Home and the migrant’s curse

An opportunistic floater, pelicans migrate to Lake Eyre in inland Australia, only when it has flooded and food is plentiful. These pelicans at Kiama, New South Wales also follow opportunity. Photo: Mick 2014

An opportunistic floater, pelicans migrate to Lake Eyre in inland Australia,  only when it has flooded and food is plentiful. These pelicans at Kiama, New South Wales also follow opportunity. Photo: Mick 2014

If all the people who do not live in their nation state of origin were a country, it would be the fifth biggest country in the world. Writer Pico Iyer* claims this country – this great floating tribe – would have 220 million citizens. Both my husband and I would be citizens. My sons would not. Not yet, anyway. Iyer’s point is that this floating tribe has a different way of conceptualising home: identity can no longer be defined by where you were born or where you live because it is not so much where you come from, but where you are going.

Over a quarter of people living in Australia belong to that floating tribe – they were born overseas. Most of the rest of Australians are descendants from floaters. Only two and a half per cent of Australians have not been floaters since time immemorial: the first nations people, in Brisbane the Turrball and Jagara peoples.

Yet, we – Australians – claim a particular ‘us-ness’ that is exclusive of other-ness. Our current government defends our borders fiercely from the masses of less fortunate people who are all under suspicion of plotting to float into Australia. Some we want: the economic migrants with skills and money. Others we are told to fear for their otherness: boat people, illegal immigrants, refugees. The dominant discourse criminalises and marginalises asylum seekers for daring to come to our door step on a boat.

At the same time, Australians are some of the most welcoming and accepting people I have come across. Multiculturalism was a policy in the 1980s and though scrapped as an explicit policy, its tenets still run strong in the Australian community. Embracing our floating diversity gives Australia an edge.

Long distance migrants, from the Antarctic up the Australian east coast to Indonesia, sooty shearwater or mutton birds pay the ultimate price for their migration. Photo: Mick 2013

Long distance migrants, from the Antarctic up the Australian east coast to Indonesia, sooty shearwater or mutton birds pay the ultimate price for their migration. Photo: Mick 2013

But being part of the floating tribe is not without its challenges. Many migrants to Australia migrate three times: once to come out to the new land, once to go back home to everything they miss and then once again because the old home was nowhere near as good as the memory of it. I personally know three families who did just that: my husband’s family, a Danish family and a blended Danish-Australian family. Is it just that the grass is always greener on the other side? I think it runs much deeper than that.

In his speech, Pico Iyer says that for the floating tribe, home is a project in progress. Home is less about a piece of soil than a piece of soul.

For me, home is certainly an ongoing project. At some point after my sons were born I proclaimed that I now belong here in Australia where my boys came into the world. However, despite my affinity to the place where my sons belong, something kept tugging at me – a sense of emptiness and being out of place. Too many of the people I care about most are not on the soil I thread, and my soul longs for elsewhere. This is why I must go back to Denmark to be where my extended family is, where my nieces and nephews are growing up fast, where my history is, where my roots are still firmly dug into the sandy soils of the reclaimed heath of mid Jutland. Yet it can only be for a time because my boys are so Australian and belong here. That is the migrant’s curse.

I will keep floating in search for moments when the piece of soul collides with the piece of soil that feels like home.

*I found Pico Iyer’s TEDglobal talk via fellow blogger Kirsten Fogg. Kirsten writes insightfully about belonging.

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4 thoughts on “Home and the migrant’s curse

  1. Pingback: What if the world had no borders? | Pied-á-terre CPH

  2. Pingback: The curious case of the Danes | Pied-à-terre CPH

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