How would you define identity? I would encourage you not to look up the definition in a dictionary. I would be more captivated by your own, experienced and subjective interpretation of identity. In this reflection, I focus on identity for multiculturals.
If you belong to two or more cultures, the shades of identity are simultaneously more kaleidoscopic and fuzzier. I was born from an American mother and a Sicilian father. I am a multicultural and since today the “multi” is more accepted and appreciated than the “mono,” I would like to consider this an ode to that. I spent the first decade of my life simply “being” – as childhood is the most evocative dimension of spontaneity and innocence. I had no idea who I was, neither did I care or ponder on this, I simply was: we all “were” in our childhood. The second decade of my life was all together a different story. We moved from Sicily to the U.S. and, although I knew both cultures very well and always loved the incredible liberal and forward-thinking mindset of America and willfully decided to move there to pursue higher education, I experienced a powerful wave of culture shock. The problem is, the shock lasted a few more years than expected.
I entered a sort of “cultural identity” crisis, without realizing it. I dug deeper into the nostalgia and longed to belong to either one or the other culture. I wrote a book to cope with those feelings, “My Sicily,” 2012. Almost miraculously, my personal recollections of travel and memoirs brought me on a book tour around the U.S. with 55 stops.
Time and time again, I asked myself if that audience had really come to hear me speak about my “nostalgia” and highlights of emotional memories on Sicily. Indeed they did and we openly engaged in many conversations and shared cultural, lifestyle and linguistic experiences. It was one of the most enriching chapters of my life. Those three years of book touring allowed me to transcend those feelings and move into a different realm.
Then, the third decade of my life began as we decided to return to our beloved and long missed Sicilia. Here, an unplanned sensation took place: reversed culture shock. I felt I belonged neither here nor there, the people and places I held on to in my memories were still there but had profoundly changed, as I had of course.
The immediate impact was a bit rough and then slowly a new dimension formed among those waves of changes and transformation; an untouchable, immaterial sphere of belonging. I knew simply and very well just who I was in the process: I was myself, and that was enough.
Most of us today, thankfully and beautifully, are multiculturals and, hopefully, more and more multilingual. These were concepts my parents had believed in already in the 80s when they had my sister and me. They were ahead of their time and, for this, I will be forever grateful. I shared my experience here as a Sicilian-American because it is my personal experience, but if you are a Latino, a Polish, a Croatian, a Lebanese etc., you will have experienced similar feelings. I love to embrace and listen to other multicultural life stories. If you also belong to multiple cultures, you know that it is sometimes a blessing, and other times, a curse.
At age 36, I have made peace with all of this and, since travel is in our DNA and I love maps, I have created the mental concept of an “identity map:” a mental map that allows you to envision and place your ancestors geographically exactly to the cultures they belonged to and to the new culture they created together. Should you feel lost or fuzzy in your assumptions and definitions of your own cultural identity and belonging, revisit this mental map, reconnect physically with your ancestors or if they are no longer alive, anchor and center yourself through their life stories, love and sacrifices to instill in you such a fascinating, peculiar and all encompassing “identity map.”
Francesca and her sister, Giovanna, are the owners of Sicilian Sisters Travel, an online travel boutique specializing in personalized journeys to Sicily and Italy. Visit their Facebook page and website for more information www.siciliansisterstravel.com.