The idea of ‘home’ is one of rootedness: a security in belonging and identifying with a place and people. Traditionally authors have understood home as established both by bloodline and by the practice of living somewhere. The archetypal narrative of homecoming is that of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca. It is a journey that is not solely concerned with his return to a defined geographical point, but also with the reuniting of the individual with the land he is tied to by his preceding generations.
Nowadays we conceive of home as where our individual identity coheres to a social identity of customs and values. This is not to say that one must accept and unquestioningly condone an entire culture to belong to it. Rather, however we feel about certain practices or norms, we still acknowledge them as our own.
Travel and globalization are inseparably connected in that each brings about the furthering of the other, yet we cannot clearly distinguish which one initiates the interplay between them. Globalization has given rise to both an increasing population of children from parents of two differing nationalities, and a footloose generation of the upper class. This generation is limited more by ambition and insight than money and opportunity. Such a footloose individual often owns a summerhouse, or pied-à-terre, and can leave the office in the early afternoon, land in another country in a couple hours, swap out the bank cards in their wallet and be ready to inhabit this parallel life by dinner.
Tangentially identifiable with this footloose upper class are the children called ‘half and halfs’ – half Thai and half Swedish, half French and half Nigerian – who may have spent their formative years in world cities like London, New York or Hong Kong. While these children confound the original conception of national identity, with no bloodline or tradition tying them to the soil of a single nation, they still defy categorization as foreigners. They have grown up in both cultures, often speak both languages, and almost undoubtedly hold a synthesis of both sets of cultural values.
The ‘half and halfs’ challenge the very concept of nationhood as they are not preceded by generations of the same national identity, and are therefore less prepared to accept the customs and culture of ‘home’ as the standard, and the viewing of all others as foreign. If the footloose upper class embodies the practiced, lived life of this globalized era, the half and half children represent its bloodline.
Globalization is the shoestring that intertwines the interests and customs of the world. As a result of this globalization, we see physical borders and cultural barriers becoming more fluid.
One response to this phenomenon is its very reflection; namely a rising tide of nationalist sentiment, and sweeping declarations that simply do not reflect the reality we live in: promises that we can return to a time before this interconnection, and restore a fantastic sense of our previous grandeur. These nationalist sentiments have manifested themselves in the attempt to untie the shoestring of globalization and development; yet here our metaphor fails us, as we are in reality unable to regress and move heavy industry back against the current of profit. We cannot extract ourselves from the nature of our own time back into the past, any more than we can dislocate ourselves into the future.
Today, access to knowledge and varying cultures is nearly uninhibited. To resolve the discord between increasing interconnectedness and contemporaneous growing nationalism, we must establish some common global bonds across cultures from East to West. These bonds should not compete with established cultures; rather, they should underlie a cultural exchange. This global bond building is the activity we engage in through sincere travel: immersing ourselves in a foreign culture not to change or craft it in our image, but rather to be impressed upon by it. To travel is to bring our true spirit, perspective and being to a place and its people, an activity that crafts our personal identity and resonates beyond our departure.
In a globalized world of intermingling identities, Odysseus’ homecoming loses some applicability when understood as the return to his original point of departure. Now rather, we recognize the value the journeying of homecoming holds – in constituting our individual identity. ■