Affinity Spaces for MENA/SWANA and LGBTQIA+ Artists

Marina: Thank you so much. We started this season talking about queer MENA, SWANA artists with Adam Elsayigh who is not in the room right now. But when we talked to Adam, he said, “Really? A season on queer? Okay. Is this really the framing you want to do?” And he asked some really important curatorial questions that we appreciated. Acknowledging that now, so we don’t necessarily need to dig into that in this episode. It exists and I hope that you’ll look at that framing because it was a great question that Nabra and I had already been talking about because it can be tokenizing and essentializing but it can also be really affirming and productive to be in a space dedicated to addressing the lived experience of these intersectional identities. I also wanted to mention that this morning I was reflecting on what we were doing today and the podcast started whenever… I called Nabra one day… well, I started my PhD and I thought, “Now I’m going to be in a space with people where I can talk about MENA theatre all day long and they’re going to care.”

And we do talk a lot about performance. But the people that want to talk about MENA theatre is actually quite limited in that space. And I was like, “Nabra, what if we started a podcast where we would just talk about this and anyone who cared could tune in?” And that was before I realized anything about MENATMA, really. And I found that there’s an affinity space that exists where we can do all of that. So it feels so luxurious this weekend to be in this space, but also recording this episode together. Amazing. Nabra?

Nabra: Yeah, she started her PhD and she was like, “I’m going to have so much free time. We should start a podcast!” She didn’t say that. She was, I think, smarter than that. But it’s a ridiculous request at that time, I realize. But I’m glad it’s still happening and we’re in season three, it’s very exciting. So we’re diving deeper into affinity spaces and I’m actually also really honored to have been a performer at Mizna+RAWIFest yesterday morning at 7:00 AM. I was performing virtually. And then came over to MENATMA at 9:00 AM. So what a lovely morning that was yesterday. So we would love to just start with how each of you define an affinity space. In our MENATMA programming committee meetings and conversations about this session, what an affinity space is and how it should function was not trivial for all of us to define. So we wanted to know how you define that and how they have played your role in your life as an artist, if you haven’t already spoken about that. Anyone can take this away. We are going to edit out all the giant pauses, I think, in the final episode.

Evren: For me, an affinity space in my life career has been really directly connected to advocacy and strength in numbers. So it’s always been, actually, with an eye towards change-making. I don’t know if that’s just because of the way I’m built, thank you parents, or just how it works within the specific identities that I hold. Queer organizing is messy and beautiful and difficult and in a lot of ways, that definition of making trouble through not necessarily agreement, but in aligned goal is something that I feel like within the theatre space has been gifted to me from my elders. And I’ll go all the way back to, I don’t know, Tennessee Williams and beyond, Oscar Wilde and beyond, for this. And in the MENA space, it’s really, in my own journey as an immigrant, and an immigrant that is quite white-passing, where assimilation was the goal for the first, I don’t know, five to seven years of my life in the US and trying to lose my accent and trying to figure out how to pass as white American and feeling like I was just really truly bad at it.

It took a space like Golden Thread which is of course an affinity theatre company. Not even realizing at the time what a luxury that was to be able to be in a space where I could say, “I don’t know if I’m this, I don’t know if I’m that. I don’t know how this works for me. I don’t know if I’m Muslim.” I have a lot of feelings as a queer man of defining as Muslim and then being allowed to make plays about that and have conversations about that and say possibly terrible things about that in safe spaces and being corrected or guided or just allowed to hit all of the walls and figure out where I stand and build my spine.

