Wednesday, 24 June 2009

What's your story?

In the words of the tv programme, The Spice Girls, and no doubt countless teachers and parents across the ages; Who do you think you are? Nationality-wise, that is?

I know who I think I am. English / British, plain and simple. No mystery there. My parents are English, their parents were, and their parents before them. You can't get much more straightforward - nationality-wise - than our family tree. And yet, delve a little deeper, and it turns out that of my grandparents' family names, only one - the one that I had thought was Scottish - is English. Of the other three, one is Irish, a second is French, and a third is south European. And when my mother researched her family it seems there's some Romany blood in there too. Not quite so straightforward, after all.

And my British passport holding sons? Well, if you throw in the fact that their father is Dutch but with Indonesian, Chinese and Russian blood, and a family name that originates in Germany, things start to get really interesting.

What's my point?

It was Refugee Week last week. It's a little after the fact, I know, but this morning I recieved an e-mail from the pr company handling the publicity for it telling me about the Simple Acts campaign to highlight the enormous contribution that refugees have made to the UK.

They wrote:

'The campaign is called Simple Acts, and is part of Refugee Week 2009 (15th-21st June) which is a countrywide programme of events including concerts, film screenings and exhibitions...

'This year the celebrations take on a new twist as people are invited not to raise funds, or make huge gestures, but to choose from 20 Simple Acts such as cooking a dish from a foreign country or reading a book written by /related to refugees, which brings them closer to refugees. Every Simple Act will be contributed to on an online total at Refugee so people can see what a big impact they are making collectively.'

Click here for more information about the Simple Acts campaign. Everyone from Oxfam to Amnesty was involved, it seems, and even Paddington Bear (Peru's most famous bear refugee) got involved with a new story and a Simple Act of his own.

What did I do? Well, you probably worked out from the opening to this post that I took the option of finding out just how 'English' I am. Which is, as it turns out, not really what I am at all.

It's so easy to look at those who arrive in your country as 'other'. But do a bit of digging and you'll find that your family were probably 'other' at some point, too.


  1. I did some work with refugees a few years ago and can relate to this. It can be hard to work out who we are.

    For example - what is the difference between Nationality and Ethnicity and what does it mean to us? I could become Nationality-wise Italian, but I would never be Ethnically Italian. What does that mean? I could become American by Nationality, but (apart from Native Americans) there is no American Ethnicity. So what does it mean to belong?

    Sorry - getting a bit confusing, but I find this subject fascinating.

  2. know I do get concerned that I am an illegal Alien in Wales...especially being green and all that..oh dear, I think I'm suffering in this heat, I must find a pond to lie in..

  3. Your husband's heritage sounds very interesting and I would be completely fascinated by it.

    I am just plain Dutch with one French ancestor in the 1700's and one German ancestor in the 1600's.

    Not very exciting, is it, huh?


  4. I consider myself European, then British, then Welsh. Technically, I think I'm English, because I was born and brought up here, but I feel no real connection with Englishness. My dad was Welsh, with some Belgian ancestry. My mum is English, with some Welsh ancestry. My husband is Scottish.

    I have taken a look at the simple acts and think I will pick 'Learn to say a few things in a new language. I would really like to learn Polish. We have a fairly big Polish community here and I would love to be able to go into the Polish deli and ask for something in Polish, or say hello to the elderly Polish couple who walk down our street early every morning, with their shopping. So I'm going to go and look for some Polish phrases.

    Thanks for this, PM.

  5. Wow - you could be American. As my fridns here say "We're like puppies" and it fascinates me. I did my family tree a few years back and got my dad's side to 1673 - all English! My mother's side is half Irish and half English so very boring. My lily white kids however, are about one thirty second Comanche Indian!

  6. Mud, really good point about nationality vs ethnicity. And too complicated for me to make a concise comment on it!

    Oh Frog, but will the toads let you in?

    Irene, it's all relative - and dependant on the information we have. For example, the Romany connection in my mum's family was hidden for years before previous generations were embarrassed by it. It was only when mum did some digging that it turned up.

    Tasha, I'm with you, I start with European really. But then I have to, living where I do and married to a Dutchman! Good luck with the Polish phrases!

    EPM, and what do you bet that the comanche connection is what will get trotted out in school projects?!!! (Kids do like to focus on the exotic, I find)

  7. Potty,
    We have no toads!!
    Only down by the brook near the pooh sticks bridge where the fairies!!


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