Friday, June 19, 2009


I wanted to comment on a previous post about place identity, but it got to long so I'm posting it.

I grew up in central Maine. I lived in the same farmhouse from the time I was born until I went to college. When I go back to visit my family, that's where we stay. Both sides of my family have lived in Maine for 250+ years. When I went to college in Utah, I took with me a very definite, fairly rigid sense of place connected to my identity. I was "the girl from Maine." My Freshman roommate and I were "the girls from Maine." (And because of my heritage and upbringing, I didn't even accord my roommate true Mainer status because her parents were from Utah.) At school I met a few people who were from military families and had moved all over. When asked where they were from, some would say the last place they lived before going to college. Some would say, "Nowhere, really." That answer always creeped me out. "You're from nowhere? What do you mean?!" I would reply, so very tactfully. I found it difficult to connect to such people, maybe because my place identity was so strong and theirs, non-existent.

I know that in Africa, many women who live in big cities make expensive, dangerous journeys back to their homelands to give birth. They do it because they want their children to be able to claim a place identity that has more honor and meaning than the fairly generic big city they have been forced to migrate to for survival. When I learned about that I was pregnant with Bernie and I kept telling J I'd made a terrible mistake in letting my children be born in Utah and Minnesota. Why hadn't I gone to Maine to have those babies? I asked myself. I told J I was going to have Bernie in Maine. But I didn't, of course.

I have sometimes felt that my identity was molded too permanently by my Maine upbringing, to the extent that I have never been able to consider Minneapolis my home. We've lived here fourteen years, which is about the same length of time as the years I remember living in Maine. I had three of my four children here. I no longer have a Maine accent. I like many things about Minneapolis better than Maine. And yet I don't think I could call this my home. When I go back to Maine, as much as certain things bug me there, it always feels like home. J says I have a New England soul.

For my children, Minnesota is home. They even sound like Minnesotans. I think Georgie will always say that she is from Minnesota no matter where she lives now. But the others? I don't know. What if they never come back here to live? That is a fairly good possibility. If we stay living overseas until they are all grown, I agree that it could be difficult for the younger three to really pin down where they are "from." But I don't know that that's a bad thing. Maybe when they are grown and have their own families, they will have an easier time than their mother feeling at home wherever they live.

I want to write about racial identity too, but that will have to wait for another post. I told Bernie I'd do a craft with her at 1 pm, and the hour has struck!


Dina said...

Great post--and I feel the same way about being "Minnesotan!" :) It's more than a familiarity, it feels "right" when I'm there. Even though I've lived in Oregon for 10 years now, I still feel like an imposter.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Is that a picture of you? It looks like a "vintaged" photo of Georgie.

We lived in three places growing up, each for about five years: Salt Lake, Miami, and Georgia. I always answered I was from Georgia at college. I love and miss something about each place but honestly "home" has been wherever my parents are. Even though I've lived the longest in Nevada (almost half my life!) I still don't consider myself a Nevadan. Weird. Never thought about it much actually.

Ballerina Girl said...

Great post Calandria, thank you for sharing...

my kids feel "at home" wherever we are. They know they are Texans and that the US is a sort of home...but so is Peru because that is where their father and my husband is from...
but for me and mine, home is where the heart is.
A city, a country is a place that we relate to, good or bad, and have the wonderful experience of enjoying.
My kids are enjoying this life so far, so we'll see what issues come up.
As I said before, every child, parent, native or expat is different. We all experience places in different ways, and we all learn to cope one way or another.

As long as my children and my husband and I are happy, then we are home


ML said...

I agree with BG--although my upbringing was similar to yours in that I have roots in Maine and was born and raised in the same place (no, wait, we did move across the road into my grandfather's house when I was in high school--hahaha), my married life and subsequently the lives of my children has been very different from that. What I've found is that I have pieces of places we have lived here and there in my heart--Utah, Bar Harbor, and most definitely Saipan (I have 2 children that this island place is the only "home" they remember!).

I realized, after my grandmother died and my aunt moved "up home" into her house, that places are really just places--it just wasn't "up home" without Grammie there.

You're right, "home" must have some kind of special connection--I think often it's mom and dad, but it might be something else. I'm rambling (it was that 2 a.m. airport run), but I know this much--when it comes to home, we know it when we feel it!

Meg said...

I saw Georgie in that photo too!

And if Maine was my "home" I would hold it as dear as you do. :)

Anonymous said...

I remember when Paris was about 8 and he went to a British/Dutch boy scout group. They pledge allegiance to both the Dutch flag and the Union Jack and to the two queens. It was strange for me but an eye opener. I always thought my kids would think of themselves as Americans because I was but they have their own ideas.

Brenda said...

Wow, I thought Georgie got her hair styled! I think a person can "feel" at home in many different places. The more places one lives, the more you get that feeling when you go back to visit, or live again. I bet when you come back to Minnesota to visit (sometime in your life again, even to show kids where they grew up or visit friends, whatever) that you will have that feeling. It's memories that instill that in us I think.

Mama Ava said...

Those like you that have grown up with a "place" will worry about those that don't. Those that don't will have a different outlook. I feel the same way about Montana--I say that's where I'm from but I've lived in MN for 20 years. Hello, that does now make me from Minnesota!

My kids definitely feel MN is their home. Depending on how often you return to the States and where you spend your time, that may be "home base" for your kids. If you spend your time in ME and Mexico, they may gravitate there. Our kids riot if we suggest we skip MN--they do feel very connected here. I have no idea where life will take them--global nomads or suburban dwellers. This way they get to live both and that's good. Either way is fine--I want them to understand they can make that choice.

Race/culture is even trickier...what do you call a child whose grandfather (American) moved to Africa where his father was born and whose mother grew up in Mozambique and Hawaii, but she's Irish but she has a Candadian passport. The kids are technically "Canadian" by passport...but have lived their lives in Tanzania and have only visited the US and Canada and Ireland once each? That's when identity gets really interesting!