Home Is Where: an innovative new theatre performance inspired by Third Culture Kids

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Flyer for Home is Where: Mark Ota, Sharlit Deyzac, Joanna Greaney and Leonora Fyfe in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Amy Clare Tasker. .

What is a migrant? An immigrant? An expat?

What am I? I was born in the UK to English parents, and in 1990, when I was five years old, we moved to California. I remember being friends with the children of local British families for a time, and then when I went to school, I made friends with my American classmates. Eventually I picked up the local accent, so my new friends would stop asking me to “say something in English” on the playground. My sisters and I must have changed subtly, slowly, immeasurably over the next decade or so; I will never forget, in the car park of a pub on the outskirts of Leeds, hearing my grandad’s friend remark, “It’s a shame you’ve all become American.”

Is it? And did we? We immigrated, we assimilated, we naturalised as citizens… all before I understood what any of that really meant. I went to university in California, began my career in San Francisco, and then in 2013, having lived 23 of my 28 years in the United States, I moved to London.

What am I? In some ways, I feel like an immigrant: it took me a full week when I arrived in London to figure out where to buy coat hangers; I don’t speak like the people around me; I’ve never seen an episode of Eastenders. But in other ways, I do feel I’ve “returned”: dark chocolate digestives are no longer a special treat to unpack from a relative’s suitcase; I can now see my extended family more than once every year or two; and there’s just something about being back in England that feels right.

What am I? I was never fully American, and I’m no longer fully British. But I have passports that say I’m a citizen of both countries. Is there a word for what I am now? I don’t claim the “expatriate” label, with all its colonial baggage

“Repatriate” isn’t quite right either (not that I’ve ever heard anyone call themselves that). What the hell am I? https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/13/white-people-expats-immigrants-migration

When I stumbled across the term Third Culture Kid, I was surprised, relieved, and deeply moved to learn that there were others out there like me, people who slipped through the cracks of traditional definitions, who couldn’t easily answer the question “where are you from?”

If this is ringing a bell for you, there are all kinds of resources out there for our community: start with David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken’s book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.

They write: “A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”

The world is full of stories like mine, and yet so many of us go about our lives in isolation, thinking there can’t possibly be anyone else who understands our experience. As a theatre maker, I want to tell these stories, to share them with other third culture kids who rarely see themselves represented on stage, and to give mainstream audiences a peek into our cross-cultural lives.

Since 2014, I have been working with a team of fellow cultural hybrids in London to create Home Is Where… a verbatim theatre project with music, movement, and multimedia. We’ve interviewed dozens of third culture kids, and writer Guleraana Mir is weaving together their true stories with a fictional narrative inspired by our post-Brexit political landscape. Our cast of five actors will take on the role of a resistance movement in a futuristic dystopia, using an innovative headphone verbatim technique to tell real-life TCK stories from the interviews.

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Sharlit Deyzac, Kal Sabir and Mark Ota in an early performance of Home is Where at Camden People’s Theatre. Photo by Charlie Kerson.

Alongside the performance at Rich Mix on 2 September, we’ve partnered with HOPE not hate to offer a free and inclusive workshop before the show, using theatre games to explore the themes of the play: identity, culture, and belonging. This is one of many events in a national Weekend of HOPE, part of the #MoreInCommon campaign. 

Even if you’re nowhere near London, you can listen to the stories in our Online Oral History Library, which holds short audio clips from the 30+ third culture kids we’ve interviewed.

These are stories of incredible journeys, difficult transitions, identity crises, daring adventures, teenage rebellions, hilarious misunderstandings, horizon expansions, international friendship, and above all common humanity.

“I hate that question, ‘where are you from,’ because I was born somewhere, but actually all the other countries where I’ve lived are part of who I am.” Valerie Teller

“I just belong to this world, that’s my nationality. I’m global.” Ria Ulleri

“We have the same experience. We talk about it and it’s such a relief. To hear that your experience is not unique, and other people have felt this same way their whole lives. And so you belong in your not-belonging.” Aslam Husain

Working on Home Is Where… has brought me into a community of people whose stories span the globe, people who look different and speak different languages, who have had vastly different experiences from mine, and yet we find so much common ground. We all see the world through a wide lens, we don’t always know which team we’re cheering for at the Olympics, we have friends and family in every time zone. We feel at home in airports and train stations… and with each other. You are welcome to join us.

