Trading places

‘Don’t you feel uprooted?’ I have been asked this multiple times in my life. Due to my father’s work, my family moved to a new country every few years. I continued this habit (and it does feel like a habit, I still suffer itchy feet every so often) after I left home. In total I have lived in 8 countries some of them on more than one occasion. I have made 13 international moves, and many more internal moves within each country.

But, no, I do not feel uprooted – and I feel quite passionately about that. I am Swedish, and in addition to Sweden I have lived in the USA, Uruguay, Italy, Austria, Belgium, the UK, and Costa Rica. I have loved it, and cherished every experience, every language learned, every culture embraced and every person met. As a result, however, I have no real concept of traditional family home, or what “going home” means. And I am more than OK with that. I can choose what I consider home and who is included in that.

I fall under the category of “Third culture kid”. It’s not a label I particularly care for or embrace, but it does explain my background. I understand and appreciate that my experience is a hugely privileged one (although not everyone would see it that way, and consider the life style a burden, being repeatedly removed from friends and patterns). I’ve never had to worry about whether I would be allowed to be in a country, never considered limitations or burdensome applications.

Interestingly, however, it wasn’t until I entered the field of migration that I started considering myself a migrant. I’m probably as migratory as they come, but that label was never given to me, said to me, or really explained to me as something that I would fall under. But it certainly applies, even though in my younger years the decision to move was not mine.

I have 4 siblings. We are all now spread out all over the place, with two determinedly returning to and staying in Sweden, one settling in the USA and one on Jersey. I currently live in Oxford, where I have been for the last 10 years.

As a Swedish citizen, I am waiting with baited breath to see what will happen with Brexit. Growing up, and in my adult years, movement has always felt like an optional, positive thing. I have often moved at whim (both within and outside the EU) and enjoyed the results on my arrival. Brexit may now make that move a must. This is a new relationship to movement for me.  But I am still aware of what a privileged relationship I have to migration. I still have options and choices.

One can of course not be blind to the fact that my ease of movement is connected to my country of origin, my race, and my economic social status. Why should that be so?

By: Ida Persson


Revisiting a changing home?

A few years ago, some lexicographers (those are people who write dictionaries – yes, someone has to write dictionaries, but that’s a whole other post) asked me to pick a word that had some meaning to me, and then share a story related to it.

I picked the word ‘home’, and wrote what it meant to me. You can read the full piece here, but I wanted to quote one particular sentence:

…Asking ‘where is home?’ invites us to consider how we currently – as well as aspire to – relate with the continually changing mix of people, spaces, and values that surrounds us.

It’s a variation on ‘where are you really from?‘ that we explored a little while ago. But I wanted to highlight the issue of change. Lots of things potentially change in our lives: the people around us, who we want to be, our jobs, which box sets we’re currently bingeing on.

This makes me wonder how we deal with change–and how our reactions to changes around us (so, not those changes we necessarily initiated) might impact how we think about the places we call ‘home’.

How has your ‘home’ changed? Has this impacted how you view it–with more nostalgia, apprehension, connection, something else?

There’s none more Scots….

My parents migrated from England to Scotland. If you swap ‘England’ for the name of almost any other country, I would be more easily labelled: a ‘second generation immigrant’; an ‘ethnic return migrant’; an ‘economic migrant’; or my story told in terms of ‘marriage-related migration’. England and Scotland are separate nations, but not legally separate enough to trigger official (or academic) labels for those who move between them. And of course there are differences – I don’t need visas to travel between my countries of origin and residence, nobody is calling for migration between them to be restricted, and no tough decisions had to be made about passports or citizenship. Nonetheless, all these terms have relevance for my family’s story.

My mother grew up in Yorkshire, but considered herself Scottish. Her father grew up in Scotland, the family holidayed up the West Coast, celebrated Halloween, and rolled back the carpet to dance the night away on Hogmanay. So when her new husband got a job in Glasgow, she was moving home as much as moving away.

For some children at school, my parents’ accents, and my own ambiguous one, marked me as foreign – as ‘English’ (the term often laden with enmity in Thatcher’s 1980s). In Primary School years my friends tended to be girls whose parents were also born elsewhere – England, France, Germany, India. But in the car on the way home from Christmas ‘down South’, my brother and I sang ‘Flower of Scotland’ at the top of our voices as soon as we crossed the border.

In my 20s I moved to England for work, and after a few years of splitting my time between the two countries, stayed for love. My son was born in Bristol but relishes an (invisible to others) Scottish tinge to his identity – practicing a Scottish accent, and proudly declaiming a poem in broad Glaswegian that I also memorised as a child. There’s an irony in this considering the way in which accent has been a marker of difference in my own life. I remember a sense of catharsis when I published an article based on research with English graduates in Scotland as an ‘audible minority’. When I go back to Glasgow now, decades down South audible in my never-quite-fully-local-to-start-with accent, people ask me where I am from.

In England, Scottishness has generally seemed to be a valued identity (unlike some other nationalities, or Englishness in my childhood). And there have been occasions in pubs in Cornwall and Wales where it has granted me an exemption from the teasing doled out to English friends. Living here has allowed me to embrace a Scottish identity in a far more straightforward way than I did before I left. As the band ‘Spirit of the West’ sang of the Scottish diaspora in Canada: ‘there’s none more Scots as the Scots abroad’.

Katharine Charsley

Caught between cultures?

I am a migrant, although as a white Irish person, I don’t often get asked the question ‘where are you from?’ much or any more. As I came to England at the age of 2 (from Malaysia, via Ireland), and grew up here, I also have an English accent, and so that enables me to pass. Do I feel English though? Not really. I grew up in Irish enclaves in Yorkshire during the 1970s and 1980s, during ‘the troubles’ in northern Ireland, when an Irish name, accent or being associated with Irish places (the local Catholic church, the Irish Centre, a Catholic school) could identify you as other, alien or threatening. I did experience hostility, harassment, or wariness from white British people during that time.

There were though much longer standing perceptions of Irish people, less to do with the particular aspects of ‘the troubles’ at that time, and more to do with historical relations between England and Ireland that affected how I felt about being part of England. Casual, everyday portrayals of the Irish as backward, hot-tempered, drunken, ‘thick paddies’ were very common when I was growing up. Reading about politics, and later sociology, gave me a way to understand those portrayals as related to the very unequal relations between England and Ireland, and the lack of space for Irish people to portray themselves in ways that had any impact on mainstream discourses.

Migrant communities are also sources of identity and social ties too. I felt ambivalent about that though. I enjoyed the solidarity of Irish community life in England, and the rhythm of life around the church, the Irish club, the GAA All-Ireland finals, Irish dancing and the frequent trips ‘home’ (Ireland was always ‘home’ and England always ‘yonder’). But, that cultural community was often frozen in time – based on an affinity to an Ireland of the time of departure, and not the changing, liberalising, secularising country that Ireland was becoming. That version of rural Irishness didn’t connect to my own experiences of growing up in urban, industrial England either.

When I started to read sociological texts about ‘hybrid’ identities among 2nd generation migrants – identities that are not fixed by either there or here (home or yonder) but rooted in both, and something new, that made so much sense to me. It started to make me feel relaxed about not being either ‘authentically’ Irish or assimilated to Englishness. I am not a ‘plastic Paddy’ – claiming an Irishness that does not belong to me. I am not caught between cultures. I am not half of this and half of that. My identity is rooted in the experience of growing up Irish in England, in a certain time and place, and it is an experience I share with other 2nd generation Irish here. It’s not plastic, but elastic…