11 April 2011

Longing for Belonging

When I was growing up I was always surprised when my name was called from a list or I received an official letter. I turned up to University and was surprised that they were expecting me. I don’t remember ever having an experience to cause me to feel this way. You could put it down to straightforward self-esteem issues, which I have for sure but show me someone who doesn’t, who honestly doesn’t.

I was brought up in a mixture of cultures in a fairly homogeneous suburb of London. My mother is French Canadian, my father is an Irish Catholic from Manchester who told us barely anything about his life growing up and kept us almost completely separate from his family for most of our lives. We grew up in middle class surroundings attending both public and private schools and my father had a variety of jobs, one successful high paid career followed by much more blue collar jobs later in life. Even my accent, and my brother’s accent for that matter, is neither posh nor the opposite, I don’t know anyone with my accent. I can assimilate in pretty much any British social situation, but I never feel “like” anyone else because even I don’t know where exactly I am supposed to fit in.

Growing up we spent the majority of time with our mother and when we visited family it was in Quebec in Canada so I considered my roots to be almost wholly French Canadian. My French Canadian family view me as British of course with my British accent and my “British skin”. My father doesn’t even have a northern accent unless he is tired so I honestly don’t associate myself with any part of England. My husband is also British, but properly so, he knows where he came from, it’s clearer.

Moving to the US has been immensely liberating for me. When we moved to Brooklyn my struggle with who I was finally began to come to an end. My upstairs neighbor and good friend was Polish, my best friend Canadian, other close mommy friends Mexican, Dutch and British. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who didn’t appear to belong but together we belonged perfectly in our amazing multicultural, diverse neighborhood.  I will forever love Bay Ridge, Brooklyn for being the first place I ever truly belonged. Now I live in Los Angeles. On the surface you might think the same applies. I feel more like I belong than when I lived in the UK and these days feel British, Canadian and American in pretty much equal measure. I know to my British friends this may sound shocking. When you wonder why I don’t discourage my officially American children from using American words and spellings and why I have wholeheartedly assimilated myself into the culture of where I live, it’s because America, the place I was brought up to dislike, has become a home which to me enthusiastically embraces my differences and has no need for me to conform.

I no longer feel that desperate need to belong or to know who I am because everyone I meet, everyone I know, has their own story. None of us came from here, not even my American friends “just” came from here, nobody “just” comes from here, unless they are native American, which I happen to be, one 64th native I believe, my great great great great grandmother.

This all led me to a theory that it’s all about perception. People perceive other people to have perfect families, perfect relationships, of course they don’t. I may perceive other people as secure in where they belong or where they come from, but they may feel very differently. Maybe everyone feels like this, maybe nobody feels like they belong. I don’t know, how do you feel?

Now that I have had children with my half English, half Welsh husband and these children were born in the US, further confounding any attempts to put a pin in who we are and where we come from, I hope they will have pride and self assuredness in who they are and that they will be proud not to belong anywhere but everywhere. I remember my mum explaining to me that I am not half British and half Canadian, I am British, I am Canadian. I exist and they ARE expecting me.


  1. I wrote a HUGE post but it has not worked... Oh well, maybe some other time... But this blog sure made me react :) No, lovely, you are not alone :)

  2. LOVED your post. An immigrant myself I completely understand your feelings. When I go back home, I dont feel 100% Mexican anymore, I kind of feel American but I am not (yet...)
    I guess I am living the american dream. One of my kids was born in Mexico but immigrated at 3 months of age sohe is American. My other son was born in Brooklyn. My 5 yr old (the officially mexican one) refuses to speak spanish, yet my 2 yr old american son, speaks more fluent than his older brother. I miss Mexico but would not return and live there EVER. Yet, I miss my culture.

    Brooklyn was my salvation, my haven, and where I felt I belonged the most ever. Now that I moved to CT I will have to start all over again. Now, my wall in FB is the place where I belong...

    Thank god for technology and allowing all of us to continue to stay connected and share our feelings.

    Wonderful post Chloe. keep them coming!

  3. I've had a mother who needed to move. As the years passed, I've let go more friends than I can remember. I don't remember people's names when introduced as if it was not important. I don't know how to grieve as for me, loss is really just another ''move'' from a situation to another. I don't have any close friends that has known me all my life. When people ask me where I come from, I never really know what to answer. Where was I born ? Where I grew up ? Where I feel like home ?

    I've lived in different countries and felt pretty much like home in each of them. Everytime I travel, I like to think that I could easily get used to living in the country I am visiting.

    On my last move to Mexico, I realized in time that I missed my so called ''home''. That it has those seasons to expect, the smells of each month is different, the feeling is different. I guess I've realized that no matter where I lived, I still had a ''home'' and I would eventually have to go back to it, though now that I am here and loving every second of spring and snow melting, I kinda wish I was elsewhere...

    I change hobbies veryy often because I feel like I don't really belong. I like what I do, but I think maybe I don't like it when people end up knowing me too much. I am not used to be knowned, just met... I can than only show my good sides (?) and not let anyone know that I am like all and I have some failures too (?).

    I relate so much to this fabulous post. No, my lovely, we are certainly not alone...

  4. Wow Elo, my beautiful cousin, I love you. I love your response, so honest. I feel like I know you better! xxxx

  5. Chloe. You put into words what I've felt all my life. Was it event to you that I needed to read it, because whoa. I've tried to articulate these sentiments all my life. I think it's the reason why I've chosen the live I life - it's completely multi-everything. I think there's a belonging in finding others who don't quite fit, and I'm grateful I happened upon you on Twitter today. I look forward to knowing you, truly.

  6. Wow! Thank you SO SO much! I read your post about missing Montreal this morning and it gave me goosebumps, I tried to comment but screwed it up somehow, I'll try and remedy that :)

    I have been surprised at how many people feel like they don't belong, I guess everyone goes around feeling like that whilst thinking that everyone else DOES belong :)

  7. Oh and I meant to say, it wasn't that it was evident, you seemed relieved that I was Canadian and I didn't know how to explain "what" I was so, I thought this would do it for me. :)

  8. Hi Chloe...Just popped by via twitterverse.
    I was intrigued by your profile stating you were British and Canadian and living in the U.S!!

    My hubby is French Canadian - give me a man who speaks French and I will marry him! I'm Aussie but have travelled a lot and now Im home, everyone thinks Im a Brit...I guess my accent got confused somewhere over the past 4 years or so.

    Searching for a sense of belonging is very much part of the human psyche me thinks and I enjoyed your take on it.

    Props for your 'realness'