Two nights ago I found myself out way past my bedtime. And needing to take a night bus home. Unfortunately, having never taken a night bus in the middle of the week back to my place I wasn’t really sure what time they left. So I guessed. And my buddy and I left the bar in hopes of catching it. Well I guessed wrong. By about seven minutes. Which doesn’t sound like much. But when they only come once an hour seven minutes becomes a long ass time.
So we had time to spare. And wandered to McDonalds. Which was closed. Luckily, 7-11, despite its moniker, was not closed. I bought a calzone and Fanta. The calzone was dry. And delicious. Because it was 3 am and I had imbibed in a drink or two. Anyway, that obviously didn’t take 53 minutes. So we sat our asses down on the bus stop bench and waited.
When two gentleman rolled up speaking English. And me, being a drunk American decided to talk with them. One was from Kenya. The other from Nigeria. Both had been in Sweden for a while and spoke Swedish but seemed more comfortable speaking English to each other. They asked where I was from and I explained my confused background and finished simply with, “in the end, I’m an American.”
At which point the Kenyan quickly pounced. Not in a bad way but he asked me what I thought about the upcoming election. As I often do in Sweden because of my political views and my not wanting to cause problems at 3 am I simply stated that I believed Obama would win without stating my preferences. And then he said something which took me by surprise. He asked if I knew that Obama was from Kenya.
Now I have read the articles about Kenyans loving Obama. And the support he has there. And even about the author of an anti-Obama book being deported. But I was still taken aback for a second.
Technically, Obama isn’t from Kenya. Had he been born in Kenya he would not be eligible to be President. Just as I am not eligible to be President. His father was born there though. A father he really only met once in his life. But a father that seems to have played a strong role in his life regardless. The title of his book, Dreams from My Father, suggests as much. I would never consider Obama Kenyan. But this Kenyan claimed him as if he were a native son.
I always believed the claiming of an ancestral country was something unique to Americans. Like an old girlfriends friend who claimed to be Norwegian despite not having citizenship, never having lived there, studied there, worked there, or even speaking the language. Something drives people to cling to their ancestry. And yet I was surprised to see a Kenyan man who had lived in Sweden for nearly 20 years claim Obama as a native.
Anyway, I’m really not all that interested in Obama’s specific case. I am interested in the claim of belonging. So instead, in my selfish ways, I thought of my own claims. Because, when I was younger I think I probably claimed to be Swedish plenty of times. I even said I would renounce my American citizenship when I turned 18 to rile up my mom once or twice. I think part of the reason I moved here was to straighten out my ability to make a claim. And since having moved to Sweden I now claim to be American when people ask. Either I have realized something profound or I just have a strange desire to be different and seen as other. I prefer to think it is the former.