Nationality: how should we define who we are?

Is it where we are born? Where we are raised? My mother tells me

“do you feel Welsh? Then you are.”

my tongue may be Welsh, but my mind seems to be English; I can’t count the times I have turned heads with my apparently peculiar turn of phrase or opinion on the country I am encouraged to hate. (Context: the Welsh ‘hate’ the English. It does make things a little difficult sometimes.) 

this is because my father is an English, ex-public school boy from an agricultural background; I was raised not to waste, to work hard and speak correctly. However, it is my mother who confuses my self identification; she was born in Sierra Leone, to a Caribbean mother and Irish father. My maternal grandparents met in Granada, as my grandfather was a surveyor. They travelled the world, to the extent that my aunt, and namesake, was born in a country that no longer exists.

Such does pose some issues. I don’t honestly know how to react when people ask for nationality. I can cope with ‘so where are you from?’: I simply name the town in which I have grown up. Yet it would be interesting to learn how other people would define children like me; an old English family one side, yet a myriad of cultures from the other. Is my mother African because she was born there? Or is she Caribbean because that was the prominent influence in her cultural upbringing? In reality, she calls herself English, as she lived in Durham from the age of 6. Yet when I asked my aforementioned aunt on how she viewed Africa, she simply replied with ‘home’. 

i want to reach out to anyone else who feels like they are a stranger to their own identity. Those who feel like they do not have a true sense of place; perhaps it is for us to decide, for us to pick a nationality, any identification, and create our own mirror image. Own the confusion. 

Or, failing that, use it as a go-to piece of information when forced to play ‘2 truths and a lie’ because, honestly, I don’t think I will ever be able to stop myself from breaking out in a cold sweat when faced with the “ethnicity” section of a survey.  

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Why We All Need More Austen.

So for a history project, I was given a slightly daunting task; find anything of interest that happened between 1840 and 1890, then  display that information however you like. Now as you can tell from this title, I have somewhat strayed from the whole history aspect of the task (sorry, Mr Stacey – but I honestly do listen in class – you can ask me anything you like about Robert Peel). However, I feel like this is okay, as it is through the work Jane Austen that many of us have had access to the days of the mid-1800s. That makes this a history blog… kind of. In a way. Okay not really.

I chose to write about Austen because I don’t feel like her work is studied and appreciated enough by young people. When Jane Austen died in 1845, we lost an inspirational, forward thinking and extremely talented writer, not to mention a feminist icon. She was able to use her work to outline the social constraints on middle class women during the 1800s through her comedic and romantic narratives. Opening “Pride and Prejudice” with the famous line “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” shows just how trapped women of that class were; they had to be defined by the men who were willing to marry them. Yet it is the way in which the characters are brought to life through their everyday issues that make her work so enjoyable and relatable. We feel their pain as they are ignored by perfect men and have to friend-zone some serious weirdos. We laugh as the sisters make fun of each other, and everyone roots for Elizabeth, the underdog, as she has to go all “Mean Girls” on Catherine Bingley (who, in my opinion, Regina George is definitely based on). Overall, the writing of Austen can be enjoyed by everyone, as she does address the very common issues we still all battle with; desperately trying to look attractive on what is a terribly low budget, attempting to get along with the sisters we know we love very very deep down, and overall just trying to get what we want in life without coming across as a massive cow (the problem which “Emma” has to deal with, circa 1815).

Therefore, I think we all need a bit more Austen in our lives to remind us that times really haven’t changed as much as we think. Yes, we can now skype, blog, and “troll” has somehow become a verb, but the day to day problems we face have not changed dramatically just because our lives are now ruled by a rather posh robot called Siri. It’s nice to get into a good book, travel back in time (tenuous history reference – that ones for you, Sir) and remember that we are not alone in our struggles. It doesn’t hurt that the characters always have a happy ending, too; if everything can work out for Elinor Dashwood after her hundreds of awful setbacks, there is hope for all of us.

(So my history project is me showing the links between the middle class back then and our lives today… lets go with that. Yes.)