The thing I will say for me for affinity space, in my experience of affinity spaces, especially within the Middle Eastern, North African context is a really American idea. Yesterday we were having lunch and we were at a table with a Turkish American artist, an Iranian Armenian American artist, an Azeri Armenian artist and an Armenian artist. We had to laugh that in this given moment that this lunch wouldn’t happen anywhere else. And we were really having a deep, wonderful conversation about representation and translation and the impossibility of finding words from one language to another. This really deep, lovely artistic conversation about Chekhov and beyond. That was the context, was an affinity space, that really felt, in a certain way American, in a certain way San Franciscan, in a certain way Golden Thread and MENATMA-only possible space. I grew up there as an artist so it feels so second nature to me. It’s been a real learning, working in more mainstream theatres, larger theatres, and meeting so many Middle Eastern/North African, artists of Middle Eastern/North African descent, who haven’t had that luxury of growing up and having their soft spines built solid around political and representation issues and the true emotional and mental, which is sometimes physical, suffering they have to go through or have had to go through in theatre specifically.

I feel lucky to have grown up in an affinity space like this, and an affinity space that is intersectional, that allows me to be all the things I am and not have to explain myself all the time. And I, in a way, wish that on every young artist because it is nice to be seen, it is nice to be heard, and it is nice to not have to translate yourself all the time.

Andrea: I was born in the United States and didn’t grow up in a location where I had access to an Arab or Middle Eastern community for most of my childhood. I want to acknowledge that I grew up in what feels like now a very, very different time in terms of queer identity in the United States. I’m a dyke of a certain age. I made a big deal of turning fifty on social media this year so I’m not afraid to say it. I’m going to say something and then I’m going to qualify it. I was in my process of coming out, I was very afraid that Arab and Middle Eastern community spaces would not accept me because of my queerness. Now I need to say I grew up in a predominantly Christian rural Pennsylvania environment that was so deeply homophobic in the eighties that I literally thought someone would kill me. Literally kill me if I came out. So I think we often get stuck in this narrative that somehow urban Middle Eastern communities are more homophobic than anyone else. I’m saying rural Christian America. Right?

And so those affinity spaces, queer affinity spaces were key to feeling safe as a queer person, as a young artist. Am I allowed to cuss? Shit has changed. I’m amazed by young folks talking about transgender identity, questioning gender, questioning the relationship between sexuality and gender, which wasn’t even a conversation we had then at all, the language for. There has been extraordinary progress. I think now that I look back on it with this question, what was truly transformative for me was that when Arab spaces welcomed me as a queer person and I didn’t need an affinity space because the whole space was welcoming. And I have to name because I think it’s important that we remember our history and we name people, Barbara Nimri Aziz was the first person to ever give me a radio interview, the first person to invite me to RAWI, to be on a panel about the intersection of queer and Arab identity.

And it’s really important that here at Golden Thread in this convening, there has been 50 percent or more on the regular daily and pretty much everything, queer representation. Yes. Beautiful and amazing and powerful and just not questioned. And so that makes me go, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we just didn’t need affinity spaces anymore and every space was like this?”

Sara: I was thinking about this and moving to the Bay Area in the early aughts, I remember being very clear that I had three distinct identities: as an Iranian, as a woman, and then as a lesbian. And that I would play different parts depending on which room I was in. And then I also thought that I never quite felt enough of any one of those. So I remember, Deborah and I share a group of very close friends. And it was in their company, one drunken night, I was outside and I used to call myself Sara [pronounced Se-ra]. Everybody called me Sara. And I was drunk and there was some Middle Eastern guy, he was drunk and his name was Mohammad and he called himself Mo. And I’m like, “No, Mo, why don’t you go by Mohammad?!” And my friends overheard it and they’re like, “What about you? Are you going by Sara? You can be Sara” [pronounced Sah-ra]. And it changed then. I started going by Sara [pronounced Sah-ra]. And it’s a very easy way of telling who knows me and who doesn’t if they call me Sara [Se-ra] or Sara [Sah-rah].

