Dalia Al-Dujaili’s magazine The Road To Nowhere documents the deeply personal stories of second-generation immigrants
For the Iraqi-British journalist Dalia Al-Dujaili, identity is a fluid, amorphous concept that is simultaneously liberating and limiting. In a world obsessed with binaries, people are reduced to the colour of their skin or the country their families are from, when according to Dujaili, identity is always in a state of flux, continuously being defined and redefined. Narrowing it down to a few select buzzwords is near impossible.
The Road To Nowhere – a magazine dedicated to highlighting and celebrating the stories of second-generation immigrants – is a product of these introspective thoughts that Dujaili and many children of the diaspora were suddenly confronted by in 2020 when the slower pace of life gave them the time and space to reflect on their experiences growing up.
In its second issue, designed by Terrayne Brown, the magazine follows through on Dujaili’s vision and features essays, poetry, photography and interviews that platform the mundane, wonderful and diverse life of creatives within the global diaspora. From contributions from Angela Hui, who shares her experience working for her family’s Welsh Chinese takeaway, to an interview with Zain Ali, who reflected on the migratory experience through clothes and fabrics, to DJ Rohan Rakhit’s who details his involvement with the Daytimers Collective, the publication is a true labour of love.
Here, we caught up with Dujaili to talk about the latest issue, storytelling and how she navigates questions of identity.
What inspired you to start The Road To Nowhere, and what did you hope to fulfil through this project?
Dalia Al-Dujaili: It is a classic lockdown baby that grew from tonnes of self-reflection. I was struck by how a lot of people were becoming more vulnerable on social media and how they felt safer about sharing things online that they couldn’t share in person. Many second-generation immigrant creatives were talking about their experiences of growing up in the west and feeling like they didn’t belong. I realised many of us creatives were thinking about our identity and heritage and exploring what that means. The little media dedicated to us was not cohesive; it wasn’t all in one place. A lot of it isn’t presented in a joyful way or in a way that is accessible to a lot of other people. It’s branded as something that is only for diasporic people rather than it being for everyone. I wanted to collect all of our stories in one place. I wanted a way for creatives to connect and work together. I wanted to meet more writers, artists, and creatives that work in the diaspora and explore notions of our identity and home together. I’ve been able to do all of that through this magazine.
It’s been a strange and challenging two years since the first issue came out. What have you learnt while creating the magazine, and how has issue 2 evolved?
Dalia Al-Dujaili: The first and second issues are similar and different in many ways. I always wanted to feature contributors from different types of diaspora in the magazine. Still, the first edition was quite limited as it featured mainly South Asian and Arab contributors. There weren’t that many Black contributors or East Asian contributors. There were no Jewish contributors or anyone from the white diaspora, which was disappointing. Eastern European immigrants are really vilified and demonised in the UK, but we don’t seem to talk about it or do a lot to tackle that issue. I also realised through conversations with contributors like Yousef Sabry, who, while being Egyptian and spending his life in Cairo, still felt affected by notions of diaspora because of westernisation, that I shouldn’t limit my scope to second-generation immigrants. I want to make sure that everyone was welcome to this conversation we were having.
Maybe feeling like we don’t fit in is a symptom of culture, in general, becoming Americanised. Our languages and cultures are disjointed from the media we consume and from ourselves. How do you think this has impacted creatives within the diaspora?
Dalia Al-Dujaili: It’s interesting because we live in such a globalised age. We’ve never had so much unlimited access to other cultures, yet it feels like we’ve never been so homogenised. So many of the contributors to the magazine struggled with that same kind of dichotomy of having to represent their culture but also unsure where they fit in the equation because they’re not immediately connected to the region their family is from. But what’s been really enlightening about this whole experience is that I realised, and a lot of us realised, that no one feels like they fit in. My way of medicating and relieving that crisis I’ve had for so long has been to define this liminal space I sit in, and that other diaspora people sit in. I see the power of both sides of my identity. Being between cultures and having access to various cultures is so powerful because it means that you have multiple perspectives on one thing. So not only do you have access to different languages, different foods, different schools of thought, and different philosophies. You also get to look at the world through multiple lenses, and that’s powerful.
Is there a particular story from the magazine that has stuck with you?
Dalia Al-Dujaili: It’s so hard to pick, but one that I keep going back to is Theo Gould’s ongoing photo series, Mixed. He has an interesting aesthetic where he uses an inverted black-and-white style to make the images look racially ambiguous. He put so much time and effort into this series, and I’m so grateful to him for letting us publish it because the stories he managed to collect blew my mind. The photographs raise many complex questions about identity and how we identify ourselves.
Identity seems to be the underlying theme that ties the magazine together. How has your perception of identity changed since working on The Road To Nowhere?
Dalia Al-Dujaili: It became clear to me that our identities sit at the intersection of so many things. You can fuck with your culture heavily and still like things that are so far removed from it. I love exploring that aspect of my identity and other people’s identities, no matter how they want to define them. But I think we also need to keep reminding ourselves of the things that relate our stories together. The stories in issue 2 are strikingly different from one another, but they share similar sentiments at their heart. We had these incredible artists coming from different disciplines, with heritage from around the world, all sharing strange and wonderful stories yet connected by the same emotions and the same feelings. It feels like we are all just trying to break beyond the binaries people try to box us in and embrace the fact that we’re all lost and confused.