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Cast and creative team of Home is Where: Kal Sabir, Joanna Greaney, Mark Ota, Amy Clare Tasker, Guleraana Mir, Sharlit Deyzac, Yaiza Varona, Paula Paz and Leonora Fyfe. Photo courtesy of Amy Clare Tasker.

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Amy Clare Tasker is the artistic director of Amy Clare Tasker Performance Lab, the theatre company creating Home Is Where…

You can read more about the project and creative team at http://www.amyclaretasker.com/hyphenated

 

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Young Migrant Stories from Norway

The classical story about youth with a migrant background in Norway, told by social scientists, has been the story about the rebellious hip-hop loving boy, growing up in one of Oslo’s multi ethnic suburbs. Several years ago, while working as a teacher at a secondary school in a small town in Norway, I was asked to teach the Norwegian language to a small group of students who had fled from their former home countries and were now settled in the town. Getting to know these students made me reflect upon how different their experiences of settlement and life in Norway seemed from the stories I had heard of growing up in Oslo. This made me curious to find out more about the experiences of youth with a refugee background and their settlement in small towns and remote places in Norway.

During my PhD-project I have had the privilege to spend time with 38 young individuals with a refugee background living in (or on the outskirts of) four different small towns in counties historically defined as rural or coastal. The teenagers have let me share their experiences through showing me their everyday life at school, letting me tag along to after-school activities, introducing me to their families, and providing me with photographs of places that hold different meanings for them. Through interviews, the teenagers have told me their stories of migration and settlement, feelings of belonging and non-belonging and of the network of people and places that make up the weave of their lives. Of course, each individual’s story is unique and varies depending on factors such as length of residence, geographical location and population size. Many experiences are also shared and I will highlight some of them here, especially the experience of being a visible minority.

The first thing the teenagers emphasize about living in a small town is that it is safe and that they can walk around anywhere without either themselves or their parents being worried. For some of the female participants and their families, choosing to stay in a small town has been a strategic decision to increase the chance of integration and avoid social control from one’s own ethnic group. However, making friends among ethnic Norwegians has proven to be difficult. As one girl said: “You can get friends, but they are not real friends. They will say hi to you in school, but after school you won’t have any contact with them”. In Norway, the home can be seen as the main space for socialization, even for youth, who besides doing organized activities, spend much of their time either in their own home or at a friend’s house. This can be viewed as a barrier for many newcomers, as the spaces for meeting people can seem few and out of reach. There is a gender difference in this regard, since many of the boys play organized football and make friends with other members of the team. However, few of the participants in this project have ever visited the home of an ethnic Norwegian family. Most find their friends among other teenagers with a migrant background with whom they share the experience of being an outsider, especially concerning language. For some of the participants this is no alternative, since there are no other (visible) migrants in their school. Especially for them, the internet plays an important role in making new friends and keeping in touch with old friends and family in different countries and across Norway.

Both boys and girls, talk about “a longing to be the same as everyone else” and wonder what it would be like to grow up in an area surrounded by other youth who look like themselves and with a similar culture and religion. Being a visible minority often means being treated as a representative of the minority rather than being seen as an individual with other identities besides “immigrant” or in many cases “Muslim”. The public discourse, repeatedly connecting Muslims to oppression and acts of terrorism, affect the youth in this project, who define themselves as Muslim, in such a way that they feel a responsibility to “educate” their surroundings about Islam and Muslim people. One boy explained that he was teaching himself about all the religions so he was prepared every time the questions and discussions about Islam occurred. Some of the girls believed that they are the ones who carry the heaviest burden as wearing the hijab makes them a symbol of their religion. Boys, they say, do not have to make any drastic changes in clothing or lifestyle to blend in, while they (the girls) are viewed as different. Girls experience both avoidance and name-calling. A few even speak of verbal and physical assault because of skin colour and religion.

