When people ask me where I am from, I tell them I'm from Europe. Depending on circumstances, I might mention that I was raised in Franconia. Nobody outside Germany has a clue about Franconia, neither do I for that matter. I can tell you that my father comes from old Franconian stock, I have a copy of the family tree going back to the Thirty Years' War, but that there are quite a few Italian and Slavic traces here and there. As for my mother, who had a thing about the superiority of German culture, her background is a wild mix of Swedish, Russian, French and, apparently, Sami.
When the discussion gets too territorial, I occasionally blather on about the world being our homeland etc.
When someone mentions that there are too many foreigners here, I add that I am married to one of them.
But no, comes the reply, he is a different kind of foreigner.
Meaning? I ask.
Oh, you know, the proper kind, like us.
Like us? Who are we?
And so on.
The scale of migration we will see in the coming centuries is likely to dwarf what has come before. Climate change, disease, state failure, wars: all these will push hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, to leave one country for another. If we do not recognise their right to move, we will be attempting to build an apartheid planet where our passports will be our castes, and where obedience will be enforceable only through ever-increasing uses of force.
There is another way. We can recognise the human right to migration. We can recognise that we are ourselves, all of us, doubly migrants. We are migrants historically: our ancestors came from somewhere else, and originated, long ago, in the same spot in Africa. And we are migrants personally: life is the experience of moving through time, of abandoning each present moment for the next, of temporal migration.
It is we, those who stop migration, who are the criminals, not those who are migrants. And slowly, at a pace that does not terrify us, but whose direction is clear, we must gradually let go, and allow things to change. Only in doing so can we hope to build a world in accordance with the values we claim to believe in – liberty, equality, democracy – and wash clean the taste of hypocrisy that burns so bitter in so many of our mouths.
I imagine that centuries hence, when people are finally free to move as they please around the planet Earth, they will look back at this moment and wonder, just as we wonder about those who kept slaves, how people who seemed so modern could do such things to their fellow human beings, caging them like animals – merely for wanting to wander, as our species always has and always will.