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Friday, May 27, 2011

The search for identity and belonging

"Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from Birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient." Malcolm X

Although I didn’t enjoy reading “The Finkler Question” (see my last post) it did stir in me, yet again, the desire to find my identity. Not that I ever lost my identity, it didn’t fall out of my pocket or disappear down the drain with the shampoo as I washed my hair. I’ve just never really worked out who I am or where I belong.

Once a week I volunteer at an English conversation class for migrants and refugees. For one hour every week I sit and talk to a group of people, young and old, male and female, who are all attempting to learn the English language. They all know where they come from and where they belong. They come from China, Japan, Iran, Korea, Romania, Vietnam and Myanmar. They are proud of their cultures and they belong to their families and their histories. But when they ask me where I come from, I’m not sure what to say.

Do I simply tell them I was born in America and that at age 10 my parents kidnapped me and forced me to live in Australia? Or do I dig deeper into my family’s roots? Do I tell them that my mother’s parents were Russian, but she was born in France? Do I tell them my father’s ancestors were German, but his family lived in the Baltic States? Am I Russian? Am I German? Am I American or Australian?

Citizenship doesn’t matter here. I have dual Australian/American citizenship. Of the two I have always felt more American. I’m proud of the country where I was born and I always will be. But being proud of being born American doesn’t give me an identity, nor does it create a firm sense of belonging. Conversely it makes me feel even more alone seeing that most people I meet refuse to believe I’m American as I no longer have the accent. I am also happy I live in Australia. If I hadn’t have moved here I would never have had my wonderful boys. In a way I have no country, or maybe many countries.

I sometimes wish I had been born into a large family, one with traditions and celebrations and gatherings. But there was only ever me, my parents and my grandparents on my mother’s side. There was an awful lot of religion, but not much celebration and we were too few to gather.

Recently I’ve been piecing together my family history. It’s a fascinating task and one which will take me a long time to complete. Each time I find another bit of information, go down another path, uncover another fact, I’m finding out who I am and where I belong. It’s a work in progress, a journey rather than a destination and one day I might have the answers I’m looking for and the sense of belonging I need.


  1. I wish you all the best in your journey, Cassandra. Already it looks like you are getting some of the answers you seek :-)

  2. that's the big question in life...who are we?...I think it has more to do with who we want to be rather than where we hailed from. Our ambitions and dreams shape us more than anything. An American living in Australia describes your passport, not the type of person that you are. We become more who we are as we get older and it becomes more defined in our minds. We are complicated!.....celebrate the are uniquely you.....

  3. Very good post. I feel the same way mermaid gallery does. My ancestry is a melting pot of cultures and so I don't identify with it.

  4. Interesting musings. Sounds like you have a great bridge built there between your 2 countries. :)

  5. My grandma traced some of our roots back to 1494 and just for the record, I think Australians have the accent.

  6. Australian's i am sure are happy to embrace you as one of our own especially if you don't have an accent anymore.

  7. This is a very good post. I'm from Canada so there's a lot going on in my family history. It's all very interesting.

  8. I feel the same way... I have no idea of my family history on my dad's side, so anytime I see someone with a familiar set of eyes, I kind of wonder....

  9. Jamie - thank you! Actually its amazing what you find when you start looking.

    mermaid - I agree to a certain extent, but I think your background and ancestors also inform at least some of your identity.

    Summer - I guess I would like to identify with something, just don't know what!

    Kazzy - I hope so!

    Mrs Tuna - 1494 is a long way back!

    Gaz - thank you!

    Marnie - thank you - I think family history is very interesting.

    lovinangels - Do you think you will look into the history on that side of your family?

  10. This is wonderful! Just reading the whole bit about you and your parents was fascinating to me. What a rich combination.

  11. Deborah - thank you! I'm finding my family fascinating too.


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