In areas with a larger concentration of members of a specific ethnicity, girls talk about being subjected to rumours and being criticised if they, for instance, are not using what is seen as proper dress. The way I see it, a first step to address such a problem is to include the population with a migrant background as a natural part of the Norwegian “we” rather than treating them as “the stranger” or “the other”. The understanding of “Norwegianness” today can still be experienced as very narrow. Regardless of the amount of time the participants, with whom I discussed the issue, had lived in Norway, they would not define themselves as Norwegian. Several explained that this was because of their skin colour, that they did not speak perfect Norwegian or that they held a religious belief, which is not very common in large parts of Norway. Although this should be of concern to the authorities, it seems that the possible identities to choose from are getting fewer. After my fieldwork was concluded in spring 2015, the debate toughened as the government decided to drive a hard line to stop the “flood of refugees” coming to Norway. The rhetoric used by many politicians today is exceedingly problem oriented and based on fear, so much so that a highly profiled Norwegian writer and lecturer told the media that, after 20 years of seeing herself as a Norwegian citizen, she now feels labelled as an immigrant again . The question is how this will affect the younger generation and their willingness to stay and use their abilities and talents in Norway.

Tina Mathisen
PhD candidate
Department of Social and Economic Geography
Uppsala University, Sweden

Dagsavisen 21.05.16: http://www.dagsavisen.no/helg-nye-inntrykk/portrett/loveleen-rihel-brenna-gud-forby-integrering-1.728094

Growing up in Chinatown, Milan

The news has spread that policemen will arrive in Milan from Beijing to patrol the neighbourhood of ‘Chinatown,’  for two weeks at least. This will happen in Rome, too. Via Paolo Sarpi in Chinatown has been the home of the Chinese community since the first arrivals in the 1930s. In the ‘80s, a huge number of Chinese, mostly from the deprived region of Zhejiang, settled in Chinatown and worked in sweatshops where they sewed bags and clothes. Children used to work in the sweatshops, too, and until not very long ago. Indeed sometimes it happens today. The sweatshops were located in basements, and were damp and cold: I remember children with chilblains on their hands.

After the riots between the Chinese community and the police in 2007, following years of tension with the Italian residents over the transport of goods back and forth, (and, of course, over different lifestyles and lack of communication), the Municipality decided to create a “ZTL,” a limited traffic zone. Via Paolo Sarpi was transformed, both physically and economically. In a couple of years it became a gentrified, trendy area full of new cafés, restaurants, co-working spaces and pop-up art galleries. Many Chinese shops are still there, and others are opening up on a regular basis: pastry shops with impressive cakes baked and decorated in US style for marriages and celebrations, advertising agencies, mobile phone shops, private clinics and of course bars and restaurants. A “ravioleria”, selling nothing but Chinese ravioli, is now hip: the long queue at lunchtime is proof of its success.

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The ‘ravioleria’ – a successful shop in via Paolo Sarpi. Photo Anna Chiara Cimoli
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An old hat shop, one of the few original shops still remaining in via Paolo Sarpi. Photo Anna Chiara Cimoli.
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A Chinese wig shop. Photo Anna Chiara Cimoli.
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Via Paolo Sarpi and the new Fondazione Feltrinelli building. Photo: Anna Chiara Cimoli

Many Chinese entrepreneurs, based in other Italian cities, recently moved to Milan, as  via Paolo Sarpi is now the place to invest. There are expensive cars and expensive suits everywhere. In the last 2-3 years rents have more than doubled: the shop owners often live in the suburbs.

Hu Li Wei, a restaurant owner in a small town 50 km. from Milan, grew up in Chinatown. He arrived aged 9, in 1991, and lived there until three years ago, when he got married and decided to move his family to a better, healthier place. Still, via Paolo Sarpi is “like a magnet”: on Monday afternoons, when the restaurant is closed, he comes to Milan. His first stop is via Paolo Sarpi, no matter what. He knows he can meet friends and have a beer with his pals from high school.

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Li Wei and his brother in China. Photo: Hu Li Wei’s archives.

Still, Li Wei’s childhood in via Paolo Sarpi was not easy. He arrived from Zhejiang with his younger brother after years spent with their grandparents. He lived in a small apartment, his parents worked all day and didn’t have much time to devote to their children. Their Italian was poor and they could never afford the time to study. Li Wei attended an afterschool activity called “People’s School,”hosted by the local church and created by a Catholic movement called Community of Sant’Egidio, where he met Chinese, Moroccan, Sri Lankan children. Here he made friends. His open, cheerful personality was his strongest attribute. Summer holiday camps with his friends were particularly memorable: Chinese children seldom went on summer holidays.

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Li Wei and friends during the summer camps. Photo: Hu Li We’s archives.
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Li Wei and friends during summer camps. Photo: Hu Li We’s archives.
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Via Paolo Sarpi early 90s. Photo: Anna Chiara Cimoli.
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Children from China and Morocco at the ‘People’s School’ in the early 90s, via Paolo Sarpi. Photo: Anna Chiara Cimoli.