But in that moment it felt like, “Oh, my Iranian self and my American self maybe can live closely together.” But I kept having these moments. And I remember I did a show with a wonderful theatre company in the Bay, and I took my then girlfriend to it. This is a room full of very queer artists. And I told her, I said, “We can’t be queer here because they’re Middle Eastern.” And we went through this whole party and I remember being so amazed at how wonderful, how drunk, how great they all were, but it’s like we can’t be queer around them. So up until the very, very long period, these worlds were completely separate. And now I think the only reason they’re probably here is because I live with it so loudly and so comfortably. That shift happened though, over time. And I take your point because even deciding as a queer woman whether I wear mascara or not. Because when we moved to the Bay, we had to be very butch, we had to be very femme. And even that identity, how I present myself as a queer woman, has taken time.

And now I recognize just this living is radical in and of itself. And it’s an example for so many folks that I’ve only realized because I couldn’t recognize, I hadn’t seen it as much. So anyway, when I was thinking about affinity I was really thinking, for me the longest time it was so separate.

Marina: Feras?

Feras: Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, I see affinity perhaps as community care, practicing community care in tangible and in material ways. How do we show up for each other in each other’s lives? How do we move together in the world? Who do we bring into rooms with us? I think also I feel like a lot of organizing is really around education and educating folks about concepts that might be, like what Evren was saying. I don’t know if I’m butchering your name, but pushing the envelope kind of forward, and I would like to invite us all. I think this is a good example of that because I was sharing feedback with Marina prior to the call and I’m so glad that you brought those pieces of feedback and you integrated them so quickly into the program, like about the Nakba and affirming that the occupation of Palestine has been since 1948. But I want to invite us all to see queerness, definitely it is a sexual identity, but beyond the sexual and gender as well.

Beyond the sexual and beyond gender, to see it as something, a political decision as well. Today I see nobody in the world is more queer than those in Gaza. You know? The way that they are invisibilized, the way they are demonized, the way they are intentionally silenced, the way there is a genocide against them the same way that there was a genocide here against queer people in the form of the AIDS/HIV pandemic, so to speak. They call it an epidemic but it affected more than just people. It affected Haitians as well. It affected working-class Black folks. I was having this conversation a little bit with my also fellow colleague on the RAWI board, Zeyn Joukhadar, an amazing transgender writer and organizer, just about how do we push those boundaries of queerness beyond and how do we see, and also with George Ibrahim about how Palestinian-ness is a form of queerness in a way, just the way it’s constantly marginalized, the way it’s constantly pushed to the side.

And I want us to, not necessarily right now, but to reflect on that question and carry it with us as we make our way back home together.

Evren: Feras, you inspired me, too. I just want to say that I do think I use the term “queer” rather than “gay” to define myself. One, because I don’t want to be that specific about who I sleep with as I identify myself, for some reason. It feels like none of your business. Also for me, queer is a political term. And a very specific political term because, I’m so glad you brought up the HIV/AIDS epidemic, talking about failure to our government to take care of people as we look at what they’re doing right now, we have a long history of this and that’s just one example amongst so many. What I find very moving is the AIDS funerals. The funerals of the people who were killed by neglect as well as this virus were celebrations, drag parties, dance parties. I feel like I look at our theatre, just I’ll speak about my art form, and I feel like joy has been gentrified, that there is this idea that there’s a cis white woman version of joy that has… And if I actually claim joy as my resistance, which I say all the time, I am negating the pain and the grief and the rage that we’re all feeling.

And having grown up over there, I have a lived understanding of people who are under the worst conditions that they are the funniest, they are the campiest, they are the most satirical in certain places. And for me, I am queering theatre actually feels very similar to the political actions of Middle Eastern-ing theatre, which is really about living in comedy as political action. As community, joy, and claiming that despite the fact that we’re all being killed to a certain extent. And this is something that is really difficult for me to let go of, especially as I work in mainstream spaces where the card I have to play is pain to get a job. And I feel like affinity… Yeah, they want my trauma, some of which I don’t actually have, by the way, I had a lovely upbringing as a queer boy. My family was wonderful.

Nabra: Don’t tell anyone.

