This won’t come as a surprise to those who know me, but for the record: I haven’t always been an American. I started out as a Polish girl. That’s right, when I was 13 (close to the age my kids are now), I too was ripped out of my environment and dragged half way across the world, against my will.
But I’ve lived in the USA for most of my life now. When it’s relevant, I mention that I’m Polish. Even though I fake an American accent pretty well, people will sometimes detect a hint of something else. Instead of keeping them guessing, I just come clean.
There was a time, when I was younger, when I was almost ashamed of being Polish. That’s because on most introductions I’d be told a Polish joke, which was never funny. If you’ve lived in some politically correct utopia all your life, you’ve never heard a Polish joke. I’m not about to tell you one, but basically in every instance the butt of the joke is of course some “Polak”. I was told one of these jokes often – maybe as a way of breaking the ice or maybe I was expected to relate to the idiotic behavior of the simple-minded Pole (“oh, that’s so true! I don’t know how to screw in a lightbulb either!”) and then was expected to laugh along with it. Self-deprecating humor is cool in my book, but it has to originate with the self. Otherwise, it’s just deprecating.
But as I grew up, times changed and being Polish was no longer that horrible. The baton gets passed along. Definitions of who’s not quite a full-fledged human-being change over time. Of course, some people get to be the vilified Other much longer than Poles were. Prejudice these days, at least in the USA, is much more consolidated. Why bother with white looking Slavs when you have scores of brown people to pick on?
You may wonder if, since I’m Polish, we aren’t moving to Poland instead of Denmark. Well, one reason is that Polish politics might be even more wacked right now than American politics. On a smaller scale, of course, so the consequences aren’t as great and the crazy manages to stay contained. So no, I can’t see myself living there any time soon. Right now the country seems to be swept up in some right-wing, racist, misogynistic theocracy. Making Poland great again. I’m not about to switch from batshit crazy to a country lead by an assembly of xenophobic zealots.
So, I’m neither here nor there. Polish? American? If I sit and think about it, I realize that at this point, I’m neither and both at the same time.
And now I’m moving to Denmark and I’m determined to learn the language and I’m actually thinking (still too early to tell, but these are my preliminary hopes and dreams) of applying for Danish citizenship once I’m eligible.
What will I be then?
Identity is an individual, personal thing. It’s your religion, sexual orientation, culture, ethnic background combined. I wouldn’t presume to try to force anyone to choose one. You are what you are.
So what am I? I am a human, damn it! I am a world citizen. I was born in Poland. I loved my childhood in Poland and still am very nostalgic for the days when I lived there. Then I lived in Florida (which I hated). And then New York (which I hated, but a little less). And New Jersey (yeah, hated there too). And Maine (Maine was cool, but the circumstances of my life there weren’t). And now Seattle for the longest time, because I love Seattle (despite the traffic). But I’m capable of loving Copenhagen too.