Some of Li Wei’s old friends have now opened classy cocktail bars in via Paolo Sarpi, a sign of the times. Not much remains of the old Chinatown. Herzog & De Meuron are building enormous, shiny new premises for the Fondazione Feltrinelli, at the end of the street, changing its skyline forever. And the traffic policemen will soon be arriving from Beijing. But why?

I asked Xiaomin, a young woman who arrived from Shanghai at the age of 16 and is well known in the neighborhood for her activism and bridge building. She says recent thefts have alarmed the community: many Chinese use cash instead of credit cards because they don’t trust the Italian banks; they show off their wealth; they are easy targets.

Xiaomin’s life choice is different. After graduating from university (she studied design at Milan Polytechnic), she was offered prestigious jobs both in Italy and in China. But this would have meant travelling a lot and she wanted to “live her life in Milan”, instead.

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Xiaomin with her mother, upon her arrival in Italy. Photo: Zhang Xiaomin’s archives.
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Xiaomin, today, in via Paolo Sarpi. Photo: Anna Chiara Cimoli.

Xiaomin arrived in Milan in 1999 with her father. Her mother had already been living in Milan for some years. They settled near via Paolo Sarpi. She soon enrolled in high school, where she did well. Her first memories as an immigrant are confused, and not at all pleasant: she wanted to move back to China and missed her friends. She had been a teenager with a rich social life and really didn’t want to emigrate. Besides, most of the Chinese children in Milan at that time, chose vocational courses, mainly because of the language, while Xiaomin went to the College of Science, where she also studied Latin. She didn’t have any Chinese friends or schoolmates.

I asked her if she felt twice different: both from the Italians and from the Chinese living in Paolo Sarpi. In some ways, she replied. Most of the Chinese friends she made later in her life had arrived when they were very young and had huge families; she was an only child who had arrived from a big city where she attended a highly pressurised school. Whilst her mother, a house-wife, made friends and had a rich social life in Milan, her father never accepted his new situation. Her parents moved back to Shanghai three years ago, as soon as they could after they had retired.

At high school, Xiaomin attended a presentation by the Community of Sant’Egidio, which was recruiting teenagers for after-school activities and summer camps for underprivileged children. She liked the idea, and decided to leave her phone number. She soon started volunteering, and still is, after about 15 years. Besides her job as an interpreter in a local private clinic, she works with disadvantaged children and is an activist in the field of intercultural dialogue and social inclusion. These activities are based in a conflict-ridden neighborhood called Corvetto, but she is also involved with organizations across the city. At present she is running an art therapy project led by a Muslim young girl, bringing Roma, Italian and immigrant children together. In fact, she decided not to focus on the needs of the Chinese community, but rather to collaborate with a variety of associations, in a wider project based upon mutual understanding and the prevention of conflict.

Most of the Chinese families of Paolo Sarpi, Xiaomin says, tend to enroll their children in the Chinese language school or in other “specific” courses for the community such as tai-chi, held at the weekend. But Xiaomin believes this encourages a closed attitude, prevents Chinese children from meeting other people, fosters the stereotype of Chinese people as inward looking and unwilling to mingle with others. Xiaomin’s work aims to create a different perspective, to move beyond the old and crystallized vision of ethnic communities based on nationhood and to support collaboration based on shared goals, a more forward-looking attitude.

She was, maybe, luckier than many others. She had the opportunity to study and go to university whilst her friends from Zhejiang work in restaurants or shops: they say that, well, “it’s a job like any other”. But she was also able to reflect upon her life, to recognize the opportunities she had, and to take on responsibility towards other immigrants.

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Xiaomin with Roma children. Photo: Zhang Xiaomin’s archives.

Meanwhile we wait to see whether the Chinese police from Beijing will help protect the new wealth of those along via Paolo Sarpi who do not trust Italian banks. Seen from the outside, this recruitment initiative seems odd, as if legitimizing Xiaomin’s worst fears: that of a community unprepared to mingle with others. Her work therefore,  seems, even more relevant. And if the Chinese community have been in Milan since the 193os where are the Italian born policemen of Chinese origin?

