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Sipping lattes in diaspora

By Shafagh Moeel
December 20, 1999
The Iranian

Next to me
At this cafe in Berkeley
Are two Berkeley moms
And their Berkeley toddlers
Watching these children interact
Laugh and play
As their mothers sip their lattes
It occurs to me that these children
Will know each other forever
And will grow up together
Will be there for each other every step of the way
A ten minute distance
A local phone call
All this a strange and foreign thought
To a refugee child
I think of the friends of MY childhood
Having spent our toddler days together
Feeling safe and secure
Oblivious to the chaos around us
Our parents' sacrifices and risks
All to do the right thing
Handing out party favors
At my third birthday party
I must've felt so sure of my life
Of my place in the world
The apple of my parents' eyes
Family everywhere I turned
Friends over every night for dinner
And children like me
Like me
All around.
Then we turned four and five years old
And our world imploded
Off trampolines we jumped
And ended up in Germany, in Italy
In Sweden, in Holland, in France,
In Canada, and the U.S.A.
My closest childhood friend
Five thousand miles away
Maybe at a Toronto café
Sitting next to Toronto moms and kids
Feeling every bit as displaced.
Can these mothers and children
Know what I mean when I speak of my roots?
The tie to others that share my life history?
And how empty it feels not being near them?
How easily my friends here toss around phrases like,
"We've known each other since we were born," or
"We've celebrated every birthday together".
I envy them and how sure they are of belonging.
I will never know this feeling that these Berkeley toddlers feel,
Playing here before me.
Perhaps this is why
When they give me a passport and certificate
Validating the space I take up here
I can only smile and say thanks
Wish I knew how to be less cynical
I remember the first time I came upon the word
In some lecture
I looked it up that night
"Diaspora means displacement and reattachment,
Refers to rerootedness, that is living in another state,
And implies transnationality in its relations with
The homeland.
This displacement may be felt even by the second and later
Generations who reside in a country that is not the land of their ancestors."
That's me, I thought.
Rerootedness, I thought.
Not the land of their ancestors. Exactly.
But it's more than just not walking on Ottoman soil
Or not living in houses once occupied by Qajars
Not just the lack of ancient history in my environment that I feel
But I miss the physical presence of my personal history
People who've known me since I first came home from the hospital
Were a witness to my first steps
Of when at four years old a pot of boiling water
Burned the back of my leg
And were there to cry along with me.
A feeling of loneliness
Specific to refugees
To those living in a diaspora
Rerooted in this Berkeley cafe
Feeling every mile of my displacement.

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