The writer Taiye Selasi suggests that a person’s identity should be tied to their experiences rather than a passport. So, if we ask people where they feel like a local, we’ll get to the heart of who they are.
No simple answer
Taiye Selasi has often been asked ‘So, where are you from?’ but she’s never had a simple or satisfying answer. She was born in England, but raised in the US. Her mum was born in England but raised in Nigeria and now lives in Ghana. Her dad was born in the former colony Gold Coast, raised in Ghana, but now lives in Saudi Arabia.
‘I’m not multinational’
While on a book tour, she noticed presenters often simplified the matter by introducing her as ‘multinational’. “Nike is multinational,” she thought. “I am a human being.” This led her to consider her parents’ identities and the fact a nation such as Ghana that didn’t exist when they were born. “To me, a country – this thing that could be born, die, expand, contract – hardly seemed the basis for understanding a human being,” she concluded.
‘I’m a multi-local’
Hence her suggestion to ask people not ‘Where are you from?’ but ‘Where are you a local?’ “This would tell us so much more about who, and how similar, we are,” says Selasi, who, despite being raised in America, has no connection with most of the 50 states. But she does strongly associate herself with towns and neighbourhoods in New York, Georgia and Massachusetts. Furthermore, Selasi also identifies with many places where her parents have lived (so places she frequently visited) as well as various ethnic cuisines she grew up eating. Her conclusion: “Our experience is where we are from. I’m not a national. I’m a local. A multi-local.”
And the kids?
Now, many of our members might have a very singular identity and a simple answer when asked: ‘Where are you from?’ But it’s quite possible your kids don’t. They may have strong connections to both your host country and your passport culture (and cross-cultural kids will have an even more layered identity). As a result, in their lives, there will be a multitude of international rituals, musical influences, evocative flavours, familiar neighbourhoods and friends / family members dotted around the world, all of which can tell us not only where they feel like a local but who they are.
View Taiye Selasi’s TedTalk