Affinity space is also where I get to be unabashedly joyful and celebratory and unapologetic. Not just politically but as friends, as colleagues, as co-conspirators and that we hold each other accountable to that as we make space for our rage and grief. 

Evren: Second, if I’m doing this panel not led by Middle Eastern or conscious folks, the first question is, “How was growing up queer?” Asked with that soft white tone of care that is actually not care. That’s an invitation to perform my pain that I do not have. And this is not to negate all of the really terrible experiences queer folks have had in Turkey. So as I say this, I feel like I’m not representing something, et cetera, et cetera. I don’t have to talk about it on this podcast because everyone here understands. But the thing for me is, as we talk about queerness, as we talk about affinity space, for me, affinity space is also where I get to be unabashedly joyful and celebratory and unapologetic. Not just politically but as friends, as colleagues, as co-conspirators and that we hold each other accountable to that as we make space for our rage and grief. I am adding that to every community agreement from now on, by the way, it is the most brilliant addition. I can’t remember who proposed it, but my God.

So I just want to say that that idea of joy and political joy as political action lives in my body, both in my queerness and my Middle Eastern-ness, and I want to claim that for this space.

Marina: Yes. Evren, that was so beautiful and it takes me back to something Hamed Sinno said earlier which was, “You can’t, don’t use me talking about my queerness,” I’m paraphrasing them wildly, but, “don’t use my queerness to pinkwash and don’t use my queerness for part of your political or colonial or imperial agenda.” And that’s where joy gets in the way of people who try to use these stories for that purpose. And I want to add to what you’re saying, my favorite bell hooks quote, if you’ll indulge, anytime we can throw an amazing Black feminist into the space I feel like we should, but, “queer not as in being about who you’re having sex with, that can be a dimension of it, but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and that has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.” I love that. It’s very much what Evren and Feras were just saying. But wanted to throw hooks and Hamed Sinno into the mix.

Nabra: Yes. Yeah. You’ve already touched on a lot of what we were going to talk about so we should just end the podcast here. I’m just kidding. We’re not going to, don’t worry. We’re here for twenty more minutes. One of the things I wanted to go a little deeper into, you’ve each talked about how and a little bit of the journey of how the affinity spaces have become intersectional for you or have presented themselves as being open to intersectional identities. Folks often will talk about the tensions of being MENA or SWANA in queer spaces and the tensions of being queer in MENA or SWANA spaces as some of you have touched on. But can you identify what are the aspects of affinity spaces that have made a platform a supportive platform for your intersecting identities? Some of you have had experience with spaces that have been, one or the other, you had to turn on and off certain identities. But in those spaces where you were able to bring your full self, are you able to articulate what are the elements of that kind of affinity space that has allowed for you to bring your full self with all of your intersecting identities? And those listening can learn from that, hopefully, and curate better affinity spaces moving forward.

Sara: As Evren was talking about, one of the best places was the annual Golden Thread party, where we would bring lots of food and dancing. One of the moments I probably felt the most seen, you and I were on the dance floor. And there was some great drumming going on. It was all of a sudden out of the blue there was drumming. I think someone was singing. And I feel like he probably had more…

Evren: Hip action.

Sara: Hip action than I could muster and I probably had more shoulder action than he could muster. And between the two of us, we’re doing extremely queer, completely role reversal dance in the living room of one of our founding board members. That to me speaks to everything that’s been said, the joy of it, the fluidity of it, the queerness of it, and the complete Middle Eastern-ness of it. It’s what gave me, constantly, it gives me joy and great memories.

Evren: Just so it is said. I did dance her off the dance floor. Not that it was a competition but I did win.

Sara: We had multiple matches. I think I won some of them.

Evren: I disagree. I would say really, people matter more than words for me. Actions matter more than words for me. I think we’re in a place right now in the American theatre where we have to say all of the right words. We feel like the words are the welcoming thing. And I would rather people show up in their imperfect language but with open hearts. I understand that I sit in a very privileged body to be able to say this. I also want to own that. But for me, what makes an affinity space welcoming is that people look me in the eye and say welcome. When I correct them, they say, “I’m so sorry,” and then just try to use the right pronoun or call me queer rather than something else or apologize for an assumption they made.

