Where am I from?

It’s not straightforward

Kevin Jones

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Graphics: author

I took cultural intelligence training yesterday. One of the videos shared tackled an age-old question: “where are you from?” It got me thinking about my own answers to this question, but I’m not sure what it really means anymore¹.

As in the video, I’m a white guy in a country where I don’t need to consider this question much at all (in this case the UK). Recent debates around nationalism and identity have made me think about it more.

I consider myself from England, specifically from the Westcountry, but according to my DNA, none of me is “English”. I lean into the Celtic side (about 80 % Irish, Welsh and Scots), which is understandable given the influence of the Irish side of my family², but I also have Sardinian, Norwegian and Baltic in my DNA. If anyone in my family knew of these components no one’s ever mentioned it.

So what does it matter if I, or my child, or any potential grandchildren, claim the English part of our heritage? How far do we look back when, say, deciding who to support at a sporting event? For the Olympics, the decision was easy (team GB), but an event like the Six Nations is more challenging: do I cheer the country of my birth, the country of my surname, or the country of some of my ancestors? (England, Wales, or Ireland)

How much of our identity is nature, and how much is nurture? How much is driven by genetics, and how much by where we were raised, or the stories told us by our parents or grandparents?

I feel it’s up to us alone, and what feels right to us. We don’t owe anyone justification.

One of the problems I have with my English identity is that it’s so complicated and contentious. It’s not as clearly defined as that of our neighbouring nations, comes loaded with baggage, and is inextricably linked with nationalism, xenophobia, colonialism and superiority³.

This baggage is probably why I’ve emphasised more my Westcountry identity as I’ve gotten older: embracing my accent and being freer in my use of dialect, being more community-minded, learning more about the region and its people.

I know what it means to be a Devon bey⁴; I get it and I love it.

Footnotes

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Kevin Jones

Maritime Sustainability Specialist. Editor of Rethink Convenience and author of the Live Circular newsletter