Dalia Al-Dujaili on identity, storytelling and the importance of providing a platform for second-generation immigrants
Identity is complex a complex thing. In The Road to Nowhere, a magazine from Dalia Al-Dujaili, a British-Iraqi editor and journalist, the concept of identity is torn apart, scrumpled and analysed as she addresses her frustration with a lack of accurate representation of second-generation immigrants – where so often are diaspora communities spoken for in the media and therefore turned into a “political issue only”, she says. Where in fact, migration is a vital part of global culture, and The Road To Nowhere – now in its second issue – seeks to highlight this through a celebratory merging of art and writing, told first-hand from “third-culture kids”. She says, “Humans are mosaics of their experiences, their upbringings, the people around them and their personal history. So none of us fit neatly into a box, we’re all so messy and complicated!” Below, Dalia reveals her reasons for making the magazine, what we can expect to find inside the latest issue and her personal thoughts on identity.
What are your reasons for starting The Road to Nowhere, what provoked it?
Oof, so many reasons… I started it during lockdown of 2020 as a way to pass the time as I was still a uni student then and didn’t have much to do. It was partly a way to raise aid money for the famine in Yemen which remains one of the largest humanitarian crises in history yet receives almost no media coverage.
However, mostly, I was frustrated at how little agency diaspora communities have over telling their own stories. Representation is few and far between; when we are represented, we are spoken for and don’t get to choose how we’re shown. I was annoyed at how migration was almost always made into a political issue only. Whilst obviously it’s inherently political, it’s so much more than that. Migration creates culture and art, feeds creativity, inspires us, connects communities and reminds us to be human, so I found the constant politicising aspects a bit objectifying, belittling and limiting.
On the other hand, migration is one of the most important aspects of humankind’s growth and its richness and is the oldest and most natural phenomenon, yet under current policies in the UK and the EU, migration has never been under more scrutiny; immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are fighting some of the most aggressive and oppressive policies. As children of immigrants, we owe our livelihoods to freedom of movement, so I’m desperate to fight totalitarian control of movement and borders through creativity and joy.
What can we expect to find inside issue two? How does it compare to the debut edition?
Firstly, it’s so much bigger than the last issue! Almost double the number of pages. And you can expect to find an extremely diverse range of stories; for this issue, we have contributors with backgrounds from Aotearoa, Ghana, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Poland, and many more. The contributors use a range of poetry, fiction, personal essays, photography, illustration, digital art and film, and we have several interviews with trailblazers like Rohan Rakhit and Angela Hui. So I really sought out stories which greatly differed from one another but, at the same, were all connected by the same thread of their very human and sometimes even mundane nature.
Can you pick out a couple of favourite stories featured in the magazine and talk me through them?
Oh my goodness, very difficult to pick out just a couple. But if I have to… Zain’s story is one that I keep returning to. Not only is his personal story absolutely fascinating – the move from Lahore, Pakistan to East London, then Morecambe – but the way he talks about objects, and clothes especially, as archives of our families’ migration is so relatable and poetic. Again, it’s just a deeply human story that almost any diaspora kid can relate to, no matter their background. Also, Zain’s work is just absolutely stunning.
My interview with Angela Hui is another that I really treasure and feel very honoured to have in the magazine. Angela is about to publish her own book, Growing Up in a Chinese Takeaway, and we discussed her upbringing in rural Wales working for her family’s business. What I love about her story is how deeply Welsh and Chinese she feels. It was fascinating hearing her speak so passionately about Welsh culture and a love of Wales. I think people often forget how we do in fact love the countries we grew up in, as well as loving the cultures our parents imported for us from their homelands; Angela’s story is a reminder that we don’t have to ‘pick a side’.
What does identity mean to you? And how have you represented (or scrutinised) the concept of identity in the magazine?
Identity is both everything and nothing. It’s a made-up concept and whist I deeply resonate with my identity as an Arab Brit, I also try to reject rigid notions of ‘identity’ because they can be so limiting. Many diaspora feel the same way because we fit in “everywhere and nowhere at the same time”, to echo Theo Gould in his TRTN piece, Mixed. I also think some aspects of identity politics can be more harmful and divisive than uniting. Identity to me is just being able to express the different parts of yourself without feeling the need to cater to a certain audience or change yourself to fit into other people’s boxes. Humans are mosaics of their experiences, their upbringings, the people around them and their personal history. So none of us fit neatly into a box, we’re all so messy and complicated!
I think a good example of this in the magazine is Hark1karan’s Zimmers of Southall series (the cover image). Other than being obviously stunning, this series is so refreshing because it’s almost got nothing to do with Sikh culture – it’s about a community which is devoted to classic BMWs and which happens to be Sikh. The subjects of the images are evidently Sikh because of their clothing and appearance, but the series isn’t making their Sikh identity the sole focus, which just really humanises this community and de-exoticises them. Hark, perhaps unintentionally, re-writes this stereotype of South Asians being associated with Bollywood, curry and turbans, but he also shows how this community haven’t rejected their culture either; they manage to fuse their saris and Bhangra with their love of German Whips. I mean, to me, it’s just quietly genius.
I hope in this magazine I have shown how identity is both a beautiful thing and ultimately a futile exercise – you will never be able to fully embody one identity and the magazine is part of a mission to learn how to accept this as a beneficial and powerful existence instead of it being simply frustrating.
What are the key takeaways, what can the audience learn?
Joy! I just want people to feel joy, and feel more open to listening to stories that challenge their views.
What’s next for you?
We have a couple exciting events lined up this year with the magazine, including a sold out screening of shorts at the Barbican, Finding Home, Forging Identity, and we’ll be selling the magazine at Bow Arts with Baesianz Makers Market.
Currently, I’m just pushing and promoting issue two as best I can. We already have ideas and collaborators for issue three – I’d like to keep growing our online platform to showcase more audio-visual content, and I’d love to keep collaborating with arts collectives, organisations and institutions on in-person events like workshops, exhibitions and screenings/readings. But to be transparent, we need funding to make the next one even better, and the bigger our audience, the easier it is to convince someone to give us money… And as you know, funding is competitive and extremely difficult to attain. So the work starts now in anticipation for next year.
The Road to Nowhere can be purchased here.