Identity

When I was younger I was more comfortable being a Kiwi but as I’ve got older I think I am more understanding of where I’m from and where my parents are from. And learning about history and my own culture is really interesting. I don’t know what to call myself, like; Kiwi Korean.

I think my parents speak Korean so that I don’t forget about who I am. Even myself I wouldn’t want to forget how to speak that language because it’s such an important part of me.

Two Korean teenagers living in New Zealand

Although there are many different languages spoken throughout the world, often people who are raised speaking more than one language from birth share the common experience of feeling like they have more than one identity.

For some people the differences are very clear, for example if they look physically different to the majority population of the country they live in, if they or their parents don’t speak the majority language very well, if they definitely always only speak a minority language at home, or if they regularly travel back to a minority language country, maybe where they still have relatives. On the other end of the spectrum are people for whom the differences are more fluid. Some people do not speak a minority language but do understand it, and are used to hearing their parents talk to them in that language, or speaking a ‘mix’ of languages (like ‘Frenglish’, ‘Spanglish’, or ‘Konglish’) at home, for example. They may look and sound exactly like the majority population of the country they live in, and only travel back to the minority language country very infrequently.

In all of these cases, however, it is possible and completely normal for a person to feel like they have more than one identity, because they have two languages and/or cultures that they feel connected to, as an important part of who they are. If you are finding it confusing to figure out ‘who’ you are and what your own individual identity is, you should know that you are definitely not alone, and that this is especially common for people who grow up with more than one language and/or culture.

People often work out ways for all the different parts of themselves to shine through at different times, although it might take some time for this to feel natural and normal. It can definitely help to talk to other people in a similar situation about this, however: young people interviewed for the ITML project who said they completely ignored one part of themselves at some stage in their lives, usually said they regretted it in the long run.