A map of human migration, by DNA markers
Married women seem to flirt more. Their husbands hang around like desperate puppies, looking for a bone. The women just want to dance. White guys with foreign girls – recolonizing the world, one vagina at a time. Fine by me. I’m sitting at the bar, feeling like a transie. Not a transexual, it’s a term I read somewhere about Obama, regarding people with transcultural, transient identities. In America you can be that, call yourself American, be American and run for President. In Sri Lanka you can’t. You can’t settle here and be Sri Lankan. People will always ask who your parents are, what you’re doing here. Even a darkie like me, people always ask when I’m going back. But I at least have my (expensive) paperwork, obtaining the same for a suddha is nigh impossible. They can’t become Sri Lankan, can’t buy property, invest, work, etc. I know people born here, people living here for 20 years – waiting in the visa line. I object on one level cause it’s patently racist, and on another cause it makes the country weaker. I’ve been egging my suddha friend to say that he’s Sri Lankan, cause he is. The girls laugh and don’t believe him, ask where he’s really from. Keep asking where, keep saying Sri Lanka. Gets awkward.
The funny thing is that national identity isn’t as much about remembering your heritage as it is about forgetting. All humans are descended from an African population of a few thousand. Of these, as few as 150 people walked cross the then parted Red Sea about 70,000 years ago. That population literally walked around, one branch going to Europe, the other down the southern coast to India and Indonesia, through China, walking across the Bering Strait and populating North and South America. Yet we forget these human things and choose an identity situated in a blip of historical time, clinging to it like eternity.
This being one thing or another by blood, however, is a bit illusory and certainly not worth taking out the machete for. What I do consider worthwhile is the modern nation. This is in itself an illusion, but a useful one. It trumps race not in terms of culture or food or art or whatever, racial identity is still pretty good for those human bits. A nation is useful in that it you can build laws and institutions around it that don’t rest on the shifting sands of human procreation. Race is something you’re born with, but nationality is something you can choose. And choice is what makes the system work better than what came before.
In Sri Lanka, however, ‘choosing’ to become a citizen is very difficult, and odd. It’s like the system simply isn’t used to people trying to get in, only out. My birth was registered by my parents, so that piece of paper and Rs 200,000 enabled me to get dual citizenship. For a suddha trying to settle – and I know this only anecdotally – the process is byzantine and well near impossible. People will simply stay here on tourist visas for decades. Which seems OK, but it costs money and makes it difficult to live a normal life – buying property and investing and working and the like.
But besides the legal hurdles, Sri Lankan people simply find it very difficult to comprehend that someone can be white or not speak Sinhala and still be ‘Sri Lankan’. In America or Canada people pretty much don’t question anymore, you can walk around Toronto or New York and people sorta accept you for whatever you are. People there seem to think ‘minorities’ are all about the bongos and peace and feel bad for treating us poorly. What they don’t see is how bad we treat each other, and them, back home. We may be brown, but Sri Lanka is a far less diverse place than western countries, and it’s less diverse than Ceylon was.
Perhaps because we didn’t have that cathartic independence struggle, but we’ve still clung to that old trope of nationality being a generational thing rather than a choice one person can make. As in, something you’re born into, like race. But I really do believe that it is a choice, and that everyone – including those born here – should make that choice. And there should be a day where a white person, misguided as they might be, can not only apply for legal citizenship, but can also be treated as a citizen by their fellows. Where people of any race can immigrate, work, buy property, and invest in Sri Lanka. At this point not that many people want to, but when Sri Lanka finally does boom people will want to come back and we might as well get used to the concept that being Sri Lankan isn’t a function of being brown and around. That there is an idea behind this country, however hazy, and that anyone of any color can buy into that idea if they believe in it. Or so.