At a bus stop in Southall, a suburban district of West London (UK), residents of the neighbourhood wait for the bus to arrive. My introduction to this visual carries a simplicity that emphasises the mundane and the routine of ‘everyday’ life that both constructs and is constructed by social space. Behind that cursory ‘first look’ lay a number of sociological realities that allow us to theorise, intellectually and affectively, the lived politics of home, belonging, and identity.
Ahmed (1999) argues that transnational journeys of subjects, in the present or in the narrated past, invite us to consider what it means to be at home, to inhabit a particular place, and to question the relationships between identity and home. ‘Home’, thus, always is an encounter between those who stay, those who arrive, and those who leave. Brah (1996), elaborates on the notion of ‘diasporic space’ – real and imagined social spaces where the ‘native’ encounters the ‘stranger’ and different strangers encounter each other – a movement and dislocation that form homes as complex spaces grappling and dislodging the dichotomies of private/public, familiar/strange, us/them, home/away, here/there, and belonging/unbelonging.
In the visual I present, subjects of different Diasporas come together, questioning the aforementioned dichotomies and negotiating public space in their new ‘homes’ while embodying different forms of their cultural identities. The South Asian man in traditional clothing perched comfortably, the young Sikh man with his ‘Western’ clothing and shoes (alongside his religious symbols) occupied with his phone, and a Somali woman (a member of the newest community in this neighbourhood), dressed traditionally and religiously and carrying a bag from a multinational corporation selling 'western' fashion. Multiple identities and layered narratives around race, class, gender, religion, globalisation, capitalism, neoliberalism, material culture, and urban life coming together in social public space – embodying strangeness yet comfort, the tensions of multiculturalism yet the simplicity of community-building and coming together, the ease of being a collective and individual and yet holding the contradictions of the migrant experience. Their very presence dislodges stereotypes and dominant/violent discourses around migrants, migration, refugees, ‘Britishness,’ values, and multiculturalism.
I’d also like to bring to your attention the right hand side of this visual. The practical heavy suitcases, reminders of the materiality and physicality of migration – each containing several stories, varied journeys, lived embodiments, and generational remembering and storytelling. And each mediated by broader sociological processes encompassing class, colonialism, borders, race, and gender, providing the subjects on the left side of this visual with a mobility, a means of movement, a background, a past, a reason for the present moment and space, and a future. On the top right corner, a red gleaming bag spells out an enthusiastic – I Love/Heart London – a present for the families ‘back home’ where stories of the migrant experience are presented to those who did not have a chance to leave. The tensions, contradictions, pleasures and solitude of migration wrapped up in a shiny material form that says - I am well in my ‘new home’ - and stirs the cosmopolitan aspirations of those in the ‘original home’.
In summary, this photograph/visual aims to nudge dichotomies around the migrant experience, diasporic spaces, and what we call ‘home’. It wants the viewer to raise a larger sociological point framed eloquently by Brah (1996: 182)- “the question is not simply about who travels, but when, how, and under what circumstances?”
Ahmed, S. (1999) “Home and away- Narratives of migration and estrangement.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 2 (3): 329-347
Brah, A. (1996). Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. London and New York
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