“The Unbearable Lightness” of Discussing Migrations

(I am indebted to Milan Kundera for inspiring this title.)

When we discuss migrations, we are often more interested in telling our stories, making statements based on our lived experiences, and justifying our scholarship and creative works with our overwhelming personal memories. This subjective approach towards migrations may motivate us to engage with migrations in a deeper way. However, it also poses some challenges to creating an inclusive and inviting space to further the discussion when we are less aware of others’ lived experiences. Conversations in which I have had an opportunity to participate have encouraged me to point out challenges we face while discussing migrations due to disagreement, frustration, and different lived experiences. While these challenges may discourage many of us not to contribute to discussions on migrations, I wonder how we might transform them into opportunities that enable us to learn from each other and advance the discourse.


I came to the Mellon School to discuss and learn more about migrations with several questions that stem from my scholarly inquiry of the subject matter:


  1. How does the notion of migration challenge conventional identity politics that does not capture the complexities of migrants, immigrants, refugees, exiles, asylum seekers, and expats?
  2. Is it possible to change inhumane immigration policies and improve migrants’ living conditions by producing scholarship and creative works that promotes their human right?
  3. How/can we challenge binaries between “We and They,” “Insiders and Outsiders,” “Locals and Foreigners,” and “Migrants and Citizens” to unite people despite their differences?


I have found some answers to my questions in the seminars, after-lunch discussions, evening lectures, writing workshops, and small group projects with fellow participants, and assigned articles. While some of my questions seem to remain unanswerable, the Mellon School has inspired me to ask new questions:


  1. How do we teach migrations when and if we have a student in the room who espouses anti-immigrant sentiments?
  2. How do we engage with fellow scholars/artists/practitioners when their work on migrations incites intense emotions due to painful lived experiences?
  3. How can we offer constructive feedback to our colleagues who challenge our ways of exploring migrations?
  4. What are the pros and cons of justifying our scholarly and creative works with our lived experiences without knowing others’ experiences?
  5. Who gets to decide on ethical questions that limit and promote our scholarly and creative works that respond to migrations?
  6. As scholars/artists/practitioners, are we in search of ideal ways of studying migrations? If so, what are the dangers of establishing ideal ways of discussing migrations?
  7. How could we gain agency to challenge the inhumane immigration policies that ignore the value of human lives and improve the conditions of migrants? 


I will leave the Mellon school with even more questions than I had when I arrived. I believe in the power of questions that do not have easy answers because they encourage us to understand others’ lived experiences and expand our ways of thinking about migrations. The more questions we ask, the more we may better understand the multiplicity and complexity of migrant experiences. This way, we may be able to cope with the unbearable lightness of discussing migrations.

See also: Hanife Schulte