• the action of identifying
  • the condition of being identified
  • documentation/proof of identity
  • sense of connection with respect to a place, person, thing, or group

▴ ▴ ▴


I have a naturalization certificate in a safety deposit box, and an always-updated passport in my desk drawer, but no birth certificate, which means that I am a citizen, though I have no proof that—or how—I exist.

We never knew my late grandmother’s birthday, and as her mother died shortly after she was born, perhaps there was no one there to mark it. Yet even now, nearly one hundred and twenty years (we think) since her birth, there are millions of children who are unregistered. The stateless—those unrecognized by a nation—don’t have the luxury of documentation, the formal recognition that they exist; they don’t have rights, or a voice.

I am not stateless. Yet my roots wander. There is no record of the exact time I was born, my exact weight, though my mother believes it was in the afternoon; maybe 3:30, maybe 4, as the pale yellow winter sunlight dripped into the Tehran horizon. Perhaps I was a shade over two kilos, the size of a small sack of long-grain basmati rice.

No proof. No details. Just this life, and whatever particulars remain in memories that aren’t mine. No proof. No details. This life.

▴ ▴ ▴


A visa offers permission to enter a domain, though its Latin roots more descriptively indicate one who “is seen.” There are many communities that have allowed me to visit their shores, lofty perches and inlands, but I’m not sure I’ve been seen in any of them, beyond the refracting image I decide to share. Often, I’m more of a reflection of them than anything else, and that satisfies nearly everyone.

▴ ▴ ▴


There is another, unofficial passport I carry, in my heart, in my bone marrow, and in my imagination. It marks me a citizen of many countries and none, stamped with the boundaries I’ve crossed willingly and those I’ve been pushed through, like passion fruit through a sieve, with pulpy bits of me left behind.

That ink is blurred, nearly invisible, and the pictures I have of these journeys are only in my mind, and therefore, suspect.

Mandana Chaffa is founder and editor-in-chief of Nowruz Journal, a periodical of Persian arts and letters, a finalist for the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses’s Best Magazine/Debut; and an editor-at-large at Chicago Review of Books. Her writing appears in a wide array of publications and anthologies, and she serves on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and is president of The Flow Chart Foundation. Born in Tehran, Iran, she lives in New York.