- (In)Flexible Citizenship:An Autoethnography of an Iranian New Zealander
In an attempt to seek better life conditions my family migrated to Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, some fifteen years ago. The simplicity of this sentence does not even begin to capture the decade-long arduous and Kafkaesque trials we experienced before obtaining citizenship in New Zealand (NZ). When migrating to a developed democratic "first-world" country one does not expect to be subjected to measures that continue to reduce one's sense of humanity and social belonging. By way of an autoethnography, I connect Aihwa Ong's concepts of "technologies of government" as creators and regulators of a particular order, with my family's experiences as Iranian migrants, in order to introduce a new layer to the investigation of Asian diasporas and the measures of control they are often subjected to by state ideologies. By considering Iranian migrant stories, we can deterritorialize the racist categories forged by dominant forces that aim to control populations into a manageable and profitable market labor force. We need to consistently reframe our understanding of "Asian" toward a more inclusive, heterogeneous, and fragmented framework that allows the space for more diverse voices to be heard.
Analyzing the implications of such processes of control on my family's sense of belonging, quality of life, and future prospects requires a powerful framework that allows for a radical critique of the neoliberal ideology at work. Ong's significant work on key concepts of transnationalism, diasporas, and "flexible citizenship" has no doubt shaped our understandings of the complexities of today's increasingly complicated movements in a post-globalized world (1999, 2003, 2006). In Buddha Is Hiding (2003), Ong's interrogations of the processes through which dominant ideologies shape and reproduce particular values, such as self-reliance, individualism, and [End Page 227] freedom, assist me in understanding the ways in which neoliberal capitalist states operate to root power in shifting environments. Ong examines "citizenship [as] a cultural process of 'subjectification,' in the Foucauldian sense of self-making and being-made by power relations that produce consent through schemes of surveillance, discipline and control, and administration" (1996, 737). More specifically, on both the micro and macro levels, welfare states enforce a dependency complex upon marginalized groups, and subsequently accuse them of inferiority and weakness due to the very same condition that has been deliberately imposed on them (Ong 1996).
For over twenty-four years, my parents sought opportunities to leave Iran before finally arriving in NZ. A deputy principal and a military helicopter pilot, each with twenty-seven years of experience, did not qualify for skilled migration to NZ. As a result, we remained on temporary visas with limited rights for several years while our multiple applications for Permanent Residency (PR) were denied. The final appeal court gave us fifty-six days to pack five years' worth of life and return to "where we had come from." However, as a minority migrant, you must either know or learn the art of hustle rather quickly. Ong's work on American Cambodians' "continuous struggle to survive low-wage economy in which they cannot depend on earnings alone" demonstrates the need for minorities to "develop complex strategies for manipulating and evading rules" and "pooling" resources, to secure both economic and civic independence (1996, 743, 744). Similarly, my father refused to accept "no," mainly because they had given up everything they had in this gamble and had nothing to return to.
Through unorthodox means, we managed to get our story heard for the hundredth time in five years, and thanks to the humanity of a single individual who decided to believe us, we finally obtained our PR. During the next five-year interim period waiting for citizenship status, we remained bound to NZ. The Iranian passport did not hold enough credibility for traveling, not even a transit visa from Australia. We also could not travel to Iran; given the unstable regional circumstances, NZ could refuse us entry back in the country, unless we had citizenship rights. We were studying and/or working, creating a new life. Even a reunion with the homeland and the family we had left...