29 Aug 2016

Where are you from or where are you local?

Taiye Selasi, in her Ted talk, suggests that rather than ask where we are from, we should ask where we are local? Based on the idea that it is our experiences that shape us, we should discard the concept of a country identity, countries change in name and borders, and instead look at what are our rituals, relationships and restrictions. (The below quotes are taken from the transcript of her Ted talk.) During her talk she suggested:

"First, think of your daily rituals, whatever they may be: making your coffee, driving to work, harvesting your crops, saying your prayers. What kind of rituals are these? Where do they occur? In what city or cities in the world do shopkeepers know your face? As a child, I carried out fairly standard suburban rituals in Boston, with adjustments made for the rituals my mother brought from London and Lagos. We took off our shoes in the
house, we were unfailingly polite with our elders, we ate slow-cooked, spicy food. In snowy North America, ours were rituals of the global South. The first time I went to Delhi or to southern parts of Italy, I was shocked by how at home I felt. The rituals were familiar. "R" number one, rituals.Now, think of your relationships, of the people who shape your days. To whom do you speak at least once a week, be it face to face or on FaceTime? Be reasonable in your assessment; I'm not talking about your Facebook friends. I'm speaking of the people who shape your weekly emotional experience. My mother in Accra, my twin sister in Boston, my best friends in New York: these relationships are home for me. "R" number two, relationships.We're local where we carry out our rituals and relationships, but how we experience our locality depends in part on our restrictions. By restrictions, [R number three] I mean, where are you able to live? What passport do you hold? Are you restricted by, say, racism, from feeling fully at home where you live? By civil war, dysfunctional governance, economic inflation, from living in the locality where you had your rituals as a child? This is the least sexy of the R’s, less lyric than rituals and relationships, but the question takes us past "Where are you now?" to "Why aren't you there, and why?" Rituals, relationships, restrictions."

My daily rituals involve drinking a lot of tea, working from home, walking on a local farm, talking with my husband (whom I work with,) and having a home grown and home cooked meal at the table. The meal is preceded by  a grace, which as we only have one child at home now, feels both superfluous and worthwhile. It is a way of appreciating all we have (and making sure the cook, not always me, is thanked.) The words are at the bottom of this blog. It was taught to us by my tuneful nephew Philip. Sadly my husband and children took up the tuneless version, which I guess keeps it light hearted. 

My relationships that matter on a daily basis are my husband, my children, my good friends, my siblings.

Restrictions for me are mainly self-imposed. I feel a privileged woman, well educated and with a solid roof over my head and no shortage of food. I have dual passports and in my travels, I haven't come across a country I haven’t been allowed to go to. I am restricted by the mixture of my perceptions and my immediate societies perception of what I should be doing; keep looking young, exercise, keep working full time, be busy. Self-imposed restrictions are perhaps due to an upbringing where service to others before yourself was encouraged. 

Where am I local?
I am local in a rural community where there is co-operation rather than competition. Where a woman is expected to work, manage the house and family, and be healthy. Where there is a tolerance but not a promotion of faith. Where there is an emphasis on family time and friends gathering for meals. Where I can be near enough to a city to tap  into its culture, education and entertainment. Where there is a culture of honesty, integrity and a willingness to contribute to society. Many of these aspects are true of North London where I was brought up and rural New Zealand, where I live now.

By considering where I am local, we can identify an individual better. We can match people's rituals, relationships,and restrictions. If I have the same three R’s as someone in North London, France, Japan or Brazil, then is it is likely we would have shared interests. So is it true to label us as different or diverse? This leads me to the next point from Taiye Selasi's speech, the false claim on diversity.

 "Taking this where are you local another step, “scholar William Deresiewicz's writing of elite American colleges. "Students think that their environment is diverse if one comes from Missouri and another from Pakistan -- never mind that all of their parents are doctors or bankers."
"I'm with him. To call one student American, another Pakistani, then triumphantly claim student body diversity ignores the fact that these students are locals of the same milieu. The same holds true on the other end of the economic spectrum. A Mexican gardener in Los Angeles and a Nepali housekeeper in Delhi have more in common in terms of rituals and restrictions than nationality implies."

Auckland New Zealand now claims to be the most diverse city in the world, with more than 200 ethnic groups. However, if we looked at the values and the experiences of the different migrants and asked them where they were local, then the diversity is likely to drastically reduce.

Where are you from?
There is no harm in asking this question. It worth considering how you would answer it. What are they really asking is discussed in my last blog. Is it enough to say from Japan/ UK? Would it reveal more to say from a rural community? The asker may want to know whether they are superior to you, or whether you are worth committing an effort to their country. How you feel about yourself and what you like about your new country is probably more important and will come across in your answers.

Spend some time working out where you are local, it may help you identify why you feel uncomfortable/comfortable in the country you live in.

Mealtime moment of thanks:

Bless us O Lord as we sit together, bless the food we eat today, bless the hands that prepare the food, bless us O Lord, Amen.

"Bless us O Lord" could be replaced by your words, for example, We are grateful/we give thanks as we sit together, and/or incuding the name of your choice of higher power.  

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