To be honest, it kind of caught me off guard.
Professor Suzuki pulled the final slide up on the screen, and the question was, “When did you learn your nationality? How? Through What?”
I know I’m an American and I’ve always been one, but we’ve been talking about national identity, and why we identify with one particular nation-state. I personally have not reached the point where I can pin my identity on just one nation.
The first notion of geography I can remember, was watching out one of the emergency exit windows as we flew over the Sahara desert on our way to Kenya when I was three years old. The vastness of the African desert is stunning.
Later on, around first grade, I filled in a coloring book about Pennsylvania. It had pictures of Benjamin Franklin and the Liberty Bell, and I learned that the Ruffed Grouse was “my” state bird. Also in first grade, President Daniel T. Arap Moi visited the school. I remember dressing up, and sitting on the grass with my class, waiting in eager anticipation to hear him speak. I was in awe that THE president had come to my school!
In second grade, we had Kenya week, and I put together a book about the provinces of Kenya, the animals, the flag, etc. Also in second grade, we learned about American coins, using plastic pennies and nickels and dimes.
And so it went, back and forth. In early elementary school, Mom put up a copy of the Pledge of Allegiance, which I tried to memorize, but didn’t really learn until 8th grade. Also at that time, I learned the Kenyan national anthem to sing at Friday flag-raising. Unfortunately, I still don’t have much of a handle on the Star Spangled Banner. I heard it on the radio when we first returned to the States, just before college, but I thought it was a Sousa march. Then, just the other day I was so embarrassed when I asked what a song was, and found out it was Jimi Hendrix playing “my” national anthem. oops.
I think the times I felt most patriotic towards America were when I was in Kenya. I was so proud of that flag waving about the U.S. embassy. On multicultural day, I cheered along with the rest of the Americans when they presented our flag, and on the 4th of July, it seemed like we always had hot dogs, and tried to remember to wear red, white, and blue.
But, here in Ohio, my wall is completely dominated by the Kenyan flag, my pictures of Kenya, and my map of Kenya. In my head, Africa is the centre of the world. When December 12 comes around I feel quite patriotic, and want to drink lots of chai, and greet everyone with “Happy Jamhuri Day.”
So, in answer to my professor’s question: I don’t think I have just one national identity. (Is that allowed?) I think when I was quite small, I knew that I was an American, and I’ve always known that, but my loyalties are definitely divided. I can’t really bring myself to pick one country over the other, because I know for sure that I love one, and I think I am quite possibly in the process of learning to love the other.