This I Believe

Johanna - Anchorage, Alaska
Entered on January 15, 2007

…that belonging is a simply a state of mind. You cannot “belong” until you really “feel” you belong.

In 41 years, I never grasped the true sense of belonging until now. It is an emotional eclipse of full magnitude. How lucky I was to be first generation American to an Italian father and Dutch mother! To be so culturally enriched at home and raised in Long Island, New York in the center of the world! What more could any person ask for? To grow up in a culture unknown to your own parents is a start of different sorts. I found myself culturally clashing in my world. It never went away. I left home in the morning for school and entered America. I returned home in the evening and entered post war Europe at the dinner table. I did not attend the traditional American events like Homecoming Dance or football games at my high school. After all, my parents do not know of such cultural traditions. I recall going to the 4th of July parades in town but, still, nothing came. I did not feel I belonged there. I was not a part of it but was, rather, an outsider. I had no feelings of this being my town, my home, my country! It was tortuous! I can remember always feeling like I was on a fence and never knew which side to embrace! I could not completely identify in either world.

I always wished I had grown up in Europe. It would have been so much easier to identify myself and maybe Italian would have been my first language. Que bello! I studied in Europe a year while obtaining my Batchelor’s Degree and went back again as an American soldier for two and a half years. I could not get Europe out of my heart. Still, nothing came. No sense of where I belonged but only a sense where my parents came from and a knowledge that it was not where I was from. I was still an outsider.

I returned to the states and, at 23 years old, headed to Anchorage, Alaska. I ended up getting married, had two kids, and then quite suddenly, found myself divorcing here. My closest kin were all on the East Coast! I was a single mother with a 2 and 4 year old. Alaska is part of the USA, isn’t it? I was asked this question in Baltimore, MD on one of my trips to the East Coast to visit my ex-husband’s family. Sorry for the digression. Back to my lack of feeling a sense of belonging. Now I faced my future. I had to stay here since their dad was here. I had to be brave. I knew I had to raise my kids for the next 16 years in Alaska with no family but my own small children! It was a prison sentence. Although totally devastated, there was nothing to do but accept it and continue to live here.

Years went by and all went well. The kids are teens now. Life had its’ difficulties but overall it was a life filled with quality. I always told myself that when I had the choice after the kids were grown that I would leave this place that I never meant to be in after 18 years. However, I am suddenly struck by the fact and knowledge that this is my town, I know these people, and I understand this country. When I take walks in the evening in zero degree weather throughout my neighborhood, I find myself loving this place! I love the mismatched neighborhoods, the old trailer homes and new duplexes. I love the huge snow berms and icicles hanging off the roofs. It is not pretty but it is the most magnificent country and I feel I belong here! I am completely overwhelmed by the feeling of belonging that I cry tears of relief knowing I belong. I am here as a result of my gypsy past and probably will have a gypsy future but I do belong here. And finally, I accept it.