Sunday, January 18, 2009

Olympic pride and hints of national identity

Last summer we watched the Beijing Olympic Games; we were vacationing on the Italian Alps and every evening, coming back from a long day spent hiking, we enjoyed chilling out by watching some great sports event. It was useful also to introduce Milo and Zeno to some sports that are not frequently accessible and televised, like swimming , martial arts, volleyball etc.

As we were in Italy, RAI broadcasted primarily the competitions featuring Italian athletes, therefore I was enthusiastically cheering for someone at any given event; the Belgianite had not much chance to support his country, and so he'd fall onto the USA. The kids were amused, and rivaled at recognizing each flag.

On one swimming sprinting event in which both Italy, Belgium, and France were competing, Milo spontaneously picked....France, leaving us speechless and, yes, feeling somewhat betrayed! It wasn't just out of imitation of us, I sensed that in the French flag he saw a symbol in which he identified at some level (the French flag is not as visible in France as the American one is in the USA, but we do see one from our apartment, and there is one at the entrance of Milo's school), the same way he's keen to recognize Sarkozy on magazines' covers, ever since I pointed out to him that he's France's President and his picture does reign in his school main hall).

Another related episode concerns a Spanish song we have been singing all summer in the morning: "Buenos dias, hermanos, pasatelo bien hoy" (good morning brothers, have a nice day). One day I was trying to get Milo and Zeno motivated to get in the bat thub and called them 'hermanos' (brothers in Spanish); Milo immediately replied: "But we are not Spanish!"

The notion of national identity in multicultural kids is truly fascinating, and scarce research is available. I posted before about TCKs and the way they are true citizens of the world, at ease everywhere, and at the same time often lacking specific roots... and I often wonder whether my kids will inevitably feel a stronger affiliation to France and the French culture, or if they will also have some emotional root in my native Italy. My main concern not being one over the other, but rather the concretization of a sense of root, which, I imagine, on one hand will depend greatly upon how long we will live here and how often we will move.
National identity is not just limited to a passport, a flag, a spoken language; it's a tightly-knit, complex bundle of sounds, music, flavours, traditions, scents, values we feel part of...and this is the fiber of the patrimony I'm keen on passing on, and that I wish my kids one day will also identify with. Because..."A country's culture and language have a habit of seeping in through an expat's pores. But becoming a parent, brings home the need to remember your national identity."(Expatica website)


Anonymous said...

That is really national identity shaped more by a place or by the family?

Alice said...

I guess everyone's different, but if your kids are like me they will feel Italian and love everything about Italy while living in France, and feel French and idolize all that's French while living in Italy. The grass always being greener on the other side, you know. The advantage that we TCKs have is that we can actually jump over the fence and play on the neighbor's grass whenever we feel like it.

And they will react with a huge sigh to the perpetual question of "Where are you from?" .... ;)