Cultural identity has been on my mind a lot lately, and it still remains unanswerable for me at this point in my life how I can define who I am by a location. I’ve also been thinking about much of a cultural identity an individual takes on when they’ve been living in an environment that is not their own.
I remember when I first returned from studying abroad as a junior in college. I returned to my hometown in Montana in the summer, irrevocably altered from the person I had been before living in Italy for three months. I came back with a wardrobe full of clothing purchased in the tiny negozi lining the canals, and a very European attitude.
Things changed drastically when I moved to New York—about 30 minutes from Grand Central. Automatically, I found myself ordering a “caw-fay” and reading The New Yorker. I wasn’t exactly a New Yorker myself, just like I wasn’t a Venetian after a few months, but somehow I had adopted a new culture and new way of thinking just because I happened to be in that location.
I’m not sure if this is something I like about myself, or if it shows how sensitive I am to my surroundings. Within days of visiting Morocco, I was slipping into harem pants and a headscarf to keep the heat off. The other women on the trip joked that I had “gone native.” As much as they teased, there was some truth to it. I was far from the provincial Montana girl that dominated my childhood, and that place should have defined who I was more than any other. Even returning home, I find myself picking up old habits again—and trying to understand those I am with.
As a former temporary Italian, temporary New Yorker currently, and a future temporary Spaniard, I’m still struggling to come up with an answer to the question, “Where are you from?” I was born in Montana, came alive in Italy, fell in love in New York, and there might be another Alex tucked away in Spain. Anais Nin wrote,
We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
Perhaps I love a life where nothing is certain because certainty allows you only to really live once. As much as I would like to be able to tell you where I am from, I can’t. Maybe I am meant to be from a lot of places…
Have you ever felt the same way as a traveler?