Well-over 58 years ago, I was dragged, screaming and squirming, out of my mother’s womb into this world, which for me then was a small flat in Cospicua, aka Bormla. Within a few years, the world had grown bigger, expanding to beyond our part of the street, to include all of the locality.
My horizons were very limited back then. My primary school was in my home town; other than the occasional visit to my aunt’s in Santa Venera, or to Marsascala for a swim in summer, the world was just Cospicua.
We still had our labels though. After all, what world would it be if there were to be none around who was the foreigner. I came from ‘Fuq Santa Margerita’, the Cospicua equivalent of Stella Maris, in Sliema. Children from other parts of town were ‘different’ and considered me to be different in return.
The only world I knew outside my town was firmly cordoned off within the Enid Blyton books I devoured daily. By age eight, I knew about Burma and its capital Rangoon from a Famous Five book but still had no idea that Sliema existed, let alone that England was a real place.
Television would eventually point me in the right direction but it was still the stuff of dreams, not of reality. It was not my real world.
After primary school was over and done with, my horizons expanded further. Just like Starship Enterprise, the school bus broke my town frontier and started taking me where that little version of me had never been before – Birkirkara. There, my Santa Margerita identity faded into insignificance since, from afar, all that my St Aloysius College schoolmates could see was the Cospicua boy, while I saw them simply as the rest of Malta.
Boys were from Sliema, Attard, Mellieħa and many other exotic places. The standing joke among us was that I needed a passport to pass through Msida on my way to school. That was, however, before Schengen. My world had grown bigger once again. It was now the whole of Malta and, within that world, I was once again seen as different by the non-Cospicua races.
By then, I had accepted that there was something beyond what I could see for myself and it was only a matter of time before I saw Italy through the windows of a school-organised coach tour, even though well-protected by the group I was travelling with from any contact with, God-forbid, outsiders!
With the passage of time, my frontiers were pushed slowly further outwards, including when I had to carry out duties in Gozo, studies and eventually working abroad. With each successive enlargement, I could see how limited my first recollected identity had been. As my knowledge and experiences made my world bigger, my identity became broader.
Human beings are one race in one world
My world had grown from the tiny flat in Windmill Street to… the whole world. My perception of the whole world as my oyster would be irrevocably sealed by two events: the advent of the internet and the Chernobyl event. Information and life-threatening radiation were also transcending national frontiers with impunity, again well before Schengen came into being.
Mind you, I am not renouncing my origins. I am still from that tiny flat in that street, part of a town, in a country, on an island, off a continent constituting a sizeable chunk of the whole world. So where am I from?
I am as much a citizen of the world as I am a citizen of Cospicua. I am still very attached to my roots, as any tree worthy of its name must be, but none of us remain just roots for all our lives. That would lead to a very dark and damp existence. Our roots help us grow but do not define us.
Unfortunately, and even tragically, the tendency to label and be labelled has never quite gone away and what better way to find differences than tagging people as ‘others’ on the basis of roots. Pretty illogical, I guess, since it makes more sense to label trees on the basis of their fruit. That would make it so much easier to understand that we want oranges, lemons, apples and so many other fruits, irrespective of the roots.
After a lifetime of interacting with thousands of people of different nationalities and all other sorts of differences, I have come to realise that people are just like trees, each producing different fruits but, ultimately, still all trees.
None of us are inferior or redundant and we all alike have a right to our little corner of this world, wherever that corner may be.
Sometimes I shudder when I hear rhetoric about ‘Blablaland (fictitious, though real, country) for the Blablalish’. How many exponents of such an idea realise that it works both ways? If Blablaland is only for the Blablalish, then the Blablalish must stay only in Blablaland. We cannot have Blablaland just for the Blablalish while the rest of the world is for the Blablalish too.
It all boils down to one simple fact. Human beings are one race in one world. Labelling our fellow men and women by a tag other than ‘human being’ is dangerous for humanity in all the meanings of the word.
That tactic has been used in the past to justify the most atrocious acts of genocide the world has ever seen. It is now once again worming its way into our societies, creating fear and reducing empathy and barriers to horrendous actions.
We should all do our best to resist any impulse to look for differences, when we are all so similar. We do have our differences but the similarities far outnumber such minor details as origin, colour of skin, sexual orientation, religion (or lack of it), language, political, band club or football affiliations, and cuisine, all of which contribute to the immense human mosaic.
Let us be really positive and look for ourselves in each other.
Get out of that tiny flat and discover the world. It’s just outside.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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