Aegor - October 10th, 2019
Nancy: So, I want you to let people know who am I sitting across from? Can you tell everyone your name and where you’re from? And what brought you and your family to “The West”? Aegor: Yeah, I’m Aegor. I immigrated from India in 1996 with my family, my parents and my brother who’s four years older than me. And I think what brought us was economic promise. I think that was the main idea. And it’s been hard, I think, trying to pull at the thread of what else was there, too. But I think that that was the main reason for wanting to come here.
Nancy: And have you returned back home?
Aegor: I’ve been to India several times. That’s been interesting for me in reading these [interview] questions, and I guess maybe I should have brought this up to begin with, was that I don’t know if I consider that home.
Nancy: Can you talk a little bit about that and how you would define home Aegor: Yeah. My experience with being an immigrant feels like what I’ve learned is that home is almost a state of displacement and community. So I find home so much in specific places, but they’re mainly based on who I can share them with. And even with my biological relatives, not many of those people who I’m close to, who I consider family, are nowhere near where my family’s origin story is from. Because of all kinds of things: like loss, of opportunities in places that were called home. I think [home is] just like an eagerness for change and wanting to have a greater role in the rest of the world. I don’t know if that really answers your question. Nancy: No, it does I think that that’s an honest response to “Hey, I don’t , I don’t really know how to talk to [00:02:00] this conventional definition of home with a homestead, shelter. Aegor: Yeah. Nancy: Two and a half kids and a picket fence, you know. Aegor: Yeah. Nancy: So I want to talk a little bit about borders. And [how] it actually may be influencing your definition of home. Can you describe what a world without borders would be like for a person like you?
Aegor: Mmm, so many things. I think about the role of borders so often in the specific history of Indian immigrants and Indian people. So like, my dad’s side of the family is Bengali. And my mom’s side is from a place in India called Tamil Nadu. And they’re very culturally different. They don’t share the same language, the same food. They have really different norms for living in a society together. And so it’s hard that those two very separate experiences that have been divisive my entire life between my parents are like homogenized in the US as Indian. And within that, the history of Bengali people is so fraught with the violence of borders based on the initial delineation of nations after decolonization in the 40s, between Pakistan and India, and then again in 1971, there was the partition of Bangladesh. And there’s a few really great, like really great contemporary, poets and filmmakers, who have been contending with that violence, but it almost feels like such a shard, you know, in this cultural memory of pain — like separation of a community. And it’s really strange because as I get older, I watch that same kind of shard being targeted and used in so many contemporary issues with borders. So many issues with people needing to mobilize because of environmental collapse, you know, created by neocolonialism. And so I think in the Indian, at least in my specific relationship to Indian-ness, this, one thing I’m really, really struck by is how we have this lived memory of violence in our community, like the violence of borders. And then so many Indian people will immigrate to the United States or Britain or to the West and then participate in forms of modeled minority, you know, stereotypes and also continue to perpetuate super capitalist and hetero-patriarchal norms. Nancy: Yeah, what brought you and your people away from home and like what has brought and what has kept you here? Even just kind of speaking in the same realm of these forces and elements that are socially constructed and manufactured in this place in the world. Aegor: Yeah, so I’ve been thinking about this so much recently, and I’m so grateful for this venue and to be able to talk about it with you, because it’s hard to parse through. I’ve been trying to write a poem about my family’s immigration narrative, but I think dialogue might be a better process to get there. So literally, the story of my parents immigrating to the states is told in a simplified way. My parents were doctors in the Indian Army. And my mom’s sister had immigrated to the states with her husband several years ago, and they were also doctors. And I’m learning now, so much of Indian immigration coming in these waves of doctors and scientists was based around a very specific Indian Immigration Act of 1965. So all these things that seem normalized in media, like ER, the image of the Indian doctor have very specific historical origins, but live in our cultural imagination. Yeah. Well, also, like the American state had created a certain category of what profession or occupation or educational background they wanted, they were willing to allow Indian immigrants in, determined by a quota. So, those are the people who could apply. You know, so it creates a certain, and then those are the people who are probably going to have the most normative success and privilege in their home country if they’re able to obtain schooling to be a doctor. But so, my aunt had already come here, and my mom had decided she didn’t want to come to America. And my aunt was like, “Well, I’ll apply for you.” And within, you know, 10 years or whatever it is for a sibling to vouch for the status of their sibling, it’s like 10 years or something for the application period. So my mom was like, whatever. My parents were in India with me and my brother who were little babies, and as they were moving this document that my mom’s sister applied for fell out of a cabinet. And they realized, they were able to now move if they chose to. And I think about that constantly. I think about the fact that if my mother didn’t have a sister, you know, my father’s an only child; if my mother’s sister hadn’t applied 10 years ago and decided, maybe one day you’ll want to do this. There were so many if’s and privileges and people, and intentions that were put in place in order for us to be able to immigrate here. If any one of those things had changed, even a little bit, maybe I wouldn’t have come here when I was three and a half. Maybe I would have come here when I was 13, which would have changed my experience.
