On Living in the Hyphen, and New Perspectives

“Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you” – Rashi

Being here in Dubai for about a month now has been a wonderful experience. As mentioned in earlier posts, I have met some of the most interesting and kind people, seen a truly global city and felt more at home than ever as a visitor. One of the best things that has happened to me here is my heightened sense of awareness of my own identity.

As I have spoken about before, this city is primarily comprised of expatriates, the majority of whom are of varied and multi-cultural backgrounds. Although I am an immigrant myself, and have split my life, thus far, between two lands, I feel largely American. I grew up in America, I became who I am in America, I aspire to be American and I surround myself with Americans. Being Indian-American or South-Asian American in the United States (something I hadn’t really embraced until college) provided some interesting questions and choices, but that’s not really what I’m here to talk about now.

Being here in Dubai has made me realize that having a colorful past and representing a hyphenated identity is actually pretty remarkable and valuable in itself. Being surrounded by people who speak multiple languages, have family around the world, or need a couple of minutes to answer the question “where are you from” makes me realize that living in the hyphen is not necessarily a place without a home, but a home itself.

I truly do believe that I live in the hyphen (although perhaps closer to the American side than the Indian side) and I’m pretty happy about it. It is an opportunity afforded to me and is a unique experience that I can call my own. Out of it I have acquired a storied Indian culture, language and set of memories as well as an American culture, language and set of experiences. I’m not interested in trying to portray some sort of balance between the two or a particular preference for either, but instead to say that I’m proud to have an hyphenated identity and living here in Dubai has made me even more proud of it.

While visiting a family friend tonight, I got to speak at length about Indians here in Dubai, local Emiratis and their (my family friend’s) experience living in Dubai for 30 plus years. It was fascinating to learn about the ways in which Dubai has rapidly changed, even in the last 10 years, the changes in leadership between Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Muhammad, the ways in which South-Asians have prospered in Dubai, direct foreign financial investment and a multitude of other topics. It was great to get perspectives from a practicing business-man and his family who have been residents in Dubai for more than three decades. Some of the interesting points they mentioned were  the fact that although Dubai is considered “tax free” there are still many ways in which the Emirati minority maintains a certain level of control. Primarily through the policies of the monarchy, Emiratis have been able to enjoy the progresses made primarily by expatriates. For example, no expatriate is allowed to apply for citizenship or own a business without Emirati sponsorship. So, even if you are running a multi-million dollar business as a foreign national in Dubai, you are required to have a partner or sponsor of Emirati origin. Meaning that sponsor or partner merely signs his name (most of the time) and enjoys a share of your profits. Similarly, for a long time, foreign nationals were not allowed to own property in Dubai, so the large population of expatriates had to rent from locals, who received the benefits of booming real estate as thousands of expatriates poured into Dubai.

I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the family tonight and got a great deal of new perspectives on Dubai. I’m looking forward to taking these inquiries further in depth and seeing how I can understand Dubai better.