It can be tough and exhilarating not to be tethered to one tradition. On the one hand, you do not really belong in any place, but on the other, you are free to feel ownership of many traditions and backgrounds. I knew this while growing up. The Carreras family is from the environs of Girona and the Costa Brava in Catalonia, and my paternal grandmother is Hungarian/ German from a tiny corner of the Autrio-Hungarian Empire. My mother was from a remote Island on the western edge of the Caribbean that had changed hands multiple times between the British and the Spanish. There is more. The DNA test lays it out with digital accuracy, but this is the gist.
The question of who you are could only elicit a long and varied tale because I was a person of snippets. I early on learned that my girlfriend’s parents were interested in the short story, not the long one. A bit from here and another from there can get too complicated for casual storytelling. In addition, geographical moves over the generations complicated the story. But it all came together in New York City in time for me to be born and raised a New Yorker. In many circles, that is enough to nail it down with digital precision – “Oh, he’s from New York” – it explains it all.
Maybe I should have left it at that. Nice and simple. But I don’t like nice and simple, so I messed it up by moving to New England. There, I learned very non-New Yorker ways.
One day, it all came to a head when I flew to New York for a consulting job. I grabbed a cab and gave the cabbie directions. After talking for a while, he asked me where I was from, and I told him, ” Washington Heights, in Manhattan.” He laughed, “That’s funny. No, where are you really from?” I couldn’t convince him I was a New Yorker.
I had a bit of an existential crisis that day.