You have to understand something to understand the answer to the headline of this blog post.
I’ve always been an outsider. I grew up in neighborhoods where I didn’t look like anyone, I went to family reunions where I didn’t look like anyone, I went to a school where I didn’t look like anyone, and I went to a church where I distinctly remember there being ONE person who looked like me…and it wasn’t a small church.
I grew up constantly being told what and who I didn’t look like…essentially I grew up being told what I was not. People were constantly stripping my identity from me. I couldn’t possibly be her daughter because I didn’t look like her. I couldn’t possibly be her sister because I didn’t look like her. I couldn’t possibly belong in the Nordic club at college because there’s no way I’m part Scandinavian. “He can’t be your brother, he’s way lighter than you.”
The best way I can explain my feeling growing up is the scene in the Disney animated movie Cinderella. You know that scene right before the ball when her step-sisters rip her newly made gown from Cinderellas body? Yeah, that. Despite wanting to belong, to celebrate and establish her place in the world she’s rejected in a very real and tangible way. To me, the verbal refutation of who I was felt just like that. Every time someone expressed how there was no way I wasn’t adopted I felt like the pearls had been ripped from my neck and lay scattered across the ground.
For 19 years I swam in the grief that bubbles around being constantly told who you’re not. While I had a very supportive mother who tried to verbally bat away the sentiments that just about everyone seemed to have, there’s only so much one person can do (especially when they’re not by your side).
It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I said “Fuck it.”
I was going to decide who I was.
I was going to decide what I did with my life, and if I was ‘too light’ to be in one and ‘too dark’ to be in the other—I would build my own culture.
This was a large part of why I started traveling. Because when I was standing on the cliffs of Ireland there was no living creature, on this planet or another, who could argue with the way my heart sung. My blood knows where I belong. It pulses differently when I’m home. And home is not a building. It’s a song, a taste, a smell…it’s seeing art that dates back hundreds of years and somehow completely understanding the mindset of its makers. Because they think the same way I do.
I made the decision five years ago to travel to each country I knew I had an ethnic tie with and this year I completed that journey with my trip to Norway. It could honestly not have been a better ending with such a serene time exploring the beauty of Oslo. But now I want to dig deeper. I want to know more.
A lot of people are surprised when I take classes to learn the traditional methods of my ancestors but I think it’s so incredibly important. I need to reach back in as tangible of a way as I can. I need to feel the heart beat of generations through our art, stories, food and writing. It would be impossible for me to fully describe how it feels like I’ve found a missing puzzle piece each time I dig deeper into my cultural heritage…but I will tell you one thing.
I don’t know if, like me, you feel like an outsider. But if you do, don’t ever let other people define you. Build your own legacy. Weave your own narrative and embrace those things that make your heart soar. I know it sounds corny, but you might be the only person listening to that exact frequency. And if you follow it? Well, there’s a good chance other people won’t understand why. They won’t understand why you feel the need to cook traditional meals, learn how to make folk art, or dance to the same songs that have inspired generations.
But that’s okay.
It’s okay for no one else to get it.
The reason that I’m so inspired and passionate about embracing my cultural heritage is because I refuse to believe that I’m alone. I refuse to accept a narrative of “I can’t”. I will not live among the restrictions that others have told me about who or what I can be. And with every look of shock as I walk into a class, visit a country, speak a language or know more about a country’s history than those that live in it, I choose to grin. Because this is my story. And I’m going to make it a hell of a good one.