I’m a little over perfection before arrival as a requirement of an affinity space because I think as activists, as organizers, and I think everyone on here probably identifies with those words at different levels, but we all are, knowing everybody’s work to a certain extent, we keep leaving behind people who are actually really important by doing that. And as someone who lives in very liberal spaces and then is supposed to represent not necessarily people in theatre who might actually have those words or believe those things or they are welcoming but they actually don’t know that that’s the word you use for that thing. I am always negotiating that for myself as I try to create space and represent this impossibly large umbrella of folks called Middle Eastern, North African, or Muslim. I try to figure out how to make space for people who are coming from different spaces and make sure they feel welcome and they have an understanding of the rules of engagement rather than correcting people’s verbiage.

Andrea: Evren, can we model what you just said?

Evren: Yes.

Andrea: Because sitting here and I appreciate the feminist impulse that you started the panel with to acknowledge and say, I am so happy to be up here with, but I don’t identify as femme.

Evren: That’s fantastic.

Andrea: Yeah, because I really suck at femme. I’ve tried and I fail miserably. It’s like queer failure all over. I can’t do it.

Evren: I’m very sorry to have used that.

Let’s go deep into the mourning and face our trauma and face our complicity as US citizens in what our country is doing and also be queer and joyous in the same process.

Andrea: Oh, no. But you’re correct that I do identify as a cisgender woman and that is a specific privilege that I inhabit. So we’re doing the conversation. We’re like, that was the thing we want y’all to do. And we want spaces to do, is like, have that conversation.

But actually I really want to dig a little deeper into the joy and trauma conversation. Is that okay? Can I go there? Because I’m thinking about everything you said and how that resonates with me about joy and queer space and also I’m thinking about my own work which dives deep into trauma often. I was very much, as an activist, and I also embrace the word queer because I do think of it as a much larger political framework than only my sexuality. And that is resisting the normativity or the seduction of capitalism and pushing back on all levels of political analysis.

I was formed as a young queer person coming out and as a young activist in the nineties during the AIDS crisis where our slogan was, “Don’t mourn, organize.” And we did that. And we never mourned. And we carried that grief for more than a decade. And it still hurts us. It still hurts us. So I think that a lot of my work on trauma is about creating safe spaces to mourn, collectively, publicly to cry, to be witnessed mourning. And also there might be a queer Elvis impersonator in the middle of the DRONE project because that’s also important to me. Let’s go deep into the mourning and face our trauma and face our complicity as US citizens in what our country is doing and also be queer and joyous in the same process. I feel sometimes that there’s an either or thing happening that I also want to disrupt.

Feras: Absolutely. Absolutely, Andrea. I love that you mentioned that because first of all, I want to thank you for mentioning Barbara Nimri Aziz, for naming her. As the RAWI founder, we all are indebted for her. And actually, the Mizna+RAWIFest was exactly a space, just as you mentioned, we had moments of mourning, of collective mourning, and we had moments of collective joy and we had moments of practicing collective care and support and moments of creation as well. And as we all know as artists, that’s the place where we create from or where we write towards, too. I think to touch on what Evren was saying as well about mining the trauma, we face a similar predicament as Palestinians. What’s your displacement story? That’s what the media is always interested in, but never in what brought us to this moment. So I really appreciate Marina and Nabra and naming the root causes of the violence that we just encountered and naming those white supremacy structures that uphold colonialism as a violent structure in of itself. And therefore an act of resistance becomes really an act of love. And resistance is existence, even if it manifests in violence. I believe that it’s a lesser evil, to use liberal talk.

