The plane touches down. My lungs fill with the same warm Caribbean air that would have greeted my great-grand mother each morning as a child. At the immigration desk the officer stamps my U.S passport and smiles politely ‘welcome to Barbados’. I am forever a tourist in my homeland and a foreigner in my birthplace.
My life before Australia was bold stabs of red, screams of indigo and charcoal fingertips dragged across the canvas. I grew up in Barbados and the U.S. Spending a few years in each and changing schools so often it felt normal to know no one. My life was a reliable inconsistency and the continual shifting was like a violent perforation that caused me to feel a profound loss of place. My Bajan accent got me teased in the US. My American accent made kids in Barbados think I was stuck up. I was always chopping and filtering parts of my identity. Trying to find ways to belong in two worlds and drowning under the rejection from both.
Both my homeland and my birthplace are dots on the horizon. So far removed from where I am.
My philosophy now is rooted in the understanding that as human beings we are all searching for a sense of belonging and acceptance. From the cultural to the familial my life was always a balancing between acceptance and rejection. My mother passed away when I was fourteen. Shortly afterwards my older brother was deployed to Iraq. Death can pull people closer or push them apart. In my case it was the latter. The death of my mother scattered the bits of my family across many places and left no bridge for us between.
I was left alone, belonging to no one. And then I came running towards Australia and into the noise.
On the train I hear a medley of Amharic, Cantonese, Greek, and English. The familiar sounds of migrant communities mingling again remind me of neighbourhoods I used to know. But, both my homeland and my birthplace are dots on the horizon. So far removed from where I am. And now, I am far removed from them. My life in Australia is a figuring out of who I am without their constant push on either side of me.
Barbados is my country of heritage; The US is my country of birth. But, Australia is my country of choice.
And what I am finding is that I am a person with many identities. I am a queer woman of color, I am a person living with mental illness, I am a survivor of trauma, a teacher and an artist.
Barbados is my country of heritage; the US is my country of birth. But, Australia is my country of choice. It is the country where I choose to reach for connections beyond race, religion, gender, sexuality, or socio-economic standing. It is where I choose to practice radical self-love first and worrying about broader acceptance later. My Australia is a place where we can celebrate the pain and beauty of the shared human experience. It is a place where we all belong, exactly as we are. There is room for us all.
Natasha Jynel is the producer of Threadbare, presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, on 19 September and 21-25 September. Threadbare explores what identity and belonging means for all of us as a contemporary, multicultural Australia. Visit melbournefringe.com.au for bookings and more information.