Each individual embarks on a unique and unmapped journey through life, the distance away from “home” ranges anywhere from a few miles to migrating across the globe. Identity is strongly associated with personal experience and one’s surrounding environment. Deng (1991) proposed, “It is the way individuals and groups define themselves on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, language and culture”.[i]
I propose that in the world today gender, sexual orientation, politics and social status also play influential roles in the forming of identity. What was previously defined as being “a relatively stable, role-specific understanding and expectation about one's self”,[ii] has been challenged by the changing and dynamic world.
Old-fashioned and selective categories restricted those living as third culture kids, expats and refugees, in addition to the many others who do not fit into the specified group norms. Social and cultural identity should not limit us but reflect and embrace the rich variety of values and experiences each of us inherits and holds to be true. The question any foreigner has been asked countless times, “Where are you from”[iii] restricts an individual by suggesting that he or she only to have a specified local identity in a very global world. Taiye Selasi proposes that we should instead be asking, “Where are you local?”
Identity can be discovered when you are invited to share the stories of your local and rich experiences. These can best be found in three areas of your life:
Reflecting on these three has helped me in times of confusion and personal crisis. Some of my “home” culture will stay with me forever and influence me in ways which I may not even be aware of. Gradually, I am starting to accept myself for the individual I am, informed but not restricted by the norms of any one culture. Learning to understand, accept and embrace these new parts of me has made me a better person.
My relationship with the world and its people has changed drastically the past few years. The people who shaped my emotional experiences primarily came from the United States a few years ago, but now my closest relationships are with people from different backgrounds across the globe. Currently I am living and working with a diverse group of people varying in age, culture, gender and professional experience. I am once again learning so much about myself and others as I continue to grow and strengthen these new relationships.
The rituals I had as a child and in my early adult life include waking up early, spending a lot of time outdoors and cooking with local and fresh produce from the farmers market. These rituals still influence my lifestyle even after being away from California for years. I still love mornings, am active outdoors and go to the farmers market when it’s the season. Adapting to the cold winter climate and darkness in Finland has not been easy. I still try to get outdoors (when its not -30º Celsius) and, despite the almost total autumn darkness, still manage waking up early to have a nice cup of coffee and enjoy the morning.
I feel very grateful for the opportunities I have been granted, as a U.S and Finnish citizen my passports enable me to travel easily. The biggest limitations come from my status as a young female student and from my financial situation which restricts my mobility.
Taiye Selasi was right. After answering the question, where am I local?
“A very different picture of your life in local context, of your identity as a set of experiences, may emerge.”
Personal identity should not depend solely on the basis of race, gender or nationality but must be allowed to become an individually defined product of our life experiences. These create the rich diversity apparent in our individual, local and global cultures.