“Where are you from?”
It’s one of the first questions they ask you when you enter University residences. And from that point on, everyone around you has expectations. If you’re from a big city they expect a certain attitude or knowledge, if you’re from a small-town they expect a certain personality and set of habits.
Your regional identity gives people around you a sense of what to expect from you, a sort of standard, and also gives yourself a sense of who you are. We are the result of our environments, and so to be raised in one city versus another creates unique patterns, likes, dislikes and personality traits that make up who we are.
It also gives us a sense of history. You can’t really know who you are until you know where you’ve come from. It doesn’t mean you’ll act a certain way, but it gives you a sense of where you came from, which can change your attitudes towards a number of things. Coming from the suburbs versus the city can make a huge difference, even if it is only a number of minutes away.
Today I had a chance to speak with Norman Simpson, a 72 year old, self identified ‘Ulster Man’, and a retired private from the UDA (Ulster Defence Regiment) who has lived in Armagh Co., Northern Ireland his whole life. As he told me, he’s an Ulster Man, his father was an Ulster Man, and I’m sure his grandfather and his grandfather’s grandfather were Ulster Men as well. It gives him a sense of belonging, in a country that seems to be so stuck on the idea of belonging, rights and the privileges that come with that belonging. In such a confusing world, how do you know where you fit in if not by following the patters of those who came before you?
Regardless of whether or not an individual stays in the same place they grew up or came from, one’s regional identity holds a certain permanence. One day I hope to live and work in the U.K. but that won’t ever stop me from saying I’m Canadian, even if my passport says otherwise some day. If anything, it might stand to explain why I talk funny.
Really, regional identity all comes down to identifying yourself and knowing where you fit in -essentially the ultimate question for the human condition.
If you know where you are, you know more about who you are, and you know where to call home.