Liminal identities-You think therefore I am
When crossing a border the visitor must placate the host, their identity must conform with their hosts expectations . This however varies from visitor to visitor, different passports demand different rituals.
On a return trip to London from Copenhagen in the summer of 2014, something interesting happened.
I was at the immigration counter presenting my passport to be cleared for entry. During the check the officer at the counter asked with a solemn tone “Mr Munyuthe, where do you study ?”
I nervously replied with a heavy British inflection, “I study architecture at Central Saint Martins.”
Upon hearing my voice and the britishness it carried, his tone became less solemn, I was an actor placating my audience and the counter was my stage.
As a diasporic African my identity is a source of conflict. I have British mannerisms but my national identity is Kenyan. This duality brings with it an awareness of the other, an ability to engage with the other whilst not truly being part of the other. This double consciousness was described by Dubois as, ‘a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.’ This awareness allows me to perform my charlatanism at will and for a moment transform my identity.
Sociologist Richard Sennett defines borders for its qualities of interaction as is characterised by the juxtaposition of different conditions. Similarly the immigration counter , although not officialy located within a border carries this quality of juxtaposition. On the one side stands the host , the other the visitor. This threshold is where the visitor must prove his 'worthiness' inorder to be granted permission to cross. So, in a sense the visitors identity must be malleable enough to placate the host expectations , if not they risk rejection.
The visitor's identity is not who he truly is, it cannot be, it is instead what the host imagines it to be.