‘Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m local,’ says Taiye Selasi in her TED talk in 2014. Growing up and living in different parts of the globe, she disagrees with the concept of belonging to a specific country as the only possibility. Her reflection on the complexity of being local in multiple locations in today’s world went viral. Yesterday, during the 1st day of Let’s Gro festival, Taiye Selasi gave a public lecture and answered questions of those who currently feel (or are starting to feel) at home in Groningen.
So what is multilocal?
For those who haven’t watched the TED talk by Taiye Selasi, the beginning of the lecture might have been a little confusing and lacked some theoretical introduction to which many of university folks are used to: What existing research is the multilocal concept based on? What methodology was used to investigate the possible implications of the concept? Instead of long scientific explanations, the Yale and Oxford alumna introduced her topic with personal stories (‘I come from Lisbon, this is my current local’), briefly explained the subjective nature of feeling a local to a place and touched upon the three conditions for it: relationships, rituals, restrictions.
Ask a TED speaker
To do justice to both parties, long enough before the event, the speaker asked the participants to prepare and send her questions; there was only one person who actually did it (not the author of this piece). Despite the fact that not all initial expectations were fulfilled, the undoubtedly strong point of the interactive masterclass was the full engagement of Selasi with her audience. Out of around 50 attendees, at least 10 managed to ask the speaker a question about their experiences as locals and receive a comprehensive answer from her.
International or currently local?
So what problems of being multi-local in Groningen were highlighted by the event participants, many of whom listed several cities and countries as their locals? One international attendee shared that she feels local in Groningen even though she dwells in an international bubble; however, she notices that her experience of being local is a parallel society for Dutch locals despite them living in the same city. Selasi replied that the mechanism of 21st-century multi-ethnic enclaves is not different to the ethnic ones in the past: when one comes to a cultural majority and creates an enclave with those who understands how it feels to be different. ‘It is still a painful phenomenon, but you should always insist that “even though I haven’t started my life here, I have every right to be here.”’
Is language a responsibility?
Another hot topic was touched by a Groningen-born participant who asked about responsibilities of new locals, namely, about internationals not trying to learn the local language as a part of a shared ritual. Selasi suggested to change ‘responsibility’ for ‘invitation’ and said that ‘invitation goes both ways’, meaning that the new locals are invited to share the ritual of speaking the language because their experience will be only enriched; however, the old locals shouldn’t take it for granted.
Not a piece of cake
In view of complicated sensations from both Dutch and international participants, it was clear that experiencing the phenomenon of the increasingly multilocal existence is not a simple matter to anyone. The speaker stated that this process is uncomfortable, but it has been happening for centuries: ‘The discomfort is inevitable, but we should find solutions to make sure that nobody feels unwelcomed.’