One of the usual answers to this question is … I am a Romanian. It’s very easy for me to say this, because I was born in Bucharest, I spent 28 years of my life in the same city (most of it in the same house), my parents and grandparents were born in Romania as well.
I’m probably one of the “last Mohicans” who has the luxury to define herself in such terms. During my travels, I met people for whom this categorization isn’t enough: “I’m Indian, but I lived all my life in South Africa”; “I live in Berlin, but I’m half French”; “I’m Belgian, but I’m living now in the Netherlands”, “I was born in Japan, but grew up in New Zeeland” just to give few examples.
To define themselves entirely through one ‘place’ becomes an impossible task for many people. So then, what is the next best way to define oneself? Seems almost a reflex to think of identity in terms of space… but now when the borders are fading… who we actually are?
I remember my project created during my South African semester where following the same question, I asked local and foreign students about how self-image is modified (or not) when being “home” or “abroad”, having in mind the idea that home is the key concept for the question above.
What I didn’t realize back then was the fine distinction between home, and the act of defining yourself through a certain space. Sometimes these two spaces overlap, but not necessarily. We can still consider a space as being home because of the period of time spent there (we grew up, studied, worked or just had a great time there), but defining ourselves through that space is a bigger step. Because any space has certain attached attributes, the so-called “cultural features” which by the act of saying for example “I am a Romanian” (different than “I am from/I was born in/I grew up in/i live in Romania) we accept simultaneously to fit into the “Romanian” category and imbibe those cultural attributes that come with it.
We can have many homes, but we might not be “permanent residents” of all these homes. In which case for travelers like me and my friends* – the question “who am I?” is still open and needs other categories in the answer. Any suggestions…?
*a big Thank You! to each of my friends for letting me learn from them about myself!