For some of us, this question is easy to answer, while for many of us, this question leaves us fumbling for words. If our answer is deemed ‘unsatisfactory’ we risk being probed further, “no, where are you really from?”
When we talk about where we are from, a multitude of factors come into play. Some of these factors concern geography; our home address, the country we live in, the country we were born in, the country
in which our parents, and even their parents, were born. Yet, some of these factors are far more
personal. They regard the relationships we have with members of our family, the people we grew up around, the way we have been perceived and treated by others.
Each of these factors will grow or shrink in importance at different points in our lives. For example, if I ask a Londoner where they are from, they will often respond with one the four points of the compass: north, south, east, or west. Now, place that same Londoner in a different country, and repeat the question.
“I am from the UK,” will be their reply.
In March, at the Knowsy Kids launch, we were asked this very question, and the answers were as varied and complex as the experiences of the people in the room.
“I am from Jamaica,” answered one person. Why? They were born, and spent the formative years of their life, in Jamaica.
“I am also from Jamaica,” chimed another. However, this person was born in England but felt a strong affinity to the island from which their parents migrated.
“I am from Pakistan,” responded a third. Like the previous person, they had been born in England, but felt more connected with the country of his parents and grandparents, than the country they lived in. “At home, the food we eat is from Pakistan, the languages we speak… they are all from Pakistan,” they continued.
“My passport is British, but I am Ghanaian,” laughed another. Having lived most of their life in Ghana, they could not overstate the importance of Ghana in shaping their identity.
“I am English,” replied another. Nonetheless, they went on to describe having multiple cultural heritages from several countries. “England is where I was born, it is where I live, and it is my home,” they explained.
Finally, one person stated, “I am from Africa.” “My parents were born in the Caribbean, but my ancestors are from Africa, so I am an African.”
On paper, two people may appear to come from the same place. However, cultural identity is complex. It is shaped by the stories our parents told us as children, by the food we were taught to cook, the spices we grew up smelling. Our cultural identity is shaped by the demographics of the schools we attended, the neighbourhoods we grew up in, the languages and dialects we learnt to speak and understand. It is shaped by how others view us, how they react to perceived similarities and differences.
Our cultural identity is deeply personal but often very public. It is unique, but also something which is shared. It is exciting and challenging, intuitive and complex, and here, at Knowsy Kids, we believe it is something worth learning about.