Nancy: In which way? Aegor: Like, my experience of being an immigrant here. I guess my point with that is that it doesn’t just happen. There’s so much time. And I guess I don’t know what it would have been like if I was super young when I or if I was older when I came here. But I feel like something I see Americans just kind of say about the immigration process is there’s this imagination that it just happens. Like, you get the right forms, the "right forms”. You put certain things together and it just happens. But even in my family, where we had all kinds of privileges and advantages, my aunt had to apply and wait for 10 years you know if we needed to save money for the application, or if we were in all kinds of different situations, if my mother didn’t have a sister, so many things could have changed. I don’t know, it’s a really long story, sorry.
Nancy: No, I love it, it’s nuanced. It also gives me a lot of perspective of like why my family’s still here? Just like being mindful about really marginalized vulnerable people who are escaping from home and are also maybe meeting more danger where they’re going.
"IT DOESN'T JUST HAPPEN. THERE'S SO MUCH TIME."
Nancy: So bringing that into the next question. Borders can change the moment you cross them. So by definition, our identities are fluid, or just ’ queer’. And sometimes we don’t have the agency to define ourselves due to power dynamics and struggles and this false sense of security in the West around keeping you safe from home. I’d like to talk about American amnesia and US imperialism and racism, not just domestically and how it’s affecting immigrants experiences coming here, but how are they transitioning from home due to US involved conflict or US conquest, or expansionism? Aegor: Yeah, I mean, I think so much about the environmental impacts of that. More recently, and it’s devastating. Even in India, the last time I went was I want to say, I think 2016 or 2015 and I was there with my mom. And just seeing how clear deforestation and environmental effects were causing villages to have to rapidly become manufacturing to create industry, despite not being hospitable for the land. I feel like in America our scope is so limited. There’s so many people really struggling with the real ramifications of what it means to not be able to support themselves on the land that they were given through generations. Yeah, like, stripping that environmental memory and relationship is such a process of dehumanization that the US just trucks in that is our method of perpetuating our capitalist regime. It’s devastating. I think it even extends to the way that you see the history of a Palestinian relationship to the land, you know, things like eating grape leaves and olives and knowing how to grow and sustain yourself with the climate there. A lot of that has been re-appropriated as Israeli, within contemporary media, and it’s just disturbing. I feel like there’s a sense nowadays that we assume that even despite the obvious and violent immigration, atrocities that happened in the US, I think without we assume that things aren’t still as violent as they were in the early 1900s when Europe basically , picked off countries in the world and decided who to colonize. And it’s very much actually the same. It’s like happening on a corporate level. I think that’s really disturbing. And I don’t know, those are the kinds of things that have been on my mind. With regard to the refugee crisis, and just with how hard and alien and disturbing it is for people to leave where they’ve historically been from, especially if it’s due to the land or environment being inhospitable. That kind of pain lives in so many immigrant communities, and it’s really beautiful that then those people go on to like, create their networks and feed each other despite not being able to find what they could back home. I don’t know. That might be kind of rambling… Nancy: No, it’s perfect. I also just wanted to thank you for bringing up environmental justice in this conversation and climate change. I wanted to talk about neo-colonialism, right, like it was about occupation, it was about land. You know, you’re acquiring land and expanding territory, and then ultimately creating borders to protect those things. Aegor: Yeah. This has like been so on my mind with the history of immigration in the Indian context because , on the whole, for a lot