Paulo Freire: Exile, from Brazil to Bolivia, 1964

No one goes anywhere alone, least of all into exile – not even those who arrive physically alone, unaccompanied by family, spouse, children, parents, or siblings. No one leaves his or her world without having been transfixed by its roots, or with a vacuum for a soul. We carry with us the memory of many fabrics, a self soaked in our history, our culture; a memory, sometimes scattered, sometimes sharp and clear, of the streets of our childhood, of our adolescence; the reminiscence of something distant that suddenly stands out before us, in us, a shy gesture, an open hand, a smile lost in a time of misunderstanding, a sentence, a simple sentence possibly now forgotten by the one who said it. A word for so long a time attempted and never spoken, always stifled in inhibition, in the fear of being rejected – which, as it implies a lack of confidence in ourselves, also means refusal of risk.

We experience, of course, in the voyage we make, a tumult in our soul, a synthesis of contrasting feelings – the hope of immediate deliverance from the perils that surround us, relief at the absence of the inquisitor (either the brutal, offensive interrogator, or the tactically polite prosecutor to whose lips this “evil, dangerous subversive” will yield, it is thought, more easily), along with, for the extension of the tumult of and in the soul, a guilt-feeling at leaving one’s world, one’s soil, the scent of one’s soil, one’s folks. To the tumult in the soul belongs also the pain of the broken dream, utopia lost. The danger of losing hope. I have known exiles who began to buy a piece of furniture or two for their homes only after four or five years in exile. Their half-empty homes seemed to speak eloquently, of their loyalty to a distant land. In fact, their half-empty rooms not only seemed to wish to speak to them of their longing to return, but looked as if the movers had just paid a visit and they were actually moving back. The half-empty house lessened the sentiment of blame at having left the “old sod.” In this, perhaps, lies a certain need that I have so often perceived in persons exiled: the need to feel persecuted, to be constantly trailed by some secret agent who dogged their step and whom they alone ever saw. To know they were so dangerous gave them, on the one hand, the sensation of still being politically alive; and on the other, the sensation of a right to survive, through cautious measures. It diminished their guilt feelings.

Indeed, one of the serious problems of the man or woman in exile is how to wrestle, tooth and nail, with feelings, desire, reason, recall, accumulated knowledge, worldviews, with the tension between a today being lived in a reality on loan and a yesterday, in their context of origin, whose fundamental marks they come here charged with. At bottom, the problem is how to preserve one’s identity in the relationship between an indispensable occupation in the new context, and a preoccupation in which the original context has to be reconstituted. How to wrestle with the yearning without allowing it to turn into nostalgia. How to invent new ways of living, and living with others, thereby overcoming or redirecting an understandable tendency on the part of the exiled woman or man always to regard the context of origin (as it cannot be got rid of as a reference, at least not over the long haul) as better than the one on loan. Sometimes it is actually better; not always, however.

Basically, it is very difficult to experience exile, to live with all the different longings – for one’s town or city, one’s country, family, relatives, a certain corner, certain meals – to live with longing, and educate it too. The education of longing has to do with the transcendence of a naively excessive optimism, of the kind, for example, with which certain companions received me in October 1964 in La Paz: “You’re just in time to turn around. We’ll be home for Christmas.”

I had arrived there after a month or a little more than a month in the Bolivian embassy in Brazil, waiting for the Brazilian government to deign to send me the safe-conduct pass without which I should not be allowed to leave. Shortly before, I had been arrested, and subjected to long interrogations by military personnel who seemed to think that, in asking these questions of theirs, they were saving not only Brazil but the whole world. “We’ll be home for Christmas.”

“Which Christmas?” I asked, with curiosity, and even more surprise.

“This Christmas!” they answered, with unshakable certitude.

My first night in La Paz, not yet under the onslaughts of the altitude sickness that were to fall upon me the next day, I reflected a bit on the education of longing, which figures in Pedagogy of Hope. It would be terrible, I thought, to let the desire to return kill in us the critical view, and make us look at everything that happens back home in a favorable way – create in our head a reality that isn’t real.
freire12Exile is a difficult experience. Waiting for the letter that never comes because it has been lost, waiting for notice of a final decision that never arrives. Expecting sometimes that certain people will come, even going to the airport simply to “expect,” as if the verb were intransitive.

It is far more difficult to experience exile when we make no effort to adopt its space – time critically – accept it as an opportunity with which we have been presented. It is this critical ability to plunge into a new daily reality, without preconceptions, that brings the man or woman in exile to a more historical understanding of his or her own situation. It is one thing, then, to experience the everyday in the context of one’s origin, immersed in the habitual fabrics from which we can easily emerge to make our investigation, and something else again to experience the everyday in the loan context that calls on us not only to become able to grow attached to this new context, but also to take it as an object of our critical reflection, must more than we do our own from a point of departure in our own.

— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1992: p. 23-25

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