The Other Blue Passport – What it can mean to be foreign at this time.
By Mumbi Kanyogo
I've been reading a lot about intersectionality, from June Jordan to Patricia Hill Collins to the Combahee River Collective Statement. I spend a lot of time trying to understand how privilege exists in conversation with oppression in our daily lives, in our literal beings. I am learning to understand that oppression’s existence is so normal that even the freedom I imagine is not freedom in its purest form; it is imagined within the constraints of a world that reconstructs hardship over and over and then tells you that you are free
And then there is me, black woman migrant. Immensely privileged to be obtaining a western education, but also living here in this moment where the origin of my passport is more important than the safety of my body. Extremely proud to be able to engage and inherit from the legacy of black feminism, but also existing with the understanding that my body has never been an emblem of freedom - that my soul has always been more important than my body to these white preachers who see me as some sort of evangelical currency. Hurt, scared and nervous for the future, but not Muslim – not being forced to reimagine my God as poison. And I am here as woman, blighted and tampered with, forever seeking out ways to discontinue my past - to learn how to avoid rape, as if it is a birthright that can't be rejected - inherited through vagina, not blood.
My mother calls me in the middle of the day like she usually does before she puts her children to bed. We mediate our love through different time zones. Her voice reminds me of mountains traversed, hope and home. It is exactly how I left it. But today, it's littered with an uncertainty that reminds me of fleeing - she tells me to be careful, to hold onto faith. We have made it once before, we will make it again – we are still here. I am still here. I reassure her and tell her I love her and hang up as I continue writing an application. Later I realize how writing that application was a revolutionary act - I was speaking my claim on this ground into existence. I was speaking my future into existence, in a moment when my life feels so fragile; a time when my future is at the mercy of a stroke of a pen.
I know that this shouldn't be easy, but I keep wanting to disrupt this conversation and I am fighting a desire to act like my foreignness does not exist (sometimes I say I'm from New Jersey, because Kenya means Africa, means foreign, means immigrant, means unworthy of the space I occupy). I have not perfected the art of living with that “disadvantage” on my sleeve and I am not planning on it. I learnt self-preservation after resistance but sometimes surviving this moment calls for the former not the latter.
In my prayers I ask for the strength to shut my mind down, because these days it is a catalyst to its own demise.
I am a single, cis-sexual heterosexual woman. And yesterday as I was reading “All About Love” by bell hooks, I realized that I will probably go through my entire college career without engaging in a “proper” romantic relationship. And for the first time that did not move me. I understand my singleness – it exists at the intersection of wanting so badly to own my body, my mind, my time and wanting so badly to love someone and to let them know they are wanted in a world where love is so often rationed. But today I feel like a bomb waiting to explode – and I wonder whether my accent betrays the temporality of my existence here. Today I feel like it would be dangerous to love me in this political moment but also in this personal moment where this country does not care to see me in my completeness; a moment in which I also do not want so much of myself to be known.
My passport has never felt like a source of privilege. I have a blue passport, but not THE blue passport. My passport usually means hundreds of dollars in visa fees, and “special security checks” when crossing borders – it means distrust and suspicion and underestimation. But today it means that I can stay here, however temporary this state may be, whatever executive order may be issued tomorrow, today I get to stay here and fight. I say all this to interrogate the complicated relationship that one can have with power. I am a black woman yet educated, I am a migrant but not from those seven countries. As Henry Washington said in one of my classes, many of us exist as both oppressed and as a tool of oppression, and we need to acknowledge how our relationship to power is forever shifting. Some of our identities are permanently under assault in a place that continues to affirm itself as white supremacist, capitalist, anti-woman, anti-queer, anti foreign, anti-Muslim but what does it mean to be able to fight? What does it mean to be able to be here?
I do not hold a monopoly on powerlessness, and I have been given a mind that understands words to be swords. I am scared, but today I don’t get to give up, and so I am promising myself that I will fight. I believe that the definition of fighting is not static – today it may mean surviving, tomorrow it may mean protesting, later it may mean loving someone ferociously, in two years it may mean finishing my degree and applying to law school. My fight can mean many things, but I always want it to mean resistance. I always want it to mean loving this place even when it tries to spit me out.
**This essay was awarded Honorable Mentions at "Who Am I?" Multimedia Essay Contest 2017.