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STATISTICS:
The anti-immigrant generation gap is widest in France, where more than half (53%) of those ages 65 and older completely agree that immigration should be restricted. Only a quarter (24%) of younger French men and women shared such strong views.
Of Voyages and Broken Borders
Elda J. Stanco
United StatesGALLERYCONVERSATION
“Where are you from?” The inevitable question brings the inevitable answer: “Do you mean...where was I born, what are my nationalities, or what is the location of my current residence?” The inevitable response: “Huh?”

Perhaps if you saw me you would understand. People tell me I can pass for Israeli, Chilean, Spanish, Irish, Greek, Brazilian, Iranian. . . . At the beginning it was shocking. Then it became an exciting game of let-the-stranger-guess. It turned funny. A bit neurotic. Eventually it made my stomach hurt, literally. I opted to answer “Nowhere.”

Nowadays whoever asks gets the thirty-minute saga of how my existence came about. Word of mouth about me seems to have spread, because fewer and fewer people are asking. But somehow I doubt that the mystery surrounding my “Nowhere” answer has brought this situation about. You see, what I considered to be my characteristic multicultural background, and thus my multicultural “look” (if there is such a thing), is somewhat of a standard for many women today. At first I wondered, Wouldn’t this sort of information be in some classified file at an underground government facility? No — others knew about “the file” already. The fashion industry has already capitalized on it, allowing us to look like a geisha one day, a cowgirl the next, and a safari chick for the weekend — all the while not feeling one bit silly.

Undoubtedly, the curiosity over where women are from is being replaced with information sessions about migration patterns. Nowadays what shocks is meeting a woman who has one distinct lineage and hails from one distinct place. A woman who was born, raised, and still lives in the same place and manner as her mother and grandmother is, plainly stated, an oddity. Consequently, many women today are bilingual and trilingual individuals who identify themselves with distinctive traits from diverse cultures, and who can chomp down biryani one night and ceviche the next, all washed down with a solid grappa.

Wouldn’t you agree that it has become quite impossible — if not passé — to characterize a woman by her nationality, her ethnicity, her race, or her language? Certainly this generation is best defined as a generation of plurality, of women who cannot and should not be solely classified as German, Southeast Asian, white, or Farsi-speaking. We are “multi-” women: multicultural, multilingual, and multinational — even if that last one sounds like a peacekeeping force.

Our grandmothers and mothers have been immigrants, and so have we. If they voyaged out of necessity, we travel out of need, curiosity, pleasure, and above all, desire. Young adult women today can choose to be at home in more than one locale. We are part of a generation that defies being judged and classified by looks or names. Identity is no longer static and solely inherited. Borders do not truly divide us anymore. Transatlantic and transpacific are the hot words du jour.

If this is starting to sound too manifesto-y for you, worry not. Behind the irreverent revelry, and despite the jet-set allure that trans- and multipositions might exude, we are also attempting to harmonize our cultural baggage. The glamorous facade merely frames the complex issues, emotions, and politics stirred when no single category identifies a woman. How can you juggle speaking Russian at home, English at school, and French on the street? How do you negotiate a hypertraditional southern Italian heritage with a fast-track career? How can you connect with your Filipino ancestry while considering your blonde friends the best of the bunch? The task is not easy; many times it’s fun, on occasion it’s not. I place my money on new feminist outlooks emerging from this struggle — ideas that will allow second- and third-wave feminists to sit together and make it through a five-course dinner.

My voyage is not the only one in my generation; I have met more and more women with voices like mine, women who know that our generation is transcending borders. Here are some of their stories.

Interviews with "multi-women":

Andreea was born in Romania and grew up in Connecticut. She knows as much about Transylvania as she does about Stamford. She gives the best sale-hunting tips and yet is quick to outline why food in the United States is not really food. Life with her is fast-paced, at times schizophrenic. A conversation with her can be about 80 percent in English, 20 percent in “Sparomitalian” (a cocktail of Spanish, Romanian, and Italian). Andreea’s mother escaped Communism and has the scars to prove it. Andreea is her living proof: whatever opportunities her mother never had, Andreea has seized. She has become a lawyer without fear of rejection or of being one of the few. Andreea does what she likes because she can, because her generation is determined to do something about hunger and violence in the United States, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Colombia. “I see women who have arrived and who are not intending to leave anytime soon. I see their mothers swell with pride and even follow suit on a few tucked-away dreams of their own,” she concludes.

Suzannah’s classic high school tale resounds in every school across the United States: the popular blondes sat at one table, and no one could go near them. They were beautiful, asked out by the guys, and very, very blonde. Suzannah did not sit at this table. Her place was at the table with people who shared her heritage. Somehow, I just know that the blondes argued that the people at Suzannah’s table were very heritage-y. Though Suzannah’s mother worried when her daughter left the Midwest for the East Coast, she cheered when Suzannah wrote an awardwinning story about how multicultural teenagers in the younger generation live. Suzannah knows that a key aspect of the “multi-” life may be a fine equilibrium between the many parts.

Veronika possesses a fame that precedes her. It is not often that you meet a Russian-born woman who grew up in Eastern Europe and Canada and who prefers to spend her free time in Spain. For her, Barcelona feels as homey as Montreal. Veronika’s food selections are eclectic: dinner might include a chicken stir-fry, a Russian salad, a New York–style cheesecake, and a bottle of bubbly Italian wine — and it might be followed by salsa lessons. To some this might seem too hectic or too exotic, but to Veronika it is a lifestyle.

The common denominators among Andreea, Suzannah, and Veronika are the freedom and ability to move through borders and identities. All three recognize they are living and creating a world that former generations could only imagine. While not all might agree that the world today is a global village, there is a growing consensus that the living arena women are forging is not based on nationality, race, ethnicity, or language. We are a generation of pluralists, unafraid to turn obsolete categories on their heads and spin them. Women are living and working at such a speedy rate that our own current ideas will soon be passé for us. As for myself . . . well, you would have to give me that “Huh?” before I narrated the thirty-minute transatlantic saga. . . .
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Merina Eduards (Grenada) (Grenada)
This is a beautiful story. Excellent writing and so true. I was born in Suriname, studied in Suriname, Trininad and the Dominican Republic; speak Dutch, English, Spanish and two other dialects in Suriname. I have a multi-accent. And people ask the same question: Where are you from? Africa, Central-America, etc? I am a muli-women. Thanks Elda
Veronika Ryjik (Canada)
When I read the first paragraphs of Elda's article, I thought "Oh, the story of my life". The question "where are you from?" is my worst nightmare, since I haven't spent more than 6 years in the same country. I've been identified as Swedish, Danish, Polish, American, even Spanish. Elda, thanks for writing this great aricle! It's nice to know I am not the only one with no definite nationality :-)
maria "lela" moreno (United States)
backgrounds that this world will spin peacefully. I am proud to say that I have known Elda since we were children and am very proud of her beautiful writing.
Maria Moreno (United States)
To me it was a sort of magical and imaginative notion to not know where I was from because I too get pegged for Brazilian, Romanian, Chinese, even Thai. I embrace this multi-ethnic world, especially since I live in a multi-ethnic & multi-cultural place as is Miami, where all worlds collide & make it the colorful city it is today. It is only by accepting & understanding all cultures & back
maria "lela" moreno (United States)
I never really thought much about this topic until now, and as I read this article I slowly realized that I have indeed given it thought. I also grew up in Venezuela, but I was born on Costa Rica, where my father is from. My mother is American/Venezuelan, and to top it all off I was adopted, so all my life, when I was asked where I was from I liked to say: "from everywhere and anywhere".
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