“You should be really confused about your identity”

Recently I met a girl who shared a personal experience about a cultural identity issue which happens to be something I’ve been mulling over for the past few years.  Her parents are Chinese, but she was born in Philippines and lived there all her life before she came to Japan four years ago. She is a Philippines citizen, yet because her ethnical origin is different, sometimes people in Philippines view and even treat her as a foreigner.

Having her own background in mind and given the fact that I lived in different countries and ended up with two citizenships, she asked me whether it was difficult to find people who would understand me. She explained that my mindset must be different from someone who, for example, considered themselves ethnically native and always lived in their own country. “It is as if you don’t have a cultural identity.” she said, addressing me and her at the same time.

This reminded me of one curious similar situation a few years ago. I was in Milan as an exchange student, attending international course of architectural project where everybody came from different countries, China, Italy, France, Saudi Arabia, England, Spain, Russia, Portugal, etc. The teacher was Italian and he really liked to use this expression: “In my culture”. I found him quite interesting for in the middle of some lecture about renovation strategies, concept of sustainability or situationalism, he would suddenly turn to someone and ask them where they came from. This way, he would relate their background and cultural experience to the current subject. One day it was my turn and after I answered that I lived half of my life in one end of Europe and another half of my life in the opposite one, he was really startled and said with a hint of amusement and  fascination in his voice: “You should be really confused about your identity”.

I think the girl from Philippines and my Italian teacher are quite right. For instance, I don’t have a sense of homeland nor any feeling of national spirit. I do think that preserving culture and traditions (though not all of them), is quite important. But if for so many people such a feeling of belonging is only natural, I cannot say I possess a cultural identity. I try to appreciate every culture I come in contact with and learn something from it. I also believe that each and every one of them has its good and bad sides.

I think cultural identity is quite a complicated issue, in a sense that it is up to each person to choose how to view themselves and accept their feelings of belonging or not belonging.

So far, I have lived in four countries in my life. For a time being I would like to stay in Japan not just because of working experience as an architect, but because I want to get to know more about culture and get better at language. Yet, in future I am not sure where I will end up. Sometimes I wish I had a more stable life in a sense that I would never leave my country and feel more comfortable and more at home, I envy those who are or feel “native” in their own country.

Sometimes I feel I am a nomad, so much that I can belong everywhere but nowhere at once.

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