Thursday, April 16, 2009

Isabelle's interview

1.You’re the product of a British (English?) father and an American mother, you were brought up in Scotland, you now live in America and your husband is American. What nationality do you feel and how do you feel about this?

My father is indeed English, a Devonshire Dumpling to be more precise. He grew up in Exeter, attended Cambridge, the first in his family to attend University, and had a banking job lined up back home when he decided he'd like to travel and wrote to the dean of UCLA asking for a job. Improbably, he got a position teaching German 1 and took off for Los Angeles in the summer of 1963... Where, in the front row, he found my mother. The first he heard of my mother was when my grandmother called him to say she (My Mum) was out having surgery, and would miss the first few classes, but please don't bump her from the class, and could she get extra help to catch up? My mother was very pleased that the professor she needed some extra coaching from was such a talldarkandhandsome dashing young Englishman.

My mother is American, Californian to be specific, her parents were both born in Detroit, Michigan, and came to California as Children in the 1920's, part of one of many "Gold Rush" Westward migrations. She grew up in Los Angeles, with a circus performer across the street, movie hopefuls in her high school classes, and used to skip Sunday School with her sister to drive around critiquing architectural styles of various neighborhoods. She was also a first generation university student, though she worked in a bank for a while before starting college. Good thing, otherwise she would have taken care of her foreign language requirement long before my father arrived to teach it.

They married after a four month courtship (officially begun after German 1 was over), and moved to London, where my Dad enrolled in a Linguistics PhD program at University College. My mother had only ever been as far as Rosarito, Mexico and she moved to London in 1964, where rental apartments were unheated, and most lacked refrigerators. Her winter coat was an unlined cotton duster. Yikes!

Before I came along, they lived back in California for a while, where my sister was born, then moved to Lancaster (the one in the North of England) to be closer to my Dad's parents. The same week my father got a professorship at Edinburgh University, my mother found out she was expecting me. They moved four month before I was born, they still live in the house they first brought me home to.

So, the point of the question is, what do I call myself? My first answer is "British, but my Mum's from LA", or "I'm from Scotland, but I'm a dual citizen". I am Scottish, but not as Scottish as, for example, K, or Dr G, Shauna's husband. I grew up hearing bagpipes played on street corners, visiting castles on school trips, hearing kids referred to as "weins", celebrating Burns' Night and Hogmanay, being called "The Yank" or "English" (and a few other non-nationality related things) by my classmates. When I went to uni in London, my (mostly English) fellow students thought I was Scottish or American, and when I did an exchange year in San Diego, people thought I was "British or something". I found that I felt more comfortable outside of Scotland, where I was at least more Scottish than the people I was meeting. Here, and in London, I was the token Scot, and it felt very good to have that side of me recognized.

Now, of course, I realize it's not a great idea to define yourself by what others call you, but if others' views of your identity don't mesh with your own it gets very frustrating. I'm sad that my family background contributed to me being cast as an outsider in school, but I know that wasn't the sole reason, I was also a smartarse bookworm. However, I feel that this experience gave me early insight into prejudice and xenophobia, a word I learned at about age four, when my father was explaining why some people thought it was so important that I was not exactly like them. I feel that my wedding (to my Scottish-heritage kilt-wearing Pennsylvanian husband), which was in San Diego, but featured kilted SoCal groomsmen with cowboy belt buckles, and thistles mixed in with the flowers, was a great expression of my cultural influences. I want to live in Scotland again, I don't know how it will feel, I figure that having lived in the US for 10 years will explain my perceived American-ness, and I'm pretty sure I won't care so much what people think I am, I think that is partly why I want a chance to live there again. There is a lot that I miss, that I feel I did not appreciate while there, but it is also pretty hard to knock being the token Scot in sunny San Diego.


Isabelle said...

Very interesting! How romantic.

You've been away from home too long though: "sleekit" means smooth as in the sense of sly, rather than silky. Or at least that's what I think.

Molly said...

Meandered over here I know not how----maybe through a convoluted mix of K, Isabelle and Warty Mammal? Whatever. I'm so glad I did. I've been reading with great interest how you define yourself, since I deal with it too, and you have articulated better than I could how I feel! Reading this I realized I too feel more comfortable outside my home country for exactly the reasons you gave.....