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Starting over with a new identity

  • Published at 11:00 pm February 2nd, 2020
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Photo: Bigstock

Is the idea of national identity losing relevance?

“I see you as a global citizen,” my former Finnish coordinator at work told me one day. His comment did not surprise me much but his ability to decipher my manifestation of identity did. “Yes, when I am in Uruguay, I can be Uruguayan. When I am in Paraguay, I can be Paraguayan. I can be Portuguese in Portugal and Senegalese in Senegal,” I replied.

Mahmudul: The serenity of a new identity

I developed an identity crisis even before I was old enough to fully realize the extent of its meaning and how it affects a person. I am one of those people who have a complex -- and sometimes inexplicable -- relationship with identity. I take little discomfort in describing myself as a misfit depending on places where I am and things that I do.

Who am I? Where do I belong? These questions have bothered and haunted me for years.

I have Bangladeshi parents. I grew up in Bangladesh. I have a Bangladeshi passport.

But in terms of language, I am an anglophile. English is the language of my mind, heart, and soul. I express my “true self” in English. I see the world through the lens of English and try to interpret everything I experience accordingly.

Then my relationship with Finland -- a small Nordic country where I lived for around three years -- shakes my relationship with identity to the core.

I was fascinated by the Finnish culture.

I took notes on different aspects of Finnish society. I found ways to closely interact with a bunch of Finns who disclosed the intricacies of their land and people to me.

I fell madly in love with Finland and especially, “Finnishness.” I developed an unhealthy obsession with everything Finnish although I do not blindly accept every single feature of Finland and Finnishness. And it was not long before I started feeling a strong sense of belonging in that part of the world.

I not only became a Finnophile; I became a Finn. I did not consciously force the Finnish identity on myself. It was Finland and its cultural and social elements that swept me off my feet. Given my deep-rooted identity as an anglophile that I have nurtured over the years, I always thought that only England could charm me.

But Finland proved me wrong. Nevertheless, this North European land enthralls me. I practice Finnish music and I write about Finland.

A Bangladeshi by passport, a Brit by language, and a Finn by culture -- I live in a permanent state of identity transitions. I live on the edge where many worlds intersect. And that is the identity I consciously cherish and lovingly nurture.

* * *

Anna: Vanishing

I have multiple nationalities, and while I understand two of them -- to some degree -- it is challenging to explore the third because the Yugoslav nationality disintegrated in war during my childhood.

Throughout my life, I have lived in countries where nationalists proudly waved their flags but could not wait to leave for better opportunities elsewhere. I cannot reconcile national pride with the brain drain. Either one loves one’s country and will do everything to improve it, like fight corruption and ensure the rule of law, or one will leave it, and one’s flags, behind.

I did the latter.

Nations are frequently defined by their successes -- a soccer win, a rocket launched -- or long-gone traditions; but they rarely analyze their present shortcomings. Most nations are built on reprehensible history which is papered-over with patriotic history classes and biased narratives.

Borders -- set up primarily for pride and profit -- divide families, sideline talent, and allow for some to live in peace and others war. It remains impossible to be a global citizen in this world.

Identity is directly connected to what others will allow you to be. In my three home countries and two adoptive countries, I am a foreigner. No group accepts me as a full member of theirs, so I, in turn, attach no importance to my national identity -- or theirs.

If anything, national identity is a burden and something I must work around. My loyalty is to humanity going forward. I do not care if a specific home country of mine succeeds, and certainly not at the expense of others around it. 

Anna Milovanovic is a photographer based in Dhaka and Mahmudul Islam is a journalist.

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