Not from here, nor there, but from everywhere
Any formal introduction is composed of three different pieces of information: name, occupation, and place of origin. The responses are always direct. One or two sentences are more than enough to communicate a short life-story and begin any conversation with a [now] former-stranger. However, after countless introductions in different parties and mixers organized by the same university, I have begun to notice that it is the third question where the personal story of many students begins to reflect a mix of countries, cultures and particular cases that go beyond answering, “I was born in…whatever city.”
“So, what would you call home then?” I asked Carlotta, my recent friend, while she took a small sip of her tea.
“Isn’t that always a complicated question, don’t you think?” she answered.
Carlotta was born to an English mother and an Italian father in the small town of Vicenza in northeastern Italy. She had lived the most part of her life in Italy while spending most of her summers visiting her grandmother in Brighton, England.
“For the most part, it’s Italy where I was raised and many of the people that I love live. It is where I lived major stepping-stones in my life. But at the same time, I think it’s also England, where my mother is from, where my grandmother lives, and where a lot of the things I grew up and identify myself with, come from.”
For me, my fascination with multicultural identities is clear. Every time that I return home I make two trips, one to Sinaloa (Mexico), where I was born, and after a couple of weeks, another one to California, where I grew up. And it is within these stories from students with similar experiences that I see that this division between the self might be more commonplace than I might have originally thought.
Being in England, I understand that in more than one-way European countries have more experience with the mixture of cultures — especially since the creation of the European Union. Its long history has been dictated not only by the dialogue between countries but the mixture of their cultures. In England alone, in 2011 the migrant population was made up by 11.9 million people. By 2014, its growth rate had increased 34 per cent. More fascinating yet is the actual intermingling of cultures that this flow has created. According to this same census, the collection of people self-described as ‘mixed’ had become one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United Kingdom, far faster than the growth of self-identified immigrants alone.
Yet, even as mixed individuals grow in numbers in the UK and with it the acceptance of a multi-cultural country, during my time here I have also heard the feelings of cultural exclusion that can also make mixed individuals feel isolated. It’s kind of sentiment that you get when met with two opposite forces, sometimes fighting to find harmony.
Asking Akane about her thoughts on Japan, having left Osaka with her family when she was still a baby, and living in Milan and London for most of her life, she answers:
“In many ways, I still consider it my home. Whenever I visit, I can see parts of myself [in Osaka]. Not just in the way I look physically, but in all the little things that reflect the way I see my identity. But at the same time, I think that some things — that are considered common or normal in Japan, are completely odd for me and I feel that in many ways I don’t completely fit in. It’s like I am a tourist in my own house. [However,] I think that when talking about a home, it is where you see yourself reflected even if it’s not completely. I believe I am still figuring out where [home] is because I am still figuring out who I am. But every time I reach Milan, Osaka or England I always have a feeling of home. It is just different everywhere I go.”
As a generation, international mobility has made us more sensitive to seeing a future where what we call home is not always where we live, but all the other places where we have shared the experiences that define us as humans. It is a communal identity that is not always defined by where we are born but by the cumulative of formerly foreign cultures as our own. In simple word, it is an understanding that who we are is not always from here, nor there, but from everywhere, and that’s okay.