American passport – a reflection
Jennifer Cha | Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Barcelona, September 2015. I’d spent the day at Park Guell with some new friends at the hostel, exploring what seemed to me like a child’s mind come to life. There was something ethereal about that wonderland of colorful mosaic tiles and lumpy, crooked, checkered minarets, overlooking the hustling, humming city. Later that night, I found myself at Opium Barcelona along the coast on the Passeig Maritim, but I wasn’t quite feeling the mood. I walked out onto the beach — the gritty sand giving way beneath my sandals and the city lights hitting the water and dissolving into something more peaceful.
2 a.m. on the Barceloneta is an assortment of strange bedfellows, brought together by the cheerful interstices of reason. Here, a few dizzy bodies slumped against a trash bin, eyes swimming in drink. There, lovers curled up on blankets, serenely breathing each other in or otherwise engaged. Me, called over by a gentle greeting from a dark-skinned, middle-aged man sitting alone on the bare sand. “¿Como esta?” He was a man of Somali descent, having made a life as a fisherman after emigrating to Spain by himself 13 years ago. We shared stories for two hours, my Spanish halting and his fluid as the waves before our eyes. He spoke of taking his boat out onto the open sea for days on end, nights spent lying back with eyes skyward at an infinite expanse of stars in a deep quiet, dotted with sounds of the soft lick of water on wood. He spoke of coming back to the shore, of meeting people from all over the world on this beach, of how he imagined New York and San Francisco — places he’d only seen in photographs and would never be able to witness.
I listened in wonder tinged with sadness. Why, by mere circumstance of birth, did I possess this arbitrary piece of paper that would allow me to travel anywhere in the world, while his limited passport barred him from traveling outside the immediate EU? I did not pity him. I felt angry that we live within the confines of a system that can tell people — human beings — that they are illegal or unwanted or unloved. I wondered at the infinite ways that people make a life — from what they’re been given or earned, despite corruption, violence and other powers that cater to the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. I can’t ignore these injustices, even if — and especially if — I benefit from them. Maybe it is hard sometimes to keep going — to keep being kind, to keep hoping and dreaming and remembering and choosing to bear witness rather than turning a blind eye. But some things are simple, peaceful and kindred. Late-night conversations over samosas. A story you can get lost in. The gentle crash of waves on the shore.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.