But to answer the question that was asked, I think when it comes to affinity spaces, I think it’s all about really removing the barriers to entry. And that’s something that again, we try really hard to do with RAWI and Mizna. For example, how do we make it more accessible for disabled folks? And that’s why we chose to do a hybrid festival and required masks and asking people to vaccinate before or at least take their tests, even though knowing that the tests are not as effective with certain strains. It’s also making space for plurality, whatever manifestation that takes. We’re expanding beyond the Arab speaking world into entering SWANA and beyond as well with joint struggle partners with our indigenous Black, Asian, Latinx siblings. Again, challenging and resisting anti-colonial, anti-imperialist structures, removing barriers to entry for working class people in terms of economics as well because class is a very important dynamic that we should all make space for.

And always look below on the food chain. What do unhoused folks need? How do we bring them into the room? And always thinking about who’s not in the room and how do we bring them into the room. And that was a lovely practice that I witnessed this past weekend. Because it helps us multiply. Every time we bring somebody that is not in the room, we bring them into the room, then our numbers increase, and that is how we build power. That is how we build care. I believe that is the way to the future, a livable future, if I may say. How do we push back against white supremacy? How do we confront our own antiblackness within certain Arab communities as well? There’s so much to unlearn and so much to learn as well. So yeah, I really appreciate this conversation and where it’s going. Thank you all.

Nabra: Thank you so much for bringing up the other intersections that we have to be considering when expanding and transforming and growing our affinity spaces. Because queer and MENA and SWANA friendly space is not necessarily disability friendly. It’s not necessarily antiblack. So I love that. Thank you for bringing, and especially those very specific examples as to how Mizna and RAWI are doing that. I know Golden Thread is also doing that. I know MENATMA also working on that. And that’s working for all of us. It’s work for all of us and is a constant growth process. It’s interesting to start thinking about as we become more inclusive, and this is something we’ve also been exploring in this season, as we become more and more inclusive of intersection, what does an affinity space mean? I love the ways that each of you all have defined affinity space because it’s a definition that is hard to put on paper. You’ve defined it through the vibe or the way in which your joy can be present in that space. The way in which your grief, your rage, your emotion, what’s inside of you can be present in a space. Which is very different from saying it’s a room in which everyone is MENA and SWANA and queer, which is an interesting way to think about that and to think about how we grow and expand and create more intersectional affinity spaces.

I also wanted to touch on something else you brought up, Feras, which is this hybrid model. So today we’re in person, we’re live streaming, we’re sharing this asynchronously on Kunafa and Shay. And living in a more hybrid world, considerations, the merits and drawbacks of in person versus live versus hybrid gatherings have become very ubiquitous. And while art making has been multimedia, since really the beginning of advancements in technology, virtuality has become an even more present consideration, especially for performing artists. So how do you consider physical space in your community building, in your affinity creation, and in your art making?

Marina: We have about five minutes left so we’ll do this more rapid fire.

Nabra: Yes. And I’ll also throw in there consideration for safety and affinity within virtual spaces that can be so much grander, can be international. How do you consider that when it comes to your community building and affinity curation?

Andrea: I will jump in and say, I’m just going to throw a wrench in here, which is gender. Because the spaces that I like to create, maybe because I miss them, because so many have disappeared, are women-only spaces. And that is trans-inclusive. I do that a lot in my work, in my art making. My joy and pleasure is in women-only ensemble spaces. Again, there was a period of time when there were lots of… And this is so ironic, right? It’s ironic because Middle Eastern and Muslim communities get criticized all the time for having gender segregation in certain situations, and yet women-only spaces are my favorite places to be. So when I’m thinking about creating spaces of safety, it’s often around gender identification that is inclusive of trans, non-binary, and various sexualities rather than around sexual identity defined space, in my own work, in my own artistic practice.

So I don’t know, I wanted to lift up that when we’re making our own ensembles, we’re, in a sense, making our own affinity spaces. We gather people in a certain way to create together and to create the safety in which we can do our best work or ask the deepest questions or share the deepest stories. So I don’t know. Maybe that’s where I’m at, making and remaking those spaces. I don’t know if that answered the question but that was just what was..

