Yahya Hashem is a Syrian actor currently living in the Netherlands. Here, he talks to us about his sense of identity:
I am a believer who has faith in God, but I disagree with the way people usually communicate with Him. Our relationship with the Creator is too exalted for humans to dictate it, and it’s better when you yourself find the highest path toward communicating with Him. As time passes, as I travel more and encounter different people and cultures and religions, I’ve arrived at my own private way of speaking to God Almighty. I belong to the warmth; I don’t like the cold. In Syria where we were raised, we had all four seasons, whereas here the environment is different; the winter is longer than the summer. I suffered from this in the beginning but with time I adapted.
On his Syrian identity and what represents it:
For a while I felt like I didn’t belong, not because I am Syrian. I belong to my neighborhood, my family, to the places I’ve lived, but to the country? Did the country accommodate me? In such a way where I felt I belonged to it? Or did it reject me and kick me out? I fled from Syria because I was forced to, against my will. My country expelled me because I’m Syrian, and so my sense of belonging and loyalty faded somewhat. I can’t deny that I’m Syrian, or deny that I love my country, Syria. But is the Syria of today the same as yesterday’s Syria? Of course not. I don’t belong to the Syria of today, nor do I feel any longing for it. But yesterday’s Syria is definitely a piece of my heart and soul.
On how the Syrian conflict has impacted his sense of identity:
War always has negative effects on trees and inanimate objects, so what of humans, who are creatures made up of feelings and emotions? Imagine that whenever you sleep you have nightmares; imagine that you have no news of your brother who disappeared nine years ago; imagine that you can’t see your parents; all of these things exert immense pressure on you and give rise to negative feelings. I feel like Syria, as a country, is innocent. It was a victim, and I too am a victim just like it. I can’t take off my own skin. I’m Syrian and I’ll stay Syrian. Whatever of Syria is stored in the cells of my body and in my memory is now offset by what I’ve received from this new country, the Netherlands. With time this has created a balance between Syrian Yahya and Dutch Yahya, and now I’m 60% Syrian and 40% Dutch.
On how immigration has impacted his Syrian identity:
Immigration means that you have lost your identity. After you leave your country, you don’t know if you’re ever going back or not, and this in itself is a loss. This is an erasure of personality and the erasure of identity. For a while I lost my identity and found myself wondering: who am I? To whom do I belong? I consoled myself by saying: I belong to the earth, which belongs to all people. I said this to myself so I wouldn’t feel like an outcast, like someone completely different to all the people settled in their countries, feeling happy in their safety and security, the things that we have lost.
On the customs and traditions he once practiced and how they affect his sense of identity:
I love diversity, it’s a part of my appearance and personality. In Syria I would wake up to the sound of the diesel seller or the gas distributor as he knocked on the gas tanks and called out to the neighborhood. I was never bothered by this. I loved that ritual, which was beautiful in its time. Meanwhile, waking up now in the Netherlands to the calm and the chirping of birds is also beautiful. For me both things are beautiful especially that they don’t look alike, but they are like my own diverse personality.
When I immigrated, I left behind some customs and traditions that are entirely different to the ones that belong to this new place where I now live. I was unable to adapt quickly, but I felt the delight of discovering something new and the delight of adapting to it, because I love diversity. I had some difficulty at first but then I found balance. I looked for that point of balance between the two opposites. I like to live and I like to live in the moment, and I will never forget that I’m Syrian not because I love it, but maybe simply because I can’t.
If he had to define his identity briefly:
I don’t have a specific color; I love all colors. I am very diverse, always renewing. I am constantly seeking to evolve, to search for new things. I love to give, I love goodness, I love nature, and I love people so much because they are part of nature, and I’m always looking for positive energy.