Taiye Selasi perfectly sums up why I’ve never been able to assign myself a nation when asked where I’m from. Instead I’ve at times resorted to comically presenting myself as 200% human – although, as I’m writing this I realize that that number should actually be higher.
I can not say that I am from any one nation and expect that to explain anything about who I am. Traditions, practices and experiences vary from city to city within a single nation. How can saying that I’m Swedish or Canadian or Croatian explain anything about me other than paint me with a bunch of clichés?
I’ve grown up with rituals that are local in so many nations, even though my personal reference came from a single one. My experiences of these make me feel at home in places I’ve never been even though I have blood-relations there and places I have never been and have no connection at all to.
The cultural rituals I’ve grown up with make me feel local in Spain, Croatia, most of northern America (the continent), Sweden and several nations in southern Europe where I have no familial connections. Not because I’ve lived there, or necesarily have family there, or have ever even been there. But because the rituals and practices that exist in those places are familiar to me. Because I grew up with my refugee-Croatian grandmother here in Sweden who fiercly held on to her heritage, a mother who praized her Canadian passport and a father with family in Spain. I spent my summers growing up in rural Croatia or on Mallorca, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas day and ate slow-roasted turkey, I’ve never once danced around a fallic pole in summer and only ever danced around christmas trees in school. I fasted with my grandmother and ate rural, modest dishes familiar to her from when they had had very little and been on the run from war. My perception of Spanish has never ever been tacos, nachos and sombreros. When we were at my other grandmother’s in Mallorca we ate paella and deep-fried squid and amazing fresh salads. When the other kids were on breaks or went to after-school activities we went to English mothertongue-lessons. And for Easter we colored eggs and ate chocolate and went to church just like so many others right here. But you wouldn’t know any of this about me and my personal experiences if I simply assigned myself a nation or told you where I was born. I am more than an institution and the clichés associated with it.
My life is a meltingpot of rituals and traditions that are local all over the world – and the same goes for every life. No one person is adequately described by assigning them a single nationality. We cling to our nationalities seemingly desperately at times, even though they say nothing in the least about us as individuals and what we’ve experienced.
This is why I have never – and will never – feel comfortable intruducing myself by assigning myself a nationality. I really couldn’t say anything that would tell you less about who I am.