Stability: A Sense of Place and Belonging
By Ushi Patel
My name is Patel. Now, Patel-Barnett. My paternal great-grandfather immigrated to South Africa from Gujarat, and my maternal grandfather to Zambia. My grandmothers followed, carrying the rituals and traditions of their homeland and blending them with the local culture and lifestyle. My children and I will continue to do the same.
The Gujarati diaspora call many countries home: Indonesia, New Zealand, China, Brazil, all over Africa and Europe and yes, even Abilene, Texas and other quiet corners of the United States. The warm ring of “Hey Ya’ll” from my cousin when we meet for dinner at the taco truck is true and comforting.
In her Ted Talk, Don’t Ask Me Where I am From, Ask Me Where I’m a Local, Taiye Selasi shares:
As a child, I carried out fairly standard suburban rituals in Boston, with adjustments made for the rituals my mother brought from London and Lagos. We took off our shoes in the house, we were unfailingly polite with our elders, we ate slow-cooked, spicy food. In snowy North America, ours were rituals of the global South. The first time I went to Delhi or to southern parts of Italy, I was shocked by how at home I felt. The rituals were familiar.
We have more in common than the boundaries of our nations and geography might suggest.
Though I hold India dear, I am equally grateful to the culture and traditions of Africa and America. I feel at home in many places. I am not a citizen of one nation or of the world, rather as Selasi asserts in her Ted Talk, I am a “Citizen of Worlds.”
I didn’t always feel this way – flashback to curious schoolmates asking me if I ate monkey brains after watching Steven Spielberg’s Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was glaringly different, growing up in an all white neighborhood in San Jose, California. Today, those same kids borrow my Indian clothes and crave my mother’s daal.
Through travel and living and working in many localities around the world, I learned that variety brings stability. The variety gives me a sense of place and belonging, it makes me a better artist and friend. It helps me grow. It helps me to find common ground with others. It’s why we created Bombay House.
Selasi elegantly questions:
What if we asked, instead of “Where are you from?” — “Where are you a local?” This would tell us so much more about who and how similar we are. Tell me you’re from France, and I see what, a set of clichés? Adichie’s dangerous single story, the myth of the nation of France? Tell me you’re a local of Fez and Paris, better yet, Goutte d’Or, and I see a set of experiences. Our experience is where we’re from.
If you are looking for a sense of place and belonging, why not sit with someone and ask, “Where are you a local?” Let it spark the same inquiry for yourself.