I’m born and raised in a land so far away from where I grew up. To sum it all up, growing up away from your “home” isn’t an easy thing to do, and the nagging voice of “who are you” and “where do you belong” are always with you as a second layer of skin.
So when a spineless debate recently took hold of Norway and refused to let go as pundits and politicians alike debated on what is Norwegian culture and/or the lack thereof, I was thrown back in the turmoil. The debate itself had a bad starting point and from there on it spiraled into meaningless discussion that failed to gain ground or come to a conclusion.
The debacle was started by a commentator denouncing our current minister of culture, Hadia Tajik, a young female politician of Pakistani origin, because she had in an earlier correspondence refused to define “Norwegian culture.” What followed raised a number of questions from many people, myself included, on whether this man would have used the country’s biggest newspaper to vent his frustrations if the minister had been a native Norwegian. These are questions I don’t wish to entertain as they hold little value, but other questions sprang to mind.
As a result of war in my birth country, I arrived in Norway at a young age, at a time when I was still very much receptive of outside influence and easily impressionable. I saw how hard my parents fought to maintain the language and certain aspects of our culture while living in the north of Norway, far away from anyone and anything resembling our own. As a teen I went through revolt stages where I wanted nothing to do with Rwandese culture and tradition. I didn’t want to speak or be spoken to in my mother tongue and I would hear nothing of the music or dance. I had arrived, and there was little mom and dad could do to change that. Luckily the tide changed and I started to embrace all those things I had earlier shunned, as I realised they were part of my make.
But even throughout this period, none of that meant I favoured the Norwegian culture while I rejected my Rwandese one. I was in a limbo. I struggled to unite these two cultures I had been “blessed” with, I didn’t think I could be one without betraying the other and I didn’t know I could be both, at the same time.
So as the debate about “Norwegian culture” rolled on, right wing politicians joined in on the fun and insisted we, immigrants, were harming what was theirs. I couldn’t believe I was hearing correctly. For how is my having another culture harming the Norwegian culture? Shouldn’t my simple existence be enriching the Norwegian culture? Shouldn’t I, alongside the over 600,000 immigrants that live in Norway, be a resource to the country and its cultural make? What is “Norwegian culture” anyway? Is this something that is so fragile and could easily be corrupted by the “destitute immigrants?” If the far right and other conservatives believe it is this fragile and penetrable, is it then the immigrants’ job or responsibility to make sure the “Norwegian culture” isn’t so effortlessly broken into? God forbid, but would it be such a bad thing if we were to add something small and special to this “Norwegian culture” that is so fiercely guarded?
It’s been years since I wanted nothing to do with my background, culture and/or tradition. I had to grow, I had to learn how to unite and make peace with my dual affinity. It’s taken me time, sweat, tears and I won’t let anyone tell me I’m a pest whose sole goal is to destroy something I hold near and dear and close to my heart. I’ve earned the right to call myself a Norwegian, and I’ll fight anyone who tells me otherwise. No man is an island, and we, as Norwegians, come in all hues and colours that make up the great country we all swarm around and sing and praise when we proudly proclaim in the first words to our national anthem “Yes, we love this country” (Ja, Vi elsker dette landet). Because, despite the diatribes from many, we do love our country and are no threat to it and its cultural make.