When I was a little girl, people would ask, “What nationality are you?” That is to say, to what tribe do I belong? What is my country of origin? Belonging is tribe, blood and culture, not necessarily territory and certainly not based on citizenship now that so many in the world occupy diasporas and are not living in the place where their forbears were born.
“Most of culture lies hidden, outside volume control, making up warp and woof of human existence,” says Edward T. Hall. It is human nature to want to belong. You just can’t be somewhere where you must prove not only your value but that your presence is not an affront to the prevailing values of the spot you occupy.
Vagrancy laws require that your presence show proof of purpose. “There’s this need, felt by every individual, to feel part of a community which accepts and recognizes him/her and within which he/she can be understood easily,” Amin Maalouf wrote.
In Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the diaspora of Oklahoma, who left their homes for a better life in California, had their temporary camps burned and were considered “tramps.” Theirs is not the only intrusion that’s been resented. In the United States, seasonal migrant workers have been resented despite their hard work, like American Blacks despite their contributions before and after our American Civil War.
There is a word in German: Schadenfreude. It means just don’t let it be me. Just don’t let me be the despised “other” reviled like Jews, Gypsies, Muslims, Arabs and American Blacks.
There are no words for danger, warmth, quiet or begging in Roma, the Gypsy language; however, Roma experienced danger under the Third Reich. In 21st century Europe where they are still Diaspora, they are considered inferior and despised. In southeastern Europe, a nine-year-old Roma girl-child smoking a cigarette came to the aid of a Gypsy baby who had crawled across the street. Local citizenry ganged up to shoo-shoo their disapproval.
Locals claim that Gypsies steal flowers from cemetery gravesites to turn around and sell; that while one Gypsy child picks a man’s pocket, the other kids gang up on the victim so the first kid can run away; that Gypsies drug and steal kids and operate an illegal baby market.
There is a word for danger: genocide. There is no country for the disenfranchised; however, efforts have been made to exterminate the despised worldwide. The Turks killed Armenians; the Khmer Rouge, Cambodians; the Hmong fled their homeland and the Laotian Regime who despised them for the Thai refugee camps they occupy.
There are three million Palestinian Diaspora despised by the Israelis who believe that Jerusalem is sacred to one people and not another. “You don’t have a monopoly on suffering, you know!” an Arab-Muslim woman responded in her mind to a woman-defender of Israel. (Source: The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf)
The Diaspora: They don’t have a country, they have only each other. The Blacks brought to America by force had only each other. In his book Freeman, Leonard Pitts, Jr.’s protagonist says that anyone who looked at the Black man “with contempt or presumed to judge him as something less because he was black: I am here. I am a man. Your scorn and your hatred cannot diminish me.”
Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to elli [email protected]