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A question of super diversity

Let me set the scene…you just met someone new in Denmark - who is Danish – great! Progress! You’re about to expand your network and maybe even make a new friend. But brace yourself, because here it comes - the question you knew was waiting for you…ready? we go…“So! Where are you from?”

Photographs: iStock

Text: Anita Ehrhardt

As an international, culturally diverse, and non-native resident in Denmark, I struggle with answering questions of origin accurately and quickly. For me, an adequate response to “where are you from” would require a carefully crafted five-minute explanation which conveys my cultural influences and historic origins while discreetly revealing my mindset and how I “fit in” to Danish society. Why? Because the seemingly innocuous question of “where are you from” is really asking if you have the potential to fit in and belong to the collective “us.”

My mother-in-law, for example, could answer the origin question by simply saying that she was from Odsherred. In her day, this brief response would immediately evoke accurate notions from fellow nationals, of her ethnic ties, as well as religious, cultural, and socioeconomic circumstances. However, as migration and globalization continue to increase, the definition of ourselves and our histories is becoming more difficult to convey and comprehend – especially in Denmark where conformity is equally as important as cultural citizenship, or ‘the right of a minority cultural community to be different while maintaining their right to belong.’

Enter the relatively new term for expressing the complex state of integration, multilayered ethnicity, and cultural mindset – SUPERDIVERSITY.

It was with great relief and excitement that I recently welcomed this term into my life. Not just because it sounds powerful – like a superhero title, but because it has enabled me to capture the many nuanced elements of who I am. Identifying as “super-diverse” makes me feel strong, appreciated and better understood.

"Fitting in means becoming who you need to be accepted. Belonging means being who we are." - Bene Brown

Questioning a diverse society 

Superdiversity has been studied a great deal in London, the city of my birth, where after more than half a century of steady immigration, the cultural landscape can no longer be labelled with simple terminologies. In fact, each settler population in the city is made up of a multitude of origin stories, socioeconomic positions, as well as religious, educational, and geographic elements that contribute to varying dimensions of identity and social attitudes. One could speculate if other large cities in Europe will eventually be host to a similar cultural panorama. And if so, how should it be managed to unlock its vast potential?

As a resident of Denmark for the last 16 years, I have witnessed the steady increase in expat and immigrant populations and the important roles they play in supporting vital business sectors. I have also come to realize that as an international, the ability to accurately and thoughtfully formulate a response to the “where are you from” question is a critical first step in carving out one’s place in an increasingly diverse society like Denmark. The second step is to actively encourage and initiate a conversation that stimulates fresh thinking, highlights underlying assumptions and generates positive engagement or creative action.

Dialogue and thoughtful responses to the right types of questions have the power to not only increase awareness and appreciation of our individual and collective super diversity but to set in motion the examination of belonging and what it means to be “us” in Denmark.

Sources: Cultural Citizenship and Educational Democracy, Renato Rosaldo, 1994; The Art of Powerful Questions by Vogt, Brown, and Isaacs, 2003; This article was inspired by the University of Birmingham’s Nando Sigona and expands on his reflections on the concept and study of super diversity in Europe.

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