As citizens of the United States of America, it is very easy to take for granted the many freedoms and liberties we are lucky enough to enjoy that others around the world are not able to experience. We are able to speak our minds when others are silenced, to pursue our dreams while others restricted in their hopes and aspirations, and to worship freely whereas some are persecuted for their beliefs. The fact that we are promised these rights is contingent upon the notion that we call the United States our home. We take for granted that we are even able to claim a nationality to begin with, while for many around the globe, this essential piece of one’s identity—one of the most common synonyms for homeland—is not easily known. I had never considered how fortunate I was to be able to claim a nationality until I began to examine more closely various concepts of human rights in my political science classes. Learning that the United Nations stated that “[e]veryone has a right to a nationality,” in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights opened my eyes to the fact that there are those around the world who are unable to identify a nationality for themselves (United Nations). Despite this declaration, we have seen in recent years that many people around the world are still deprived of this right. From the Palestinians to the flood of refugees who are currently migrating into Europe, it is certainly startling to consider, and it leads me to wonder how I would view myself if I were left without the ability to claim a nationality, something that is so quintessential to my identity. While it is difficult to put myself in the shoes of some of the people that I mentioned before, as I have never experienced a feeling comparable to that of lacking a nation to call home, my faith and my expanding understanding of human rights has definitely made me more empathetic towards the struggle that these people face, and has helped me to recognize the importance of claiming a nationality to the establishment of a personal homeland, and ultimately, its importance in defining your own identity.
This week’s readings examine similar concepts of homeland, especially as it pertains to feeling at home within one’s own country. In his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes what life was like for an African-American living during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, and the difficulties that they experienced when it seemed to them that they were hated by their own country for the color of their skin. King describes that he neither felt comfortable as an American, nor as a person of color, as he explains that the average African-American at the time was “harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments…forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodyness’” (King, Jr. 2). The discriminatory laws and constant racism that African-Americans experienced on a daily basis contributed to a feeling of discomfort within one’s own skin, as well as within one’s country. Being fundamental contributors to a person’s identity, one can understand how it would have been easy for an African-American to slip into this sensation of “nobodyness”. Salman Rushdie describes a similar sentiment in his piece “Imaginary Homelands”. Moving from India to England, he admits that his “identity is at once plural and partial” (Rushdie 15). While he has come to call both England and India his home, he at the same time has a difficult time calling either home. Over time, he has become distant from India, while simultaneously he is hesitant to call England home because a piece of his heart remains in his homeland. As a result, he is constantly torn between to distant places on the globe. These pieces underscore the importance of being able to claim a nationality and how it contributes to one’s own identity.