A lot of reviewers have written positively about “Mo,” the new comedy about the life and times of a stateless, Palestinian man trying to make it in Houston, but few have noted the very important ways it is different from other immigrant stories, or stories about undocumented people, Muslim-Americans or refugees. Scattered through the show are little reflections on what it means to not only lack papers, to be an immigrant and an outsider, but to be stateless. “I don’t have a passport,” Mo says to his friends at one point. Not, “I don’t have a US passport,” but “I don’t have a passport anywhere.”
Fiercely proud of his heritage, represented in the show by olives and olive oil, Mo literally can never go home again. “I’ve never even been to Palestine,” he says at one point. It’s not that he doesn’t want to go, or that it’s expensive, or dangerous, or brings up painful memories. It’s not that Mo is cut off emotionally and rhetorically from his roots, he is literally and violently prevented from ever seeing his grandmother or the town where his grandparents grew up by an impenetrable force field of bureaucracy. He can’t go to Palestine, ever, but nor could he visit Mexico, his girlfriend’s country, or Nigeria, the birthplace of his best friend.
In this way, Mo’s story is subtly different from that of his various friends and partners in his show, and from most Americans, immigrant or not. While all Americans have problems, and he is sympathetic to their various plights, Mo is also interested in exploring the very particular ways his statelessness traps him in limbo. There is an American dream, but how to access it when you can’t even prove you exist? With so many people chasing the American dream, what is it like to be trapped inside it, the American dream less of a dream and more of a giant prison, your only option, because you literally cannot leave? This is what makes the show so unique and so important.