My friend Tania’s mixed African-Indian heritage coupled with her Surinamese self-identification stems from the colonial history of the transatlantic slave trade and mass migration to plantation work in the Caribbean and wider Americas. Across the Atlantic in Europe and Africa, mass movement of people has perhaps been more gradual, but questions of ethnicity and national belonging have also been complicated and open to dispute if not outright war – as the experiences of people in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s and at present the Ukraine painfully show.
Closer to ‘home’, Scotland has been concerned with self-determination for centuries. Scotland’s history remains important in the hearts of many Scots, and national recognition is particularly urgent now in light of the upcoming referendum. Regardless of the result in September, everyone living in Scotland is at the moment confronted with their self-identification. Are we Scottish? Are we British? European? Does it matter that some of us are foreign nationals, and that most of us are probably ethnically mixed in some way or another? As a Dutch national with a Scottish husband, a daughter born in Suriname and a son in Edinburgh, these are large questions.
Battles for and against independence are never fought over economic issues alone. They are also about a sense of home, of where we belong, the places and people we identify with. And about what and whom we do not want to be identified with.
To me, a sense of home is imbued with the stories we connect to. Stories that give us a feeling of being there, of being part of it all. Stories of heroic historical as well as contemporary figures. Stories of people, of landscapes, objects and places. Stories give meaning to things that might be inexplicable otherwise. Stories offer an option of relatedness and shared understanding. A personal story can grow into a communal feeling of belonging when other people are able to transfer this story to their own personal context. Stories, thus conceived, shape to a large extent who we are.
As Dr. Williams so rightly pointed out during his storytelling workshops, stories belong to those who listen to them. Perhaps some of you will listen to Tania’s story, and make her questions ours. Are we ever challenged to question who we are, until we are seen as or reminded of being different?
Iris Marchand (Academia.edu)