of reasons that I’ve mentioned, including the Indian Immigration Act of 1965, Indian immigrants, I would say specifically Hindu Indian immigrants who come to the US tend to be apolitical or conservative. And there’s so many images of this in society like Dinesh D'Souza and Nikki Haley. Coming from India with a lot of privilege already and a lot of just structural and generational benefits and I think the reality of caste is not realized that much in the United States. I read in the foreword to The Annihilation of Caste, which is by the person who are the Indian Constitution. That at the height of Jim Crow, the amount of Black people being affected by Jim Crow, if you multiply that by 10, that is the amount of low caste and untouchable people that are being affected by the caste system currently. It’s like a tenfold number. And that figure is not being used to say that the violences that have impacted or continue to impact Black people under The New Jim Crow is minor, it’s just to give you an understanding that casteism so alive and never talked about. And I think a lot of that is because Indian immigrants don’t want to talk about it, don’t know how, and it is such a lived facet of life.
"I READ THE FORWARD TO THE ANNIHILATION OF CASTE, WHICH IS BY THE PERSON WHO ARE THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION. WHAT AT THE HEIGHT OF JIM CROW, THE AMOUNT OF BLACK PEOPLE BEING AFFECTED BY JIM CROW, IF YOU MULTIPLY THAT BY 10, THAT IS THE AMOUNT OF LOW CASTE AND UNTOUCHABLE PEOPLE THAT ARE BOING AFFECTED BY THE CASTE SYSTEM CURRENTLY."
Nancy: How it’s shaped and changed. Aegor: Yeah. So I think about that in terms of how then I see a lot of Indian immigrants participate in corporate capitalism; have really conservative ideals. I think it’s that’s part of the neocolonialist logic is asking some non black and non indigenous people of color to participate in , quote-unquote ‘benefits of white supremacy’, like economic promise or like participation in corporate capitalism. The breakdown of their own humanity and like at the breakdown of larger solidarity with people of color broadly and indigenous people broadly and, the environment broadly like, it’s just like a really devastating thing.
And I think that’s one reason why I define home as this displacement because I like, I don’t want to I don’t want to like build home family or coalition with a place that now lives as just kind of like a nostalgic memory for a lot of Indian people to live in society now. And claim in some kind of nostalgic, diasporic fantasy, it’s like, what are we doing about it? If you really miss the mangoes of our homeland, what are we doing to like, support agricultural workers there? You know, why are we like continuing to work for these corporations? Why are we voting conservatively? Don’t just pay lip service or like pay this false homage to your aunties who, like, worked on the beach or whatever. It’s like, there’s still people doing that. It’s not just where you come from. It exists now. You know, like, I don’t know.
"DON'T JUST PAY LIP SERVICE OR LIKE PAY THIS FALSE HOMAGE TO YOUR AUNTIES WHO, LIKE, WORKED ON THE BEACH OR WHATEVER. IT'S LIKE, THERE'S STILL PEOPLE DOING THAT IT'S NOT JUST WHERE YOU COME FROM. IT EXISTS NOW."
Nancy: Thank you for sharing. So, to switch up a little, more or less, but still talking about your politics, just maybe going more into your passions and your vision. Let’s talk about identity, human aspect of immigration. How do you identify and describe all the things that describe you.
Aegor: Yeah, I identify as a Femme, Trans Boi. I identify as Queer. I actually identify as a boi of dyke experience.
Nancy: What gives you joy?
Aegor: Oh my gosh, so many things. Language. I’m a poet. And I think lately I’ve been remembering how much just language, like sheer language, brings me so much awe in the world. And that’s everything from like words games to even jibberish words that little kids come up with. Definitely food. My life is really big on food. I’m a fishmonger. So I cook a lot of seafood. I work as a fishmonger. So I cook a lot of seafood and I feel like that’s just been super exciting, especially being in Minnesota where it’s so gray. Like, there’s something so like, vibrant and alive about the color of salmon or, you know, something silvery and really slippery and it just makes me feel really creative and excited.
