If you ask me where I’m from, I’ll always hesitate. I never know where to lead with. If I know a little about you first, I’ll know in which order to start. Grave northern accent? I’ll say my family is from Yorkshire. Slightly reserved demeanour, speaking French? I’ll tell you I grew up in Nyon, Switzerland. From (anywhere in) Latin America? ‘I was born in Chile’ I’ll start with a smile, ‘and my husband is Puerto Rican’. Aussie twang? ‘I spent a while in WA’, I’ll say, nonchalantly. (‘yea, I thought you sounded slightly Australian!’, you’ll say, inevitably). Scottish? ‘I grew up there too’, I’ll say, really quite wistfully.
You see, I want to bond with you. Bond over memories, words that I’ve picked up along the way, places that have shaped who I am.
But, you ask me where I’m from, or where I feel I’m MOST from (many of you put the intonation on that ‘most’), with emphasis on that deep down allegiance… and I have no answers. The countries that build up my identity are constantly jostling for first place, but they never settle. And I’m never able to pick.
Answers that come naturally to some are mysteries to me. What does patriotism feel like as a sensation? Why do I feel hurt when distant family members say I sound American? Which team do I support, why does it matter? If I have children, how will they identify? Am I a migrant, or an expat? I feel like neither. Dual-national, third generation, third culture kid? Will these titles matter in the future? Maybe so many of us will be kaleidoscopes of experiences that we won’t lead our conversations by ‘where are you from’ and we won’t expect only one or two answers. Maybe breaking down these boundaries in our heads may break some boundaries in our hearts. Maybe.
Carlos fondly calls me an identity mongrel, living on the fringes of nationalities. And it’s true that most of the time, I feel like I’m living on the fringes of a variety of different clubs. Clubs I can access the basic membership for, but never the premium version, the version in which you truly belong. In every place, I’m a little too ‘other’.
I’m fine being on the fringes of these clubs; I am not complaining. It does not escape me that I have access to other clubs which oh-so-many do not. I’m just exploring the borderless space on the outside, hoping that there are others out here. Hoping that we can make it a tolerant place to be. Maybe some of you have some questions. Maybe some of you have some answers. Maybe we can be friends?