troublemakers just because they’re foreigners! They came from countries racked with war and poverty, or guarded by the laws of censorship. A free mind doesn’t exist. The conflict of being able to escape a living Hell, and end up somewhere where they treat you badly just for wanting to be alive, to have human rights, is insane. And when treated badly, eventually, some people will break down and think “if they expect it from me, I might as well just be what they expect”. Worse is, even though you might be off quite well in the end, like me, people expect you to be so grateful they ignore the fact that society is still discriminating!)
I’ve lived too much of another kind of life to feel at home in Iran, much less than I ever will in Sweden. And yes, I was lucky to be brought up in this country, with its freedom of speech and safe neutrality, its industrial progress and possibilities. And I am grateful to my parents for giving up everything for me to have this opportunity. But I’m not grateful to Sweden itself; because I don’t owe Sweden a fuck. What would they expect me to say?
“Thank you for letting me grow-up here like a human with the right to a decent life even though you discriminate me because of my name and color and background and still think that you’re better than me just because your parents were born here and mine weren’t. Wow, yes of course I see how that makes perfect sense, you racist bastard.”
It’s the bitter truth.
But to get back to my initial point, at the end of the day there is no certain place in the world were I truly belong, like so many other children of immigrant parents. In Sweden, I shall always be seen as that "Middle-Eastern girl", and when asked where I'm from I will never answer Stockholm as my first choice, but Iran. And when in Iran, the same question will lead to the answer Sweden, because there as well - I don't quite fit in.
The world will always be a dress that just doesn't fit right, and it will cut into me in all the wrong places, never truly making me feel comfortable. And it scares me, that if I keep regarding it in this way, no matter if I have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in, I shall forever feel homeless, and homesick for the place where I will finally feel like I belong.
But I know, in some ways, a home is not just made of a location, a house or of how people just look at you, but by the people you share it with. Your family of choice, your loved ones. Be they actual family or friends or both.
Saying goes: Home is where the heart is. And I read in a book once, where the main character felt that life hadn't given her places to leave her heart, that "home is where the hat is".
I think home is both. It is where people I love are. And where I just feel right in place, where I keep and place objects that define me and mean a lot to me. Where my family lives is home, and in two months when I move out, my new lodging will be home just as well. When staying at a friend's, if I just step out to go to the grocery store, I always call "I'll be home any minute". Because it is the home of someone I care about, and staying there makes me feel enveloped in the safety of it. Maybe, that’s all the roots you really need.
One day, I might do as my parents - leave all that I have known behind me and start over. The amount of respect and pride I feel for my parents is fierce. They risked everything not only for themselves but for what they believed in, knowing that perhaps they would never again feel like they belong again, always slightly on the edge in a new world for the sake of a future untold. For the sake of hope. My parents did not come to Sweden to become Swedish. They came so they could be free Iranian people, with the right to have opinions and to voice them. They took part of a new language and culture, without feeling that they had to let go of everything that made them who they were, and I love them for it. I love them for showing me how there is always the hope of starting over, even when you own world doesn't feel right anymore. I love them for trying hard to show me that home is never the country you are in, but a place that you make your own.
And even though I might never ever feel like I fit in, maybe one day I will truly reach the point where it won't matter. I hope so. Because home isn't just where the heart is. To me, that is just like saying that surviving is living. Which is just scraping it, barely. My father once said: just because you’re not dead, doesn't mean you're alive. It’s the same here.
Home isn't just where the heart is. I don't even think it's a place. It's a state of mind. And it's where the heart sings.