Colonies Within Ourselves

We will not know peace until we have driven out every trace of colonization. Until we have returned to some original semblance of who we were before we became so solidified in our identities.

It is possible to be colonized by one’s own identity, you know. Whether we are struggling against externally imposed narratives or attempting to write one of our own…we are constantly encased in these bodies, which tell us what we think we need to know about what it means to navigate the world.

So you want me to start? OK. Here are some of my identities: Woman. Writer. Activist. South Asian. Brown. Person of Color. Immigrant. Bicultural citizen of the world. Survivor of life. Survivor, period.

When I think of these identities, I don’t see any of them as “wrong,” per se. It’s simply that the exquisite totality of who I am cannot be summed up in any of these. Yes, these are parts of my selfhood, but they are only parts.

Now, by saying this, I don’t want you to believe that I am seduced by the notion of universal oneness and that I intend to uproot every sign of difference as if it were a rotten vegetable wrested from the earth. I don’t want you to think such a thing at all. I don’t want you to believe that in overturning my particularities, I am embracing some generic default that was not put in place by accident.

I simply want you to consider that there is another world. Another world that is just as vivid as this one, in which our diffidence does not occupy the same space as our grandeur. In this place, we are unabashedly ourselves. We are what we are, not despite our struggles and triumphs, but because of them. We are free to glory in this, to relish each aspect of it, as if it were the birthright into which we were born. As if it were the melody that stirred upon our lips when we emerged from the womb.

As if we were born singing. 

As if we were born with wide-open eyes that were not afraid to make contact with each sentient being in its presence.

As if we were magic fastened by flesh and bone.

All my life, I have wondered what it could be like to neither shrink back nor take up so much space that I suck the air out of a room. It is possible to do this from either position, you know.

I know that from this place, we enjoy the largesse of our lives because we believe that there is a power accorded us that transcends everything that has been stripped from us. Our dispossession is real, but so is this other truth that is within our custody.

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

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