Patriotism abroad – the challenges and advantages of being of mixed heritage
- Credit: Michal Siewniak
Michal Siewniak’s latest column from Welwyn Hatfield’s Polish community.
A couple of years ago, my eldest daughter, Maria, had a non-uniform day.
All children had an opportunity to express themselves. Our Maria decided to wear a Polish top and Croatian scarf. Her mum comes from Croatia whereas I am Polish.
She was really happy to wear it and she really feels proud to be ‘British, Polish, Croatian and European’.
I’ve asked Maria whether she is happy to be of ‘mixed heritage’. I was really pleased when she said: “When I talk to my friends, I always say that my dad is from Poland, mum from Croatia and has Italian grandparents and I was born in the UK.”
I said: “So why is it important for you?”
Maria replied: “It is because I have many opportunities to travel, learn other languages and spend holidays (without spending loads!) with my relatives in different parts of Europe.”
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I said to myself, this says it all.
I often ask myself whether I lost a bit of my ‘Polishness’.
Life was so simple when I was growing up. Being only 10 when the Berlin Wall collapsed meant that I hadn’t really had a chance to travel, study or work abroad until 2001 when I left Poland for Croatia.
Being Polish often meant being predominantly white, Roman Catholic and Eastern European.
There was no such thing as ‘mixed heritage’ and having a foreign girlfriend sounded almost surreal. There is of course nothing wrong with the above.
I actually feel that most of my ‘childhood’ was pretty special and it prepared me for my future ‘life adventures’.
In 2001 I received a scholarship and went to study in Zagreb. After completing my university, I moved back to Croatia where I was already seeing my future wife Ana.
This period in my life was probably the most important. It most definitely shaped me and helped to see other people from a very different angle.
I remember seeing a mosque for the first time in my life. I remember people from many different faiths living side by side.
Each of these moments helped me to realise that we all belong to one ‘human family’.
It was all so natural to my Croatian friends, however for me it was such a huge discovery.
This ‘meeting of religions and cultures’ immediately fascinated me. This experience, and our one year stay in Italy, prepared us well for Britain.
So if I say that I am from Poland but I also feel Croatian, British and European, does it diminish my ‘Polish identity’?
Does my children’s upbringing in a diverse society mean that they don’t have a clear (‘black & white’) sense of belonging?
I think that I actually am more Polish in the UK than I would have been back home.
For me, patriotism means that I am proud of my roots, however I also recognise that I can learn loads from other cultures.
There is quite a bit of negativity around diversity today. I know that my family wants to continue being residents of ‘One Big Global Family’, a family which has so much to offer, a family which enhances us all as human beings and enables us to enrich our lives by meeting and being with other people from different backgrounds.
I am pleased that I have not ‘stagnated’ and look at life like an adventure which enables me to grow socially and culturally.
I am really happy that my family, especially my children, are thriving and loving the fact that they are so foreign! I had a fantastic childhood, however I wish I could experience what they are being exposed to at such a young age. We have layers of identity.
We want to belong however we can’t be simply ‘boxed’ to one or two categories.
If there is anything I have learnt in the UK, it is not to generalise, stigmatise and label people. Not because it is politically incorrect, but because we are all so unique and each one of us contributes to that uniqueness.