We didn’t get to the migrant camps or group homes or detention centers this time at all. The plan was to go to the refugee center outside of Catania – CARA Mineo – but I got sick for several days and we stayed in Catania center; didn’t get to Palermo until the day of the show. I felt like I failed my own project, in not getting to the largest camp in Sicily this time. But the only way it was going to happen would be the wrangling of an expensive rental car and a few nights on the road in a hotel, both of which seemed antithetical to the project. The point of the project is to go slow, within our means, to move without consuming. But I felt, not being able to go the camp, that I was hovering at a familiar plane, as its easy to do—the plane of a white world that has managed to hide the face of its refugee population by placing them mostly in camps and centers far from easy access.
In Palermo, we played in a place I would call White. Nice, really nice, really nice audience, but not the kind of place you are likely to find new immigrants hanging out—not the crowded tiny bar just a few streets away where last April we had danced to new music out of Nigeria sweating and crushed our bodies hip to hip while babies slept in strollers parked just outside. There where we were the only white people. I mention this because it is something at least to consider, at least to point out, and to wonder about how to make our shows spaces of increased integration. When I forget to point it out, its like I’m forgetting about the veneer that covers our various worlds and separates us from each other.
It makes us think that it would be nice to have talks after the show, organized discussions where we invite people to talk about migration and the issues inherent in migration politics—problems, fears, every day concerns or experiences, whatever people are feeling as they think about how migration affects their community. Alternatively, we could pose one question to all the people who speak to us after the show, anyone we can grab, really, and just focus on one question. These could be an opportunity to make sound recordings, documentations and sound studies. And that way, by introducing this topic into our show, we don’t limit our discussions of migration to places where migrants are visible. We don’t want to just talk to people in camps about the situation in camps. We don’t want to just talk to our (white) audiences about how they experienced our show. We want to talk to everyone and anyone about their feelings about migration. We want to talk to everyone and anyone about art.
It surprises me how migrants are hidden from view even in cities that are full of migrants, and/or how blind non-migrants are to issues that are of life and death importance to those seeking some form of asylum. We can be in Budapest making a show in a queer anti-establishment former squat with a host of artists making political commentary and there are maybe two people who themselves come from non Western nations. And then we go just half an hour outside town and irregular migrants and asylum seekers are there, walking back and forth between an open camp and the Tesco superstore because it is a free place to live and maybe they have a small allowance to buy a phone card. And when we talk for just two minutes to one person, he tells us about the death of his brother after being held on a train for 36 hours with no food or water.
Or take for example the Sri Lankan young men we met in Sid, on the Serbian Croatian border, who were just waiting with limbo status, waiting for what, because they were not from any of the countries that were going be granted asylum in Germany or Sweden considering the intense numbers, the new wave of migrants. In effect they already knew that to go much further into Europe could be madness. Even if they do have a “legitimate asylum claim”, their country of origin may keep them from even being allowed entry at the border (most EU countries limited entry to Syrians and Afghanis)–therefore they have no chance of being heard. If they stay in Sid, they are hidden from view. Who stays in Sid other than aid workers and migrants? No one without a permit is allowed to enter the camp.
Alternatively, they could leave the camp, leave Sid. They can try their luck, then, at avoiding the system altogether, keep walking further into Europe, dodging police and border crossings, trying to work illegally at some pointless job that “civilized society” doesn’t want –selling cheap things on the street, from plastic massage gadgets and lighters, toilet tissue to drugs. Maybe all the while they’ll know that their claim for asylum is perfectly justified, that to go home would be suicide. But the rest of society, who knows nothing of their story, sees only an “illegal” immigrant who doesn’t even have a pending asylum case. Looks with disdain and ignorance. The relationship of disassociation, of misunderstanding, is maintained.
And what holds “us” back from integration, a predominantly white/Western artist music world and the non-white world of people living in a refugee camp or open camp? One could say that they just wouldn’t let us in, or its not a venue set up for music. One could busk outside. One could make special arrangements to transport a few cars of people from the detention center to a club. But its much easier to say, this would be difficult. I don’t know anyone there. I have no money to get there. I have no money to spend there. I don’t speak the language to talk to other people there. I have never been to an event of this type before. And one could say, I have never performed in a detention center before, I don’t know if you want me there, I could busk but I don’t have an electric generator. Would it be strange. We talk ourselves back into spaces of comfort.