Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Belonging somewhere

A young student living in the UAE recently presented me with a quandary. Her parents were born in the US, she was born and raised for some time in Brazil. Then her father uprooted the family again and they have lived in three different countries, before coming to Dubai.
Where do I belong, she asked me.
I knew immediately that this would be an extremely difficult question to answer.
When I said, "Home is where the heart is", I also knew instinctively my glib answer would prompt her to question me further. And she did.
"I don’t feel American", she said. "I speak the lingo and follow the trends because of television and my parents, but when I am there I don’t belong.
"My best years were spent in Brazil", she added, "but because I was sent to an international school and English was spoken at home I did not speak Portuguese and I did not belong. And now in Dubai, communicating in English is really easy, but I still don’t belong."
Her lament got me thinking. Now that the world has become multi-layered because of immigration and globalisation, are we all going to be faced with a similar quandary just like this beautiful well-spoken young woman who knows a lot about a lot of things, but does not know where she belongs?
I certainly don’t have a definitive answer, but I do know that a sense of belonging enriches us humans as much as water enriches the earth.
So how does one really know one belongs? What’s most important – your birthplace, your ethnicity, your language, your religion, your education, your career?
Looking for answers I came upon the website of Britain’s Social Issues Research Centre (www.sirc.org/publik/belonging). There’s a whole 46-page study there and it’s a must-read if you too wonder about your sense of belonging.
Immigration has impacted almost every country in the world. While many celebrate the ethnically diverse family, there are many who don’t. Some have woven diversity into a rich tapestry and some have not. Some have used inclusion to create a sense of belonging and others have remained exclusive.
That’s the way the world turns – sometimes we have to accept that we don’t belong.

Nirmala Janssen

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