In the past week or so, I have met a number of new people, many of whom, realizing it or not, can be described as “global nomads.” The term has only been in existence for about 20 years and refers to individuals displaced from their country of birth and consequently living with ambiguous cultural and national identities. This is the story of countless immigrants, and children of immigrants, whose national identity is a far more complicated matter than for someone born and raised in the United States.
The concept of global nomads is especially present for me because I was born in Mexico and through my parents obtained French citizenship. Having lived in the U.S. my entire life, the question of “Where are you from?” could never simply be answered with one or two words. By the time I was in my early teens, I was intimately familiar with the feeling of not truly belonging to any of the countries for which I had a passport. In France, I speak a near flawless French with an accent that nobody can put their finger on. In Mexico, my Spanish is also similarly suspect, and I don’t dress or conduct myself like my cousins there. In the U.S., I have the burden of a French name which tends to be a dead giveaway.
With this in mind, for me, home is my family and friends. Many of my friends similarly cannot claim any particular cultural identity. For some this has proven to be a real problem as people who have the privilege of having a clear national identity expect you to choose one. In fact, I have family members who have pressed me on the issue and insist that I pick a national identity. When I didn’t, they took it upon themselves to tell me which one is my favorite. I’m sure they mean well. Or, maybe the idea of not having a clear national identity is uncomfortable for most people and so they require that others choose.
Living in DC, and thus being able to claim many global nomads as friends, has taught me that there is another, largely unnamed national identity. It is one that I seem to share with countless other people. It is the absence of national identity. It is the ambiguity of being able to claim many cultures, and none at all. This community spans the globe, and many live right here in DC. The sons and daughters of diplomats, analysts and economists at the World Bank and IMF, immigrants, refugees and others. Many of them will know this ambiguous identity that can be both problematic and wonderfully liberating. If anything, being a global nomad means that your identity does not require the approval of others who want to categorize you. Instead, it can be complicated, culturally rich, diverse, deliberate, chosen, and most important, make you a member of a great community of people whose home is with their family and friends.
As the world grows smaller, expect to welcome more global nomads, and consider respecting the possibility that they either struggle to name a national identity, or have accepted that they are part of a community that doesn’t have a single nation as a place to call home.