Identity and Belonging: Who are we?

I’ve wanted to write about identity for a very long time; it’s something that’s always intrigued and confused me. What is it about us that defines who we are?

I feel that we live in a society that pigeon-holes us and feels the need to define people by something that really only makes up a fraction of who they really are. We identify people by their religion, their ethnicity, their sexuality, their gender, even by things like hair colour or if someone wears glasses. But really we are so much more than that.

As the daughter of two immigrants from two very different parts of the world, I have always found myself thinking about who I am and what makes me me. I grew up on a diet of Falafel and Ajiaco; Full English breakfasts and Arepas; and will  for as long as I live dunk cheese into my hot chocolate (it’s not weird – it’s amazing. Seriously, read this.). I grew up pronouncing words the way they do in Colombia rather than the way they do in England – where I was born and where I have lived all my life. I celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah, and grew up believing Baby Jesus and Santa Claus were friends. All of these individual things make up who I am as a person, and I would never change a single bit of it, but it has often made me wonder where I belong. What culture do I belong to? Am I allowed to feel connected to my Jewish roots? Or feel proud when I hear Latin music or excited when I recognise a Colombian speaking spanish? Or do these things not really belong to me because I grew up in a Dorset town, speak fluent english and have never really lived anywhere else? I feel like it’s something more and more people can relate to as the country becomes more diverse and the world gets more mixed. For a very long time it made me wonder – where do I belong?

I’ve had Colombians tell me I’m not Colombian and English people tell me I couldn’t possibly be English. And I can’t be Israeli because I’ve only visited Israel once. So what am I? With recent events such as Brexit I find myself feeling even more torn. I feel more of a need to tell the world I am British. And my parents are British too. But I also want to shout out to the world that we are a family of immigrants – and proud of it! I think my constant need for clarification and validation  goes right back to our society’s problem with needing to label everything. Because labels are easy – they’re something to grab onto. ‘They’re Muslim so that must mean….’ or ‘They’re transgender so that must mean…’. Our daily lives are filled with ‘Is he gay? Is he english? What language does she speak? Are they disabled?’ and we latch onto them to the point that people are described by that one single characteristic. But we shouldn’t let ourselves do that; it’s not our place to try to define other people, it’s actually something that should be really personal to ourselves.

In January I was diagnosed with ME/CFS, a chronic condition that affects me in a variety of ways. And since being diagnosed I found a community of other people living with chronic illness online that call themselves ‘spoonies‘. Finding this community made me feel understood and has really helped me. Does that mean that now I am a spoonie and that’s how I define myself? Not really. But it would be fine if I did, and a lot of other people do. It’s a word people use to re-claim their condition or their disability. I think it’s so great that people have found this way to express themselves, or explain their condition, or talk to others. I don’t think I’m comfortable yet calling myself a spoonie but it makes me really happy to know that there’s a community out there that are welcoming if or when I do.

The world is filled with so many people and we tend to group them; in a recent Media Theory class at University we were discussing audience reception and the groups that TV shows and Films are aimed at. The discussion really made me consider how diverse the world really is. How the ‘black community’ or the ‘under 25s’ or the ‘women’ or ‘LGBTQ+ community’, for example, are not at all separate to each other in the way that they are so often treated. Intersectionality is so important, not just in the media industry, but even just when exploring the world we live in. No-one only fits into one category, no-one’s identity is only ever made up of one thing.

So who am I? I’m Daniela. I’m British,  I’m a writer, I’m a student, I’m a friend, I’m a sister, I’m a daughter. I’m European-but what does that even mean anymore? I’m a cultural mix of I don’t know what, and that’s actually really cool. Maybe I’m a spoonie. Maybe not. I guess the point is that it kind of doesn’t matter, and this list will always be changing as I go through my life.

Identity is something that will always fascinate me, but I don’t see it the way I did as a kid anymore. I don’t feel the need to label myself anymore, or to pin-point all the different things that make me who I am. And really, we shouldn’t do it to other people either. Identity is fluid and ever changing-and that’s amazing! That single fact is what makes each of us individual.

If any of you can relate or have found what I said interesting then please like and follow my blog – I’m off to have some cheesy hot chocolate 🙂

Daniela x

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