To what degree does our environment define our identity?
Four months into my new life in North Carolina, I have been pondering a question — does where we live define us? To what degree are we a product of where we are from?
When I came to North Carolina as a child, I was that kid who had arrived from Turkey. For the last 25 years living in California, I spoke often of my childhood years in North Carolina. Even though I was born in California, I emphasized my ties to the South. In some odd way, I liked being an outsider, different. I took pride in being from somewhere else.
When I first moved to North Carolina in third grade, the transition was difficult. I wasn’t a churchgoer. When asked who my “people” were, I didn’t have names of generations of kin here to cite. And I certainly didn’t talk like a Southerner.
My identity had become someone “not from here.”
In my soul, I always felt that I was a weird mixture of North Carolina, California and Turkey. I did not truly belong anywhere, I thought. Eventually, that sense appealed to my “fly-on-the-wall” journalistic outsider mentality.
In the last few months as I have been establishing my life here in North Carolina, I have encountered those familiar reactions once again — at the dentist’s office, networking functions and social settings. “Wow, you’re from California. This must be so different for you.”
Now pursuing a communications career outside of the media business, I no longer consider myself a journalist. But not for that reason alone, I realize I do not want to be that fly on the wall anymore. I do not want to distance myself. I want to embrace the people around me, the community in which I live and the person I have become.
While holding true to all unique aspects of myself and all the places I have lived, I am ready to plant roots. I now recognize it was not that I did not belong anywhere. Instead, I belong in all of these places.
Yes, we’re a product of the environments in which we have lived. But that enriches us to contribute to and fully feel at home wherever we choose to plant ourselves.