The Road to Nowhere: on being a second generation immigrant

Opinion Nov 24, 2020 5 min read

The Road to Nowhere is a print magazine that shares stories on being a second generation immigrant. The magazine was created by Dalia Al-Dujaili in collaboration with multicultural creatives to give meaning to the confusion, discomfort and estrangement experienced by second generation diasporas. Unlike the first generation diaspora who maintained direct connections with the homeland through fundamental cultural and lingual mastery, second generation diaspora do not have such rootedness.

“It’s very hard to express the feeling of being in a liminal space” - Dalia, The Road To Nowhere
The Road To Nowhere

Feelings of estrangement

Second generation diaspora feel especially alienated for being uprooted from their country of origins, families, tradition and ancestral continuity but also by a host country that polices their loyalties. The magazine focuses on what it means to be a second generation immigrant in the middle of a world engulfed by injustice and war, but also the discriminating hierarchies of Western countries that exploit these diasporic communities.

“Feeling ''tugged'' apart by two sides has rarely been articulated in a way that resonates with this unique struggle.” - Dalia, The Road To Nowhere

Framing and giving meaning to these feelings of being cut at the roots remains difficult. Dalia, commenting on this, states that by creating this magazine "I had wanted to manifest my incomprehensible thoughts and feelings of being a second-generation immigrant into something physical, understandable, digestible". Putting the experiences of second generation migrants to paper in a creative manner, has a 'therapeutic' effect on the anxious diaspora. This effect liberates diasporas from their tendency to repress feelings of estrangement out of fear for the host country’s repressive discrimination against them but also from personal feelings of guilt and confusion.

"Most of us don’t have the vocabulary to express what it’s like, or it’s so overwhelming, we don’t know where to begin. So, instead of unpacking the box, we tape it shut and shove it under our bed'. - Dalia, The Road to Nowhere

The magazine starts from the presumption that these specific feelings of alienation by second generation migrants are universal in the sense that no matter which country one heralds from, they all experience a similar feeling of discomfort. The magazine therefore contains contributions ranging from Japanese, to Nigerian and Iraqi experiences.

Iraqi perspective on Diaspora

The perspective of an Iraqi diaspora is told by Aysha Al-Fekaiki, who explores the story of living in-between different identities in her piece ‘The Border I’ve Built in My Mind”. Her family escaped Iraq during the 1991 US-invasion, ending up in Jordan and later the UK. Aysha traveled to many Middle-Eastern cities which gave her a slight indication of what life in her homeland looked like, but Baghdad itself remained unvisited. Instead, she experienced Iraq mainly through its food, language and her surrounding Iraqi family members. Moving to the UK in a time where Britain was invading and occupying Iraq was a turning point as it strengthened feelings of alienation.

“The two parts of my identity were at war with one another, one invading, occupying and completely demolishing the other.” – Aysha Al-Fekaiki

Not only was Britain at literal war with Iraq, it was also felt by the hostility of the host country’s culture that forced her to strive for acceptance in which they usually expect the erasure of your own identity. It is however inspiring to read that all these experiences led Aysha to connect even more with her homeland, its history and culture.

Diaspora comes from the greek word ‘to be scattered’ originally referring to the Jewish diaspora communities circling the mediterranean. It also applies to being psychologically scattered: being all over the place, not sure who you are. Yet while diaspora communities have always existed (the Jewish and Armenian diaspora are one of the oldest) the emergence of colonialism, industrialization and capitalism since 1500 has accelerated the emergence of many more diaspora communities the way we know them today. Modern diaspora communities are closely tied with both the rise of Western colonialism and capitalism. This twin development of both capitalism and colonialism created three categories that western states used to manage and create from scattered African and Asian communities.

First we identify the "cheap'' labor diaspora: large groups of natives were imported, meant to work in mines or infrastructure to facilitate the flow of natural resources like copper, metal and other minerals. Sometimes this labor diaspora is brought to work in the service industry as well. A more violent predecessor to this was slave labor exemplified by the history of African diaspora in the Americas. Other reasons this diaspora is imported is to neutralize and cause divisions amongst their own working class and to keep wages low. This is closely related to making sure that the home countries of the labor diaspora remain underdeveloped so that a large segment of their populations become available to work in Europe or North America.

The second is the merchant diaspora, those are groups of individuals who stand between the masses of the Global South and the host country and mediate between these groups. Merchant diaspora provide minimal goods for the Global South while simultaneously providing access to sources and markets in the diaspora’s home country for trade interests of the host country.

Finally, there’s the bureaucratic category which refers to individuals from diasporic communities who are trained in Western institutions so that they are expected to safeguard Western interest amongst both the diaspora in the host country but also in the homeland. Many examples of these are known today where you see diaspora working for Western governments, in think tanks or embassies, facilitating the further domination of their home country by Western states.

Acknowledging the struggle of diaspora

Today, these above mentioned three categories of diaspora have more or less merged together and diasporic communities are expected to fulfill one of these three roles. This may create pressure, but it’s also what Dalia refers to as “being tugged from two sides”. This also has cultural implications; for diaspora to fulfill these functions they are also expected to share the worldview of the dominant culture of their host countries. In the western world this dominant worldview implies a set of racial, ethnic and class hierarchies historically informed by both capitalism, colonialism and whiteness in which diaspora play a subservient role that serves their interests.

As we have seen in Aysha’s article about borders, in order to survive many second generation diasporas are tempted to internalize a Eurocentric worldview that estranges them from their ancestral home. Home countries of the diasporas are bombed, plundered and policed, preventing diasporas from maintaining ties with their home countries unless they go back to serve the interests of their host countries who would then provide them with protection. This enforces their estrangement. Not to forget the many cultural cues diaspora get about the inferiority of their home countries through the media and popular culture.

It is important that we acknowledge the struggles of the diaspora so that they become aware of their potential role in the destruction of the self and the community back home. Being conscious enables diasporas to resist and show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the country of origin.

Profits from the first 100 copies sold will be donated to Beirut and Yemen aid funds. The tragic explosion that took place in August 2020 in Beirut, along with watching Yemen being destructively assaulted by Saudi Arabia with support of the USA left many Arab diasporas feeling powerless.

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