Ironic Identity

Why do you think immigrants, especially immigrants of second and third generation, tend to be more ‘patriotic’ than the people living in their own country?

This was the question my mother asked me this morning while we were discussing France’s upcoming election, the life of immigrants in France and Erdogan’s recent election success.

Why did most Turkish people living in Turkey vote against Erdogan, while those living outside of Turkey (Germany and the Netherlands for example), voted for him?
In the Netherlands 71 percent of Dutch-Turkish citizens voted for Erdogan. The only foreign country in which the ‘no’ vote prevailed was the United States. How can this be explained?

When I grew up in Australia, my identity was defined by society, by those around me. We cannot choose our identity; it is something forced upon us by the image we project of ourselves within our community.

When people see that you are different, perhaps in the manner you speak, that you dress and eat, they need to define you and distinguish you. Naturally, in order to understand the world around us, we have the tendency to classify everything. Thus as an immigrant to another country you are immediately classified and associated with a certain culture, in my case French culture.

And when somebody asks you for example, if you could suggest a good typical French song and you don’t know, you feel guilty. Guilty because you are French, this is your identity and you SHOULD know the whole range of French music. You should know Paris because this is your country of course! And worst of all, since you have never lived in this country with which you are so strongly identified with, you should know it from the depth of your heart.
All these cultural delicacies, these drops of French colloquialisms, these beautiful crumbs of French cuisine…

I am speaking of ironic identity because as an immigrant we have the tendency to exaggerate our nationality because we feel the need to reaffirm it whereas if you grow up in your own country you do not need to prove to anybody that you are Dutch for example.

It may be easier to integrate and to be considered ‘Australian’ if you are white (even though this is changing thanks to the multicultural composition of Australia! 🙂 but what if you are let’s say of Indian origin and were born in France, grew up there, have lived there all your life? To many French people you will be Indian. How can one reject an identity which is thrown upon us?

And thus this differentiation is created, which could explain why Dutch Turks or Hispanics in America for example, so forcefully reinforce their cultures. Ironically, and I am speaking of experience, when they go back to their country of origin, people tell them they are strangers…


Picture courtesy: Salvador Dali


3 thoughts on “Ironic Identity

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  1. Interesting and thoughtful post. I am French by birth and lived longer in the US than anywhere else. I am back in France now. I didn’t really fit in the Us, and I still don’t really fit here either. Not yet anyway.

  2. as usually, I love your blog entries.

    while reading this entry, two thoughts occurred to me:

    1) Your assertion that “we cannot choose our identity” made me ponder. I had never thought of it in that way, it is like being trapped in a world without being able to choose what you think and feel. This reminded me immediately of something i have recently experienced, while visiting a Turkish friend of mine. We were discussing religion and she was emphasizing how much she missed the call from the Moshe and the chanting melody of Surat. i had to think how foreign this was to me and how i hated to be waken by the call for the prayer, whenever i visited a Moslem country. Short after this conversation, I went to visit a temple of Mormon (of better say, to see it from outside) and its tabernacle. When we entered the building a musician was beautifully playing at a sumptuous organ and I couldn’t help but sit and listen for a long time.
    Likes and dislikes are mostly created by our own experiences. Does our identity therefore also predestine our senses? Would people be less racists if there were subjected from a young age to musc, painting, tates from various cultures?

    2) I like the image of a French Indian perceived as “non-French” because of its skin color. I had myself difficulties to see Australian from Asian origin as “real” Australian when i first arrived in Sydney. With time, this perception has changed a bit, but if i am completely honest, i think that i still find it difficult to understand that for a young person who grew up in an Asian family should completely feel Australian. Strange enough, i don’t feel the same for, say, a Turkish guy born in Germany or an Algerian born in France…

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