Activism from Afar: How to Make a Difference Even When You’re Far Away
When I was 19, I decided to move abroad, wanting to explore the world and give myself a better professional chance than what my hometown could offer.
While it has been an incredible experience, it came with its own set of struggles (both expected and unexpected): one of them being the growing disconnection between me and the place I have called home for most of my life.
I have had to witness national scandals, social crises, political breaking points, and a pandemic at a distance, mixing my homesickness with an acute sense of helplessness.
Perhaps as a way to protect myself from this reality, I started detaching myself from current affairs, quickly leading me to become unfamiliar with the social and political climate of my own country.
Instead of having to feel powerless in the face of every tragedy I had to witness from far away, I relied on a version of home that was stuck in time, protecting me from the more sinister developments of reality. I have now had to watch the rise of hatred, discrimination, far right extremism, and violence at a distance; silence is not an option. But, as my home country faces its latest crisis, I find myself unsure of my place at this political juncture.
Society continues to encounter racist, sexist, and xenophobic platforms en masse; while these may be things I feel very strongly about and fight against every day, I have no idea how I can make my voice heard back home, or if I even have much legitimacy in wanting to, as someone who keeps choosing to live far away.
Still, there are a few things that I have found help me maintain a connection with my home country and what is happening there, even as my focus has also been on where I am now.
Community efforts were the first thing I missed about home, and the thing that feels the most out of reach now. It may not always be easy or obvious, but maintaining contact with my home community in my new residence has been very helpful not to feel so isolated. Having people speak my language and discuss the ‘in-between’ state of having two homes has helped me find a balance.
There are many ways to engage in activism remotely — a recent development propelled by the way the pandemic has helped us rethink how we interact with the world and each other. Panels, exhibitions, and talks are now accessible, wherever you are, and have allowed me to feel engaged, involved, and challenged by what is happening in my home country, while also reminding me of my legitimacy in wanting to be involved.
I have also managed to have my voice officially heard by signing petitions and using all the tools of a democracy at my disposal. Most democracies have overseas constituencies, which enable you to vote for representatives of the diaspora and be accounted for at every level of decision-making.
While less practical, art and writing have also helped maintain my connection with my mother tongue and feel heard and understood by others, while also taking care of my mental health. By finding and reading the words that best describe my experience, I have been able to keep a creative connection with the struggles and history of my culture, and the people currently defining it.
I still experience a messy tangle of mixed feelings every time I hear of something dramatic happening back home, but I have found that maintaining strong ties with both communities and not shying away from the dualities of my experience has helped me put it into perspective and find my place. Understanding that our identities live at the intersection of everything we have lived through has helped me make peace with the fact that I will never be just one thing, which has in turn allowed me to do what’s best for me, while also giving back to my home country and honouring where I come from.
At JAN Trust, we work to raise awareness of intersectional issues and the struggles faced by those living far from their homes. Everyone has the right to feel included and our team value the diverse experiences that come from having different backgrounds.