Home is where my keys are
Where are you from? An everyday life question. An opener to any kind of conversation, it may seem. A city, a state, a country. A straight forward answer? Not for me. My story takes a bit longer to explain.
I was born in the center of Germany to Colombian parents, grew up in North-Western Germany, lived in the South for some years and then moved to the East, to the wonderful German capital. In between of all that and afterwards, I have also come to call Colombia, Canada and Turkey my home.
In Germany, discussions about migration and integration resemble a bubble gum chewed for way too long. I just don’t get the problem. People have moved around this planet for centuries and beyond. Of course, we are all the product of some funny mixtures and as far as I know we have common origins back in Africa. Every one of us is a foreigner in most parts of the world. But where do we feel at home?
One of the first times I significantly noticed I was part of various worlds was throughout a high school year I spent in Quebec, Canada. The German exchange students would get upset and ask why I was spending so much time with the Brazilians instead of hanging out with them. The Brazilians, on the other hand, considered me to be one of their kind and somehow “different” from the other Germans. But I was just being me, basically. In my particular case, I never felt rejected in school or any other area of social life. I’ve come to pick the best of both the German and the Colombian cultures. It annoys me when people try to classify me as more German or more Colombian making assumptions about my looks or my character traits. I’m just a mix of both, that’s how I’d describe it. Genetically, I’m 75% Colombian and 25% German, as far as my grand-parents’ origins are concerned, although I’ve been told there’s some Danish, Australian, Spanish and Colombian indigenous ancestry involved somewhere along the way, so who knows. I’d say that throughout my life, I’ve been mostly shaped by the German culture but there’s always been that little “something else” I carry along with me.
When I lived in Turkey, people had a hard time believing I was German. As soon as I mentioned my Colombian origins though, they’d nod and it would all suddenly make perfect sense. I was once told that I had an “extra spice” about my person. I like it spicy, so that’s more than fine with me.
Not too long ago, I learnt there’s a term for people growing up with more than one culture: third culture kid. As soon as you enter my parents’ home, you’re in Little Colombia. But there’s a third culture as well, our own one, consisting of code-switching between German and Spanish, cultural inside jokes and funny food mixtures, among others.
The other day, my sister and I were fantasizing about how our lives might have evolved if our parents hadn’t moved to Germany and had raised us in Colombia instead. We’d probably be better dancers and pay more attention to our looks. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to cycle to school though and our parents’ salary would mostly have been spent on our education. In Colombia, people work hard to pay their bills and their kids’ education. At least that’s what my uncles and aunts constantly mention. We are who we are because of the multiple encounters that shape us along our way through life. I don’t think we’d have been less happy growing up in Colombia. We’d just have had different opportunities and our lives would have taken an other direction.
Where are you from?, a girl asked me on the bus just yesterday. From Berlin, it burst out of me. Oh really? But you spoke Spanish on the phone. Nowadays, I generally say I live in Berlin. If people ask further questions or would like to get to know me any better, they’ll find out about the rest of the story eventually. I’m happy to share it. I’m proud of my roots. And curious about the paths yet to come. I wonder what my future children’s definition of home might eventually be. In my case, I’m sure I can feel at home almost anywhere on this planet. As long as there’s food and good company.
For other interpretations of Digging for Roots, have a look here.