Anna Chiara Cimoli, Art historian and museologist, ABCittà, Milan

 

My involvement with Child Migration Stories

Early in 2014 I was interviewed as one of a number of people who came to East London under the age of 18 and from a wide variety of countries. No-one had ever asked me about that period of my life before, and as well as contributing to what has now developed into a valuable and moving web resource, this experience has had an unexpected effect on me.

Having told my story in some detail I then tucked it away safely, probably never to be revisited. Then a couple of months ago I was asked to check and validate my contribution to the website. Out of the blue I had to revisit all that I had shared.

Two years ago I retired as an Anglican parish priest after 35 years of working in a succession of East End churches. For the first time, since I was a child, there has been time to reflect on the jigsaw pieces of my life. Things seem to just happen in life, especially when you’re a child. You get on with growing up and living day to day and don’t think too deeply about things. Until it all stops.

When I was interviewed I could not have foreseen how the issues of migration would blow up into such a live issue; nor how, as we look helplessly on at overloaded boats in the Mediterranean, these childhood stories of migration would be so relevant. Some migrants, in their desperate attempt to make their way to the relative safety of Europe, never make it and lives are lost at sea. These are people like us but turned, by larger forces and negative attitudes, into ‘them’ – an inconvenience, a ‘problem’ to be dealt with, please God by some other country, not our own. People just like us are dismissed and diminished behind words such as ‘hordes’ and ‘swarms’ facing little understanding of the terrors and devastation they have had to flee; under conditions which most of us, hopefully, will ever know but would equally flee, to save our children and ourselves.

But it was a child who shocked us into a deeper reflection and, for many of us, into action and compassion for the plight of people, each with their personal story and dignity obscured in the daily headlines. The child was Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian-Kurd, fleeing with his family from the war-ravaged town of Kobani whose little body we saw washed up on a beach near the Turkish town of Bodrum. His five-year-old brother, Galip, was found dead nearby. So often the larger issues which we avoid, deny or misread, can affect us more powerfully when we see their effect on a small, innocent child whose life has been robbed from him. I wept as I watched, on the news, the lifeless body of this otherwise healthy and once lively boy being lifted from the beach where countless other children might just have played. The story of Aylan and Galip is one of untold grief and shock for a family and for all who loved them. Behind all the cold statistics of casualties are human stories such as these.

The testimonies in Child Migration Stories, seen though the eyes of a child and the feelings and memories they have carried into their adult lives, have a similar effect on me, cutting across, as they do, the larger stories and prejudices about those who migrate. The stories in this collection are not all of trauma or tribulation but each speaks of displacement and relocation; of the challenges and difficulties of integration into new surroundings, new communities, new cultures and often of learning a new language. It is not always a story of welcome.

I left India at the age of 8 amidst civil unrest and bloodshed.  Dreams of a warm welcome and a chocolate-box England of thatched cottages were splintered on day one by the rugged reality of East London and the shock discovery that I was brown (my sister and parents were white but I never knew that!). I was not the flavour of the day. I never shared any of that with my family, who as adults were more prepared for such change. They never realised what haunted me from what I had seen in India or that I was being racially abused in the streets of London when they were not. I rediscovered those layers of my childhood through telling my story to Eithne.

Reading the many and varied stories of child migrants took the lid off this lifelong childhood ‘secret’. With some shock and relief, I discovered others who, in many different ways, have also had to find a way of dealing with displacement, prejudice or even worse. I know none of the other contributors but for the first time I feel a solidarity with those who have experienced unacknowledged trauma in their childhood and who also were never totally welcomed by the ‘mother country.’

As votes are fought for globally, myths are propagated and this unfolding human tragedy of migration is reduced to soundbites and mindless prejudice, the honest witness of children is perhaps the most powerful corrective; to shock us into being in touch with what our own human experience might be were any of us to be displaced and dispossessed; were any of us reduced to being a number and a ‘nuisance’.

For myself I need to work on the memories that I am now in touch with. For the first time I am learning to embrace the child I once was; to feel for that little boy, as I would any other child, who has seen things no child should ever see; to assure him that, even as an immigrant, he is more than OK and fully a part of this community and society to which he has given most of his life in service and citizenship. It is hard, and this will be a long-term process, but I am so grateful to this project, both for bearing such important testimony to feed into a wider global debate, but also for touching on, and opening up, my and others early experiences, hopefully for our healing and growth.

Duncan Ross

You can read Duncan’s Spotlight Story here.