My goal for this essay was to explore the relationship between identity, nationality, and immigration. I wanted to understand how immigration influences identity and how it impacts our feelings of belonging and acceptance. I learned a lot about this topic through writing this essay and I feel as though I’ve learned more about my identity.
My Ecuadorian mother was born in Eugene, Oregon one December night over forty years ago. Both of her parents were from Ecuador but she was never able to get Ecuadorian citizenship because the application to the closest Ecuadorian consulate, which was in California, was lost in the mail. By the time my grandparents found out it was too late, and my mother would have to remain a citizen of the United States of America. When my mother was two my grandfather finished graduate school and decided that it was time to move back to Guayaquil. My mother has no memories of her time in the United States as a young girl. She has always considered herself to be an Ecuadorian even though she was born in Oregon, probably one of the furthest states from Ecuador, and never became an Ecuadorian citizen. Twenty two years after moving to Ecuador my mother returned to the United States and came to Philly to go to graduate school. While in school she met my father and married. Originally they were going to live in Ecuador but the financial situation of the country was very unstable at the time and it was difficult to find jobs so they decided it was best if they stayed in Philadelphia. It’s strange to think that if the whole financial instability situation in Ecuador had not occurred I would have been born there and I would probably still live there. Every once in awhile I like to think about how different my life would be if I was born in and lived in Ecuador. Would I be the same person? How does nationality affect identity?
I have lived in the same city all my life and in the same house for as long as I can remember. I have never felt that I do not belong in Philly or in the United States and I am aware that the city I have grown up in has had a large role in the development of my identity. My mother has had a completely different experience. She was born in the U.S. to two foreigners, moved to a Ecuador where she never legally a citizen, and then moved back to the United States. So how has the development of my identity differed from the development of my mother’s identity? The development of my identity has been relatively easy. I’ve been influenced by the culture of in Philadelphia but mostly influenced by my family and the people I have met. For my mother it was mostly just as easy. Growing up she considered herself Ecuadorian. She didn’t even remember anything about the United States. Once she came back to the United States it was harder. She was a citizen of the U.S. but she didn’t know the culture and she spoke with an accent. My mother now considers herself to be both American and Ecuadorian but there was a time when she felt that she didn’t belong in the United States or in Ecuador. She’d changed enough in her time in the U.S. to feel that she didn’t belong in Ecuador but enough to feel that she did belong in the United States. The only difference between the development of our identities was that small amount of time when my mother felt that she didn’t belong and that came from a change of location.
Nationality and immigration both have a role in shaping identity and fostering feelings of belonging. In an article, Vivian Gerrand explained how belonging and identity related to nationality and immigration:
“This sense of belonging is more than just about growing up here; it comes from a sense of individuality as much as from cultural influences. It shows that identity is never fixed; there is always movement between cultures. This new sense of belonging separates out the idea of fixed national, collective and individual identities.”
This shows that identity is something fluid. Nationality influences it and as people immigrate their identity changes because of their new experiences. My mother has lived longer than me so it is only natural that she has had more opportunity to explore her identity and to see it be shaped by new experiences in other countries. She is an example of how immigration changes identity and makes it more diverse. A diverse identity can only be a good thing because it allows us to be more open minded and more willing to understand those who are different than us.