Nancy: And how do you define community?
Aegor: Um, I think of community as like, you know how like mushrooms have those like rhizome networks?
Aegor: So, mushrooms. The way that they communicate is they have this horizontal, underground rhizome network. And it’s hard for scientists to define like a single fungus as a life because it is attached to a whole body of lives. And like, that’s how they communicate about like, temperature and when to send spores and stuff. But that’s how I think of community as they sort of feel like yes, all these individual pieces are alive and on their own, but that’s not the point. Like, the point is each individual’s growth but also the growth of the network, and the ability to move quietly underground. I think that, when I feel really alone, that image, it’s like being supported by something dark and underneath and like always holding you.
"THAT'S HOW I THINK OF COMMUNITY AS THEY SORT OF FEEL LIKE YES, ALL THSE INDIVIDUALS PEICES ARE ALIVE AND ON THEIR OWN, BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT. LIKE, THE POIN IS EACH INDIVIDUAL'S GROWTH, BUT ALSO THE GROWTH OF THE NETWORK, AND THE ABILITY TO MOVE QUIETLY UNDERGROUND. I THINK THAT WHEN I FEEL REALLY ALONE, THAT IMAGE, IT'S LIKE BEING SUPPORTED BY SOMETHING DARK AND UNDERNEATH AND LIKE ALWAYS HOLDING YOU."
Nancy: That is a really sound visual. I love that! I love that description.
Aegor: Thank you!
Nancy: And then finally, the one question, how do you define 'queer’?
Aegor: Really? Oh my God, that’s rough. Um, I’m not sure. I.. Well, I think it’s like radical curiosity. Yeah. For me, my queerness and transness has been like, this jumping off point. And I could be jumping into just so much doubt, which I often am. And it’s been exciting to allow myself to experience the unfamiliar and not knowing and having to figure out through experience that, I guess is what my queerness really feels like. Because, I remember figuring out for myself that I was Queer, and it was more like it was something I had known about myself that I was looking for the right language to like fully hold, but that was not at all how I experienced being trans.
For me, being trans was like I got punched in the face, like, all of a sudden, someone threw a rock and a window and it everything was different. Like, I lived for so long, absolutely sure about my gender identity. And then suddenly being trans was like, what’s going on? And like, how is this word appropriate for me? I’ve never felt like this before. And so for that experience, I felt like what I learned is I’m still fem, but like, I just needed the right container, which for me, was like a boi, you know, and I still honor so much of my womanhood. It’s really important to me.
But yeah, in all of that, though, what I learned or what I really felt helped me grow was this radical curiosity. Because I could have been afraid. I could have been like, “this feels weird”, “this feels different”, “I don’t want any part of it.” And now, I’ve been on testosterone for 10 months. And I have these 20 hairs. And I’m obsessed with them. And it’s so funny, like, oh my God. If I was 15 and you told me, “you’re going to be so jazzed about your chin hairs,” I would have freaked out! Like, I never thought I could want to be a dad. I didn’t know that was a want I was allowed to have.
Nancy: So, this last question is about policy and you kind of talk a little bit about immigration policy earlier. But if you can address the most influential public figures, decision makers in Minnesota, what would you say about improving the standards of people like yourself living in the state?
Aegor: I feel like at this point, the disinvestment from corporations that are contributing the most to environmental degradation. I wish that as a city of Minneapolis, that as a state of Minnesota, we could make decisions on a local level of disinvest from these companies rather than posting, I don’t know, pamphlets or whatever, about not using straws, you know, or like shaming people for using cheap plastics in their homes for whatever reason when we are seeing the rapid effects of these 10 corporations. So I think that we need to maneuver political will in an explicitly “de-growth” mindset. I think at this point we need to focus not on environmental, or rather economic growth, but “de-growth” and reforestation. So, those are the biggest things that I feel concerned about.