It was a melody… a melody I heard on the wings of the wind, a melody that began on the wispy shores and found its way into the window of my home. Words uttered that I had not heard since my childhood. But the moment I heard those words, in the native tongue of the land of my ancestors, I was home.
What greater love can there be than the love that one has for their country? For a true patriot, the love he possesses for his nation is even greater than the love he has for his beloved wife.
The politics of ‘home’ has to be the oldest and most primal of all our instincts. There is a plot of land, a territory and it ‘belonged’ to my forebears before it was passed down to me. There is, tied to the politics of home, a belief in birthright: be it based on ethnic grounds or claims that the land belongs to us and we belong to it.
Bhumiputra. The word, which is often heard in Southeast Asian politics, is derived from Sanskrit. It can be translated literally as “son of the land” or “son of the soil”. There is another word, that is also derived from Sanskrit and which is heard less often. During my early twenties, though, the word tattooed itself in my memory and it has been there ever since. It is Mathrubhumi and it means ‘Motherland’. In nation-states which endorse paternalistic view of home, the people choose to call their beloved country ‘Fatherland’, as is the case with Germany.
While the words themselves carry deep, strong and personal meanings for the person who uses them; in the political arena, they are all nationalist concepts. They are designed to evoke and provoke emotions related to family ties which in turn links them to national identity and patriotism. By drawing on these sentiments, we are instantly triggered.
It is primal. It is potent. It can also be dangerous.
Ideologies that tap into what I like to call ‘the politics of home sweet home’ are all about the past. The nostalgia is unmistakable. There is a sense that this is who we have been for a long time; and this is who we are going to continue to be. It is, thus, the past that will shape our soon-to-be future. It is, thus, also in our best interests to preserve the past.
This is not mere conservatism or right-wing politics talking. It is not only agricultural or farming communities that feel a strong kinship and connection to the land. Japan and Germany are both industrialised nations and the nationalistic sentiment and sentimentality runs deep. This is who we were, this is who we are, and this is who we are meant to be. It is carved in stone.
While ‘younger’ nations find themselves mired in identity politics, figuring out who they are, as they come up with ever increasing complex terminology that no one can seem to keep up with; the traditional and long-standing societies have no such problem.
During my four year stay in Japan, I never once met a Japanese person who had to discover his or her heritage or figure out their identity. They knew who they were. They were Japanese.
But in immigrant societies, like the US and Singapore, for instance; there appears to be a purge, followed by a surge. A fading away, followed by a rediscovery. When I visited Ireland and Italy, I was surprised by the number of Americans I met who were there to rediscover their roots. When I was a student in Israel, I met many American and French Jews who were on taglit. They were there to discover their roots.
I feel like there comes a time, in every immigrant’s journey, when we start to hark back. Perhaps it is part of the collective consciousness that is pulling us back. That is stopping us from moving forward. That wants us to understand something important about the past before we actually move forward.
For some people, they go through this in their early 20s, around the time that they are in university. For others, it starts to rear its head in old age. But for some reason, during certain periods in a person’s life, or even in a nation’s life; we begin to hark back.
It’s like we’re walking forward but looking back.
It’s an odd sort of experience.
Beyond the emotional, primal and might I add psychic pull of ‘home politics’; there is also a tangible reality by way of ownership. A sense that one belongs to the land and that the land belongs to you. Like any relationship, it must be two-way and reciprocal. There must be a reason why we have come to cherish this land so much.
Imagine if someone were to barge in one day and call it, “Real estate.” The home owner doesn’t see it in that way, does he? To him, it is his home. Being severed from it is painful. He doesn’t view it as a plot of land for real estate developers to do something with. That’s why the sentiment of nostalgia can run so high for ‘the simple life’, which was probably never all that simple, anyway. It was probably a headache onto itself.
That’s why once people immigrate, they rarely move back or return to their country of origin. They have these memories that they bring with them. The very first business any old school immigrant seems to get into in his or her adopted country is the food business. Why? Most likely because they miss it. They open a supermarket and so on. Even though they have moved, they have carried their homes with them.
Will the country they’ve immigrated to welcome these new ways?
Well, that’s another story for another day.