My father’s extended family is scattered around the world. Most of them are from Europe, but I can boast distant cousins in America, South Africa, England, Ireland and even Indonesia. Every two years a family reunion weekend is organised and held in different places throughout Europe, which is exactly why I am sitting cross legged on a hotel bed in Mainz tapping out this post on my laptop.
Fifty-five family members, from babies to retirees, have gathered in Mainz, Germany for this weekend. Originally around a hundred had indicated they were coming but, for various reasons, nearly half had to pull out. The weekend has been planned, the schedule circulated and each of us have been eager to catch up from the last time we attended, in my case four years ago. There have been tours of local churches, a cloister, a rose garden and the Rhein river. Each night there will be wine and food, no doubt a few vodka shots, and plenty of conversation and fun. Coincidentally, Mainz is also hosting festivities to celebrate the reunification of Germany.
But to me this extended family of mine means far more than a weekend gathering. Each member of the family is another connection to my past, a thread which joins me to my family’s history. And our histories, although similar in many ways, also differ. We all have stories to tell. In one way or another we, or our ancestors, have all been migrants. Some have been both migrant and refugee. Some have lived in two countries, some more. Some, like myself, have had parents from different countries and even cultures.
And as I search for stories of my father’s family, I have discovered I am not the only one interested in the past. I’m not the only one struggling with identity and belonging. Yet another thing which binds me to this family. Where I thought I was alone in wondering where I fit into this world, which country I could claim as my own, which heritage to identify with, there are others in my family who feel the same. In a strange way, this is comforting.
Those of us who wonder about identity and belonging might never get the answer we search for. But as one of my cousins put it, we can simply consider ourselves to be citizens of the world. And we will always be part of our family.