I am, as many of us are, part of what I call “the Lost Generation”. I’m not talking about the generation that led the literary movement formed after World War I, the generation left to question inherited values which seemed no longer relevant. I’m speaking of a new “Lost Generation” entirely.
The Lost Generation that I am speaking of is more of a “stuck” generation. We are stuck in our bodies, stuck in society's expectations of us that we cannot fulfil and we are treated based on preconception. We are born in a country that we feel alienated from, with messy ethnic backgrounds that can't be labelled white, black, yellow, purple, blue or what other colors there are visible to the spectrum of the human eye.
My direct background is Persian/German. Born and raised in Germany, at a young age I started refusing to speak Farsi with my father and have since been unable to pick it back up again, much to my regret. Why did I refuse part of my heritage when I was younger? Because, like most children, I quickly learned that there was a system of normalcy at play: if you don't want to attract negative attention, you must do whatever it takes to fit in.
I come from an unconventional family. I didn't have a stay at home mom that made me sandwiches every morning or got involved in every damn school activity; I had a mom that introduced me to Tom Waits and David Lynch at the age of 6. And I hated it because it wasn't “normal”. Everything I later on learned to appreciate and embrace—I hated it because it made me stick out.
My parents gave me a beautiful name when I was born, and instead of carrying it with pride I was ashamed for a long time. To this day, people make assumptions about who I am and where I come from just by hearing my name. There even was a time when I thought about legally changing it. I must have broken my parents’ hearts in all those endlessly cruel arguments we had about the subject. But at the time it felt as though my name was making my life harder than it needed to be.
I remember one incident in particular when a German teacher declared in front of the entire class that I had the grade that I had because I made typical “foreigner” mistakes—and then she asked when I came over to Germany. (Like I mentioned earlier, German is my mother tongue.) The essays I wrote in German class had always been good, but all of a sudden I was transported into the “bad grades” department—simply because she had read my name and assumed I was someone who could not possibly be a native of my country, let alone a good student.
I feel like a foreigner in my own country. Maybe that's part of why I always wanted to run away: I can deal with being foreign in different countries, but not my own. On the other hand, I have also experienced quite the opposite treatment. When I was living with my friend in LA, she had someone over who told me, “Yeah… but you wouldn't get it because you're a white girl.” Why is it that to some viewers I am a “foreign” girl and to others I am simply put into the category of “privileged white girl”? There is no question that I am privileged in a lot of ways, but at the same time I am at a significant disadvantage to someone who has pale skin, blond hair and a sweet westernised name.
Where do I begin to find my own identity at a time when people seem to be reverting back into conservative, border-drawing, wall-raising human beings filled with fear and greed? I spent five years in the states, studying, working, meeting people who have changed my life and whom I cannot imagine living without. I had work lined up for the next three years, I had everything going my way—but in the end all this was put to a halt by an officer who denied me my visa based on the argument that if I wasn't Heidi Klum, I didn't deserve to be working in the USA. He asserted that I was lying about my identity, that I was clearly an Iranian citizen and hiding the fact that I have another passport—even though my passport clearly lists my nationality as “German”.
But this should not be a story about how many people stand in your way, trying to shut doors on you and crush your dreams, ego and the last bit of confidence you have. This is not a self-pitying essay about how I was mistreated by ignorant people throughout my life. This is an outcry to everyone who has ever experienced anything similar to what I have. (And there are so many like me who've got it way worse—at least I don't have to worry about being randomly shot at by the police for going to the grocery store.)
We are part of a generation that is being held prisoner in places we don't belong. We are the lost generation: we have no home but the earth. We have no roots, only the limitations of our own minds. This is the only time we have to wander in this beautiful mess that we call life, so let's not close off borders and deprive people of a chance to discover where in this world they belong. Let's not forget to be kind, tolerant, accepting and humane to each other. We all deserve to be treated with respect. We all deserve to have dreams and pursue them.
We might be the Lost Generation, but that doesn't mean we can't be found.
cover art courtesy of Priyanka Paul