By ZongXian Eugene Ang
What is home? Is it just a structure, a shelter over our heads? Or can it be something more? For most of us, home is a treasure trove of trust and love. It is the site of our most cherished relationships, the place we ground our memories and our sense of self. Yet, it can also be the cradle we have always wanted to run away from; suffocating, and at times, utterly dysfunctional. Try as we might, however, home may not be a place we can easily escape from either. After all, home can be entirely divorced from geography; a state of mind that we carry even after crossing multiple borders. Perhaps, it is simply a latent sentiment we all share: similar in spirit, but different in form—wherever we come from.
I had the tremendous privilege of spending last Friday evening watching Generation (Wh)Y: Global Voices On Stage: an interactive, multi-media performance based on year-long engagements and interviews between Georgetown University students and youth from all around the world, but primarily from the Middle East. Held at the Davis Performing Arts Center in Georgetown University, Generation (Wh)Y is the third of four events that constitute Myriad Voices: A Cross-Cultural Performance Festival. Through compelling performances, the festival seeks to present the varied and textured experiences of Muslim individuals and communities, humanizing them and thus rendering them all the more familiar.
Generation (Wh)Y began with a chorus of words related to the idea of home, all in different languages. The dynamic movements of the ensemble and the cascade of voices echoing throughout the intimate space of the theater evoked a certain immersive quality: home as a feeling, as a sentiment, flowed all around us. Naturally, I did not know most of the non-English words that were said, but the mystique of these foreign words that permeated through the sonic landscape only reinforced my gut instinct: not all human sentiments could, or even should, be expressed literally. After all, as some of the featured interview excerpts expressed, there is always the risk that labels and names might obscure other facets of our identities: we are not just Muslims, nor are we just someone from X country.
Following this moving exploration of the different meanings of home, the audience was split up and led to separate parts of the Performing Arts Center for three different “Encounters,” each centered on the themes of Discovery, Risk, and Laughter respectively. In “Discovery,” two live dancers were juxtaposed against the silhouettes of human figures projected onto the backdrop of the stage. As excerpts from the interviews were narrated, the shadows of the dancers swept gracefully around the talking silhouettes, simulating the ebb and flow of conversation. Indeed, dialogue is a wonderful avenue for us to discover ourselves and our place in the world. Regardless of where we are from, there will always be common ground that underlies our shared humanity.
In “Risk,” excerpts from the interviews were interspersed with poems by Palestinian and Sudanese poets. As the cast members paced around the room and recounted stories laden not only with anxieties and uncertainties, but also hopes and dreams, they truly succeeded in bringing these excerpts to life before the audience. At the center of this performance were the drapes that hung from the ceiling, symbolizing both the desire for security at our most vulnerable, as well as the upward trajectories of our aspirations. “Laughter” shifted the mood of the event to a more light-hearted one, as the audience got the chance to sample jokes from around the world. After we had an appetizing course of giggles, chuckles, and belly laughs, we ended the encounter with a heartening and lengthy burst of guffaws—a reminder that the sheer joy of a good laugh is indeed universal.
As an individual living in this diverse world, it is definitely heartening to be reminded that there are still many commonalities underpinning the human experience. We may all speak a different language, practise different customs and hold different views about the world and beyond. But that does not deny the fact that we all want a loving home to go back to everyday—to rest and recharge from a meaningful life filled with discoveries and risks, as well as a healthy dose of laughter. The journey that Generation (Wh)Y had taken us should not be confined to the theater. As we go about our daily lives, let us not forget to treat our brothers and sisters all around us with compassion, understanding, and an open mind—whether or not they share the same race or creed. We only have one world; and we are all in this together.