Nationalism & Identity: What’s all the hype about?


By Leslie Evans

Identity. It’s what makes us human. It’s what separates us from all of the other living beings on Earth. Our ability to classify, divide, include, label ourselves in regards to how we look, where we’re from, and who we are. Perhaps one of the fundamental markers of human identity is being able to claim a home or place of belonging. Nationalism incites a sense of pride for most people, a lifelong pledge of loyalty and an enduring source of self-importance.

The quizzical thing about identity, nationalism in particular, is that it is often-times out of a person’s control. One cannot choose where he or she is born nor raised. A person does not choose his or her race. Someone doesn’t necessarily choose to belong to a certain religious affiliation (although later in life a person may decide to abandon these religious views or change beliefs, much to the detriment and shock of the family and community). However, it is these factors, race, culture, religion, which are so crucial to forming someone’s identity.

In these contentious times, rife with environmental uncertainty, economic instability, political inadequacy (namely, concerning the United States), and global upheaval on all these fronts, questions of national identity have yet again made their way to centre stage. Usually it is during times of war in which nationalism becomes a hot topic. During the World Wars, the British were proud to display their loyalty to The Queen. Similarly, in this time American patriotism began to really pick up steam. Collectively, Americans have always been a very proud people; Unabashed in flaunting their affinity for the red, white, and blue.

I’ve spent roughly ninety-percent of my life living in the States. I have an unmistakeable American accent when I speak. I know all of the slang and lingo. I am fully aware of the social and cultural cues and oddities (such as saying, “we should hangout sometime” is really a formal and politer way of indicating that no, you will not be hanging out anytime soon). I attended grade school in the States and received my Undergrad education at a public state college. Anyone reading this account would certainly proclaim that I am undoubtedly American. Yet, whenever I find myself waiting in line at passport control I have a choice between my American and German passports.

I belong to two separate nationalities; Germany, the country of my birth, and America, where I was educated and raised. Two identities which seem diametrically opposed: showy winners and silent losers. While I haven’t lived in Germany since moving to the U.S. at two and half years old, I will be relocating to Bavaria next week. Having spent no more than a couple of weeks at a time in Germany for holiday, I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for me. While I feel excited, a sense of trepidation is beginning to develop.

I have never lived in a country where I did not speak the language. As much as I hate to admit, and while it is a bit embarrassing, I do not speak fluent German. I understand it for the most part and enjoy watching local TV shows and dubbed movies. Regrettably, my German mother never encouraged much German speaking in our house. I don’t blame her as my father is American, thus making our home mostly an English-speaking home. Whenever I would visit friends and family in Germany, most conversations would take place in English as European school systems are much better at preparing youth for a globalised, interconnected world. This move should be an interesting endeavour, to say the least. On a positive note, the German government will be paying for me to take language courses. In the coming months, I should be able to not fumble my way through the Bavarian countryside in broken sentences, mismatched articles (who knows where “der” “die” and “das” go anyway?!) and unconjugated verbs.

As a dual-citizen, you grow up with a connection to two identities. When watching the World Cup, for example, my brother and I would always root for the German team. Whenever the Olympic Games took place, seeing either an American or German on the podium would make me happy, not necessarily proud, but happy. Yet, having a background that is different from the norm does sometimes set one up for backlash. During a particular Open House evening in elementary school, when my classmates heard my mother’s accent they asked where she was from. When they found out she was German I spent the rest of the second grade hearing childish jokes like, “you’ve got germs cuz you’re from GERM-any.” Eventually, when we reached the age where we were taught World History, I felt the gaze of the class as we learned about the horrors of the Nazis. I wouldn’t necessarily consider this as bullying, it never really bothered me. I didn’t feel hurt or ostracised. For the most part, Americans like the Germans. Almost like a national pastime, Americans love to tell anyone who will listen all about their ancestry… “Well, you see, my great-great-great-grandaddy was German and his last name was Mueller!” Ironically, it’s like a badge of honour for most Americans to claim their German lineage.

When answering the famous question, “do you consider yourself more German or American?” The answer is equivocally, “neither.” I am a person. I don’t feel the need to tie myself to arbitrary feelings of pride or loyalty. Personally, I feel as though all governments possess some inherent level of corruption and secrecy. Politicians, regardless of national affiliation, will always be self-serving in the end and disregard/ignore the pleas and wants from his or her constituents. Such is the nature of politics. From a cultural perspective, however, I find many aspects of both the American and German cultures to be endearing. I love the Bavarian Christmas traditions. I love (and miss) the food and family-fun of Thanksgiving in America. America’s love of hip-hop and rap is more appealing than the German’s love of 80’s techno. I appreciate how the Germans care more for nature and spend more time outdoors, go hiking, tend to their gardens, and actively recycle their rubbish.

And while the Americans may point the finger and laugh that the Germans essentially caused and brilliantly lost two World Wars (oh yeah, and don’t forget how evil Hitler was or how bad the Holocaust was), it can be easy to forget that EVERY nation has blemishes on its history. The genocide of the Native Americans, the unprovoked military invasions into numerous countries worldwide, the poisoning of its own citizens through lead-tarnished water supplies, are just a bit of the negative aspects of American history which are turned a blind eye to. How easy it is to forget one’s own shortcomings when you’re busy looking at other’s downfalls.

Enough with the tit-for-tat showdown. As a dual-citizen, I am ready to uncover the relatively unknown side of myself, the neglected German half. Perhaps living in the place of my birth will help me discover aspects of myself I never knew existed. Will I pick up a newfound appreciation for hiking? Will I thoroughly enjoy sorting through recycling? Do I secretly love cheesy 80’s electro music? Time will tell.