Saturday, September 8, 2012

Indigenous Nowhere

Diaspora is one of the most beautiful words I know.  It wraps itself around me, warm and welcoming and smelling of home.  Diaspora means there is nowhere to return to.  Diaspora means my people have left and changed and the land from where we came has forgotten us and changed too.  That land has opened its arms to others and we and our land are strangers except in our hearts.  Diaspora means return is impossible.  It calls on us to look at the land we stand upon whether we came here in desperate flight or in chains or to make our fortunes.  

This land is not mine.  No land is mine.  Only diaspora is my home for I am a guest everywhere and indigenous nowhere.

As a guest I owe a debt to my host.  I owe them the debt of one whose life has been saved.  Mine is a debt that can never be fully repaid and my debt is owed to my rightful hosts.  It is not owed to the conquerors of any land even if they are the ones who grant me papers of entry and passage and stand at the doorway when I enter.  They too are guests here.  They came in desperation or ambition.  My rightful hosts are indigenous people.  We owe our presence, our lives to them. 

To be a guest is an honor.  To be a thankless guest is more than shameful.  There is nothing worse than to be a guest who does not acknowledge her hosts and instead takes their land, their houses, and their lives. This is the travesty of settler colonialism, this is the heresy of the United States, this is the unforgivable sin of conquering nations.  This is too is travesty of people who have been deeply wronged, enslaved, forcibly relocated, exiled, banished, and threatened with genocide.  Our harrowing histories do not cleanse us of our sins and do not free us of our obligations.

Those of us who are indigenous nowhere are tied to indigenous people everywhere. We cannot claim land and they are not allowed to claim land that is rightfully theirs.  We belong nowhere and they belong where no one else will allow them to be. Their genocides are tied to our genocides.  We owe our existence, our very lives to them.  And we who are indigenous nowhere must know who are debt is owed to.


It is for another time, another essay to analyze more fully the fact that our killers are also shameless guests, are also indigenous nowhere.  It is also for another time to try and figure out how one becomes indigenous nowhere or how one remains indigenous.  

For now, I will content myself with one sidebar that I surely do not have time for but will include regardless.  It is a side bar for fellow Jews.  Everyone else, especially white non-Jewish immigrants to the US of however many generations ago, please deal with your own settler colonialist issues first.  I'm sure that will keep you occupied for a good long time.  When you're done I will be more than delighted to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Hear, oh Israel! We were forced off our land. We became indigenous nowhere. We are people in diaspora, in exhile. We have no home. We have no right to take another's home.  One wrongdoing cannot justify another.  We have come unto the land taken from us - land we could never return to - and we have erected our own arc de triumph over the ruins of indigenous people. There are many Jews in Israel and around the world working in solidarity with Palestinians but there are many who are not.  Many are the worst kinds of guests, colonizing guests. And those of us Jews who are not Israeli, who owe our debt to other hosts, we must remind each other that we are indigenous nowhere; that our common struggle is with indigenous peoples everywhere.

Our wisdom is in our exile. Our soul, our spirit is of diaspora.  For millenia our wisdom grew only in diaspora.  What strength lies in our history. What cruelty we enact when we deny our history and take on the colonizing ways of our killers and our oppressors.  We learned our thanklessness somewhere but that does not make us innocent. We forget who our lives are truly tied to. We forget who holds and twists the knife. Look at the beauty of our history in diaspora. Learn from the wisdom of being indigenous nowhere.  Our harrowing histories do not cleanse us of our sins and do not free us of our obligations.  We must know who our real hosts are and who we must thank.  Our common struggle is with indigenous peoples everywhere.