For anyone who didn’t know, I emabarked on a Social Sciences course this Fall. I’m hoping it will lead to a degree in International Studies at the end – but you know me, who knows!
Whatever the end result might be in three years time, my immediate preoccupation has been with the subject of identity…….you know the kind of thing, how our identity is formed, what roles color, class, nationality, education, gender play etc……..and it threw up so many questions and thoughts which I wasn’t allowed to express in my essays (even had there been time, personal experience counts for nothing at my stage of course, and then I would have to interview at least another thousand people of my age and/or background to see if they had similar ideas for it to be a valid point.) so – some thoughts on identity from a personal point of view.
I lived in the UK until I was exactly 40 years old, and no-one is more surprised at that than I! I never liked where I lived, and only ever had very odd moments of bonding with the place.
I come from Blackpool, what we used to call a seaside resort, on the North West English coast, mostly very windy and chill, although I was brought up on the very fringe of the postal address, in a rural area, until I was around 12 years old. By 12, when we moved house (to a newly built semi in the “You never had it so good era”), and just after I had moved up from rural church school to grammar school, I was already aware that I identified far more with the history and lifestyle (or my perception of it) of the U.S. than the U.K. So I already had very little sense of a national identity. This was the brief, sweet Second Camelot time, when we were so sure the world was going to be a better place. The Kennedy years colored my world view for a very long time afterwards (what it did to my personal life is subject for another, maybe less public musing…and you see, sticking to the point is something I have to learn), and for sure did influence my identity, not so much in feeling American, though, as in begining to feel like a citizen of the world.
Quite how this interest in a country 3,000 miles away (and 3,000 miles was further then than it is now, if you know what I mean) developed I’m not at all sure. I usually joke that I blame the Cisco Kid or Hopalong Cassidy (Cisco Kid …. now there’s a whole other ethnic theme!) I identified strongly with that sense of space, the endless vista of canyons and rocks, which became endless vistas of tarmac in later years (Route 66, 77 Sunset Strip). The sense of freedom, riding the open praire or the open road, compelling, and seeming to be very much a part of the American collective identity.
I did history to A level, but found the European studies much more interesting than the English ones (and anyway shouldn’t that have been British? I’m sure it was listed as English history, someone?) Europe was still on the drawing boards as an economic or political idea, so don’t ask me where that came from either!
By the time I left school the 60s were really swinging, but even the Beatles couldn’t fill me with national pride, looking back, in their later period they should have, or at least Lennon should have, but 1968 was memorable for far more important things than the Beatles splitting up. Students rioted in Paris whilst I trudged along in a deadend job, which I almost lost when I had a very loud falling out with a customer on the subject of race. Where had my passionate anti-racism come from? I can only say thank you MLK, and studying the evils of the slave trade, because otherwise I haven’t a clue. I didn’t even know it myself until I found myself shrieking like a fishwife at the customer who made the racist remark.
I set out on the quintessential search for the meaning of life. Having been educated in a Church of England school and a Salvation Army Sunday School, and finding both lacking, I explored different branches of Christianity. It didn’t occur to me overmuch to look outside Christianity, so in that much religion was a part of my identity. The Beatles, by that time then, did influence me, in as much as they made me question, and opened up new possibilities to me. By that time, however, I had settled on the Catholic Church as being “my” religion……..the Kennedy influence again, you see. I knew I disagreed with some teachings, but I wanted that sense of belonging I found there and not in other churches. It didn’t last long, but I was aware of just why I had opted for the Church of Rome, even then. My sense of identity kicked in.
Fast forward around fifteen years, because that inbetween time was given to struggling to find my identity in a much more personal sense, and I had given up the hope of becoming American, mired as I seemed to be. I didn’t think too much about nationality, or anything for that matter.
I was pregnant with my first son when the engagement of Prince Charles and “Lady Di” made headlines. The day he was born the newspapers carried pictures and headlines from their honeymoon, and so began my brief relationship with my sense of national identity. My second son was born in 1983, and I consciously set out to give them a sense of their history. Being the way I am, I threw myself into it, only to find the opportunity to emigrate being presented – at long last.
Being an immigrant is an odd thing, maybe even odder, in a way, if you are a legal immigrant and comfortably off. Despite trying to learn the language and local and national customs I probably felt more English in the first, few years here than I ever did in the UK. Not in a chauvinistic sense, but in being aware of being an outsider. Opportunities to integrate seemed sparse. The boys went to a British school simply because there were no decent Spanish schools in the area at that time, twenty-odd years ago, and being a housewife didn’t get me out and about maybe as much as I should have.
Over the years personal circumstances changed, and those changes lead to changes in my own lifestyle which brought me more into contact with local life, which brings me to the musings which prompted this entry. Listening to the radio in the car this morning, exchanging greetings with fellow dog-walkers on the beach, shopping at the Farmers’ Market. I feel more at home here than I ever did in England, and yet I don’t feel Canarian.
Few, if any, modern-day Canarians can trace their roots back to the original inhabitants, the Guanches, most are descended from the Spanish conquistadors, and many have varied international roots, this archipelago perching, as it does, at the gateway to both Europe and Africa from The New World. For that reason, so many people born here welcome the diversity which recent years have brought.
Now, I don’t feel like a stranger, but neither do I feel as if I am totally Canarian either. So I suppose that what I feel is mostly European. I have the right to live and work here, without the necessity for a work permit, which I didn’t originally, so I understand how people who have to queue in line for hours to sort out their paperwork feel. It wasn’t that long ago that Brits had to do the same. If I want to, I can up tomorrow, go to France or Italy or Ireland or several other countries and enjoy the same rights. This appeals to me a lot, because the other thing I would mention if I really had to list the traits which make up my identity would be a craving for travel and for change.
The UK is great I love Shakespeare, Auden, Alan Bennett, The Rolling Stones, The River Thames, the mountains of the Lake District, the Romantic poets, all of the wonderful Scottish landscape, steak and kidney pie, fish and chips and cider, amongst other things, but then I could name as many things I love about France or Germany, and more about Italy or Spain.
They talk about people losing their sense of national identity or collective identity these days, but I think, I hope we are gaining more than we are losing. I hope we are gaining a sense of being a world community, not just a narrow national one.