Evren: I just want to say we’ve been using the word affinity space which usually goes with an idea of limiting attendance by identity, however that identity is defined. I’m in a place, we just, in the conference, just had this really beautiful conversation across different networks of color representing all sorts of communities, all sorts of backgrounds, and the intersectionality of our goals and resources that is needed. I think I was using this term two days ago to a friend where I was like, “I’m just looking for my people.” My people includes many, many, many Middle Eastern Muslim queer folks but also Nataki Garrett, who’s a cis Black woman, is my people. Eric Ting, who’s an Asian-American, cis straight man is my people. Mei Ann Teo, Asian-American queer femme human, is my people. And I’m always trying to figure out, as I build ensemble or as I build space, especially if the space is either around political action change making or it’s about difficult conversation or processing, whether that be through laughter or tears, as you said, Andrea. I am looking for my people and trying to make sure that the people in the room share some understanding.

And I wish, as I said, I’ve just started using this term so I don’t know if I have the articulation of how that is defined for me. But the thing I can say is that I know when someone is and when someone isn’t. And that is not necessarily across identity lines for me, always. The thing I will say about the digital aspect of the question you asked, social media, the digital space that has really sprung up even more now due to the pandemic and the isolation, we all felt through that has expanded my community, has done great things for my career, has done great things for my organizing and activism and advocacy. And then I attend a conference like this in person and remember that I’m an in person person. So it’s safe for me. And as I haven’t been back home for so long and my brother lives in a screen as far as I’m concerned, I feel like it’s all of it. And it has to be.

And if you’re an immigrant or children of immigrants, it’s really telling to me that in this moment of unbearable violence, the thing that Israel is doing is to shut down internet access. That is a violent act right now. And if that is the case, we have to accept that digital space and that access is community. That is access to truth. And that does not negate the need for me to hug my brother when I see him next, but it is both.

Nabra: Does anyone else want to comment on this before we wrap up?

Feras: Yeah, I’ll keep it short just because I know that we’re short on time. But for me, I’m obsessed with indigeneity. I guess it’s because we’re all indigenous to somewhere. I invite everybody to invite the folks in their lives, especially white folks or folks that have not questioned yet, where are you from, basically. Where do you come from? We get asked that question a lot as otherized, racialized people, as other subjects. I think that it’s time to flip that question back. It’s also important for each one of us where we come from. I believe James Baldwin said that you’ll never be able to move forward until you confront your own past and you know where you come from. And to mark your journey because there’s a celebration there of your growth of how far you’ve come. So yeah, just to ask each other and ourselves, where do we come from and to return to that place.

A beautiful, wonderful writer and also, he’s a performance artist who I love very much, his name is Fargo Tbakhi, says that “the future is a past that we return to.” And I truly believe that. I’ll leave it there. Thank you all so much for this wonderful space.

Marina: Thank you. We’re going to end the way that Nabra and I end all of our episodes, our phone calls, the way that you might’ve ended the twenty minute goodbye at khaltu or sito’s house, with a nice, “Yalla, bye!” So can we do it all as a group?

Nabra: As loud as you can.

Marina:It’s very cheesy but we love it.

Nabra: All right. Yalla, bye! Everyone.

Marina: One, two, three…

Audience: Yalla, bye!

Nabra: Thank you so much joining us. Thank you so much, Feras.

Feras: My pleasure. Thank you.

Nabra: This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of Kunafa and Shay and other HowlRound podcasts by searching HowlRound wherever you find podcasts. If you loved this podcast, please post a rating and write a review on your platform of choice. This helps other people find us. You can also find a transcript for this episode along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content on the website. Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay or TV event the theatre community meets to hear? Visit and contribute your ideas to the comments.

Yalla, bye!

Marina: Yalla, bye!

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