I once taught a class at one of the University of California campuses that involved the various elements that contribute to how we construct our identity. These include things like sexuality, race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, and so on.
Upon returning from our visit to the USA, which is where I am from and where I lived for the vast majority of my life, I find myself in a bit of a low place. It is normal to feel “down” after the holidays, and maybe that is part of it. But for me, it was actually being in America, and my identity as an American that causes these feelings.
Although I am American, I am not your “typical American” that is so easily stereotyped and depicted. My wife points out that I never have been one that fit into the standard American mold. I think this is due to traveling a lot when I was younger, and that I lived abroad for a while in my early 20’s. My parents also taught me to think for myself and to embrace learning and evolving as a person. So if I wrap all that together, it made it so I consciously rejected many things that I didn’t like or didn’t want to identify with. Not rejection in an overt way, like dying my hair and getting piercings all over my body (which is cool for those who do it). But rejection in the more subtle way; keeping it to myself and saying, “ok, I don’t agree with XX, so I will just avoid it / not go to those places where people like that hang out / etc.”
This didn’t make me an outsider in the US, I still had friends there and everything. But it probably made it easier for me to move when I left for Sweden 4 years ago. And after I got here, I made the conscious decision not to get any American friends here. I didn’t want to talk about the homeland and romanticize where we are from; I didn’t want to make myself miss the USA. I wanted to “buy in” to Sweden, to own my decision to move here and to integrate into the culture here by learning to understand the way of the people without hinderance. I am still not fluent in Swedish, but I am fairly aware of the cultural norms and the overall “Swedish mindset” (“lagom” and “jantelagen” are just the tip of the iceberg).
So when I went back to America this time, it had been 2 years since my last visit. 2 years of the country moving in one direction while I moved in another. 2 years of terrorism, politics, media blowing things out of proportion, fear building up of anyone outside of America. 2 years of me experiencing one thing while the citizens of the US experienced another.
I felt for the first time that I was a visitor to my country. I felt like it did not feel like my home country, and I had a hard time feeling connected to the people there. The news channels were screaming at me to be afraid, the newspapers with bold print headlines were trying to catch my attention by being louder than the tv news. The people were all wearing workout clothes (ok, not everyone), as if they had just been to the gym, but it was clear they hadn’t been. Sports logos and brands were everywhere. And on and on. I just didn’t know where to begin, and did not care to anyway.
So there is a bit of a “national identity crisis” happening for me right now. The national identity I have is grey. I should technically find my national identity in the USA, and as an immigrant to Sweden I am not connected to the national identity of a Swede. We have a different “insider’s view” into our countries that only a person with history will have. I know the history of the American story for the last 36 years, so I have insider views into American culture that helps me understand the logic of what happens in America and to explain it to others, and this insight can only be learned thru experience. The same goes for natives of the Swedish culture – it will be years before I can have that history.
So I guess it will be a long road of feeling “in-between,” and I must rely on my identity as a father, husband, good person, and even as an immigrant. It’s kind of a lonely place to be, but I guess it’s one of those hurdles you go thru if you move from your native country.