Nationalism is a funny one. I was born and raised in Corsica, an island in the French region of the Mediterranean. (One of) my passport says that I’m French and while I agree, it isn’t as straightforward as that. In the post-World Cup euphoria, the new great stage of nationalistic battles, many people approached me incredulously: “Aren’t you excited you won?!” “You’re French, why aren’t you celebrating?!” “You must be happy!”
Now my lack of excitement may have more to do about my ambivalence towards football than to France but it did make me think about identity. Now I’m proud to be French, and I call it my home but I find myself having to explain parts of my life and experience that don’t quite fit comfortably in the box of just being from France.
The funny thing is that my hometown itself has a complicated relationship with being French. Corsicans have been engaged in a nationalist struggle since the 1960s. Most want to be granted more autonomy from the French government and some are even pushing for independence. In 2015, a pro-separatist coalition won for the first time ever in regional elections forcing Corsican autonomy into the national political conversation.
My point is that even if I hadn’t left France at age sixteen, I would still be engaged in a conversation about nationality and identity – it never really is straightforward. But it just so happened that I did leave at sixteen, begrudgingly at first (which was just my right as a teenager really), and moved to Australia with my parents. Talk about a culture shock.
Life on a different hemisphere was much the same and very different, just like you would expect. I ended going to university there and was then swiftly shipped out to the Philippines and Indonesia for three years each as a part of my job. I floated around East Asia for a while, ventured further west and even ended up in the United States for a stint.
My husband is Australian, I’m a dual citizen holder (French and Australian) and my kids are growing up in the UAE. If my identity is confused, theirs is downright chaos. The UAE is an interesting one because it’s a transient melting point, with the expatriate population making up roughly 85% of the country. Expats kids who are born and/or raised here are put in a limbo of identity. Too foreign for home, and not local enough for the UAE. They’ve become what is the newly coined term: third culture kids. An amalgamation of two distinct cultures that had created a third one of its own.
It can be hard not fitting in or not being absolutely confident in who you’re meant to be. I know, my husband and I will be there to guide our kids through that process. But from personal experience, I know that, that question never fully disappears. And maybe that’s okay. Just as it’s hard, its beautiful to be able to relate to multiple cultures, to find your people wherever you go. So when I hear a lilt in my kids accent or pockets of cultural knowledge that they’ve acquired, I begin smiling. It’s wonderful that they get to grow up with people from every far flung place on the Earth. It’s an experience like no other that shapes a perspective that isn’t defined to man-made borders or flags.
So even though the question “Where are you from?”, sets off a longwinded explanation, I’ll tell them to be proud of their third culture-ness, and their lack of cookie-cutter-ness.