IDENTIFY YOURSELF featuring Melis Bürsin and Suat Öğüt

by Eric Beyer

I recently attended a wedding in Shawano, Wisconsin, a small, rural town in a northern part of the United States. The reception was held at the beautiful lakeside home of the groom’s family. Taking a break from the festivities, I found myself wandering around the property, and came across a sign in the front garden with the following words written on it in Spanish, English, and Arabic: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you are our neighbour”.

Shawano is about as small town as you can get—it’s a drowsy collection of a few roads and buildings set amongst green trees and fields that make up a serene and pastoral lifestyle. I grew up in one of these towns, and like any village or hamlet, if you stay there long enough, you come up against the ambivalent dynamic of its inhabitants’ hospitality toward and suspicion of people who, as the saying goes, aren’t from around there. Last fall, a majority of Wisconsin voters favoured Donald Trump for president, a man whose xenophobic tendencies are evidenced almost daily in his public remarks and through his administration’s policy decisions. To stumble across a literal sign of acceptance and neighbourly kinship in a place that helped vote the man into office was both heartwarming and encouraging.

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