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'Heimat' is internal and therefore nobody can take it away from me

At the sidelines of a recent FW19 shooting we asked Chineye, who volunteered to model for us on that day, about her feelings of 'Heimat'. Read her interesting view on home, homeland and what it means to her growing up and living in Switzerland.

"I take this feeling everywhere I go." (Photo by Janette Gloor).

Chineye is a 33 years old primary teacher and grew up and lives in the mountainous Canton of Grison (Graubünden). Chineye’s mother originally comes from Nigeria, her father is Swiss. She lives in Graubünden with her husband and her two kids.

Nina: Thank you for your time, Chineye. You are beautiful on the in- and outside. It’s such a honour for me that you agreed to the shooting and this interview. Let’s get started. We want to explore the meaning of ‘Heimat’. Personally, for me ‘Heimat’ doesn’t mean a place, but something else, like family. How do you feel about ‘Heimat’?

Heimat is for me the place where my heart feels at home. In my case, I was born and raised in the same place and I would call it ‘Heimat’. But now after 30 years, we moved to another city. So for me, this is my new ‘Heimat’. I take this feeling everywhere I go.

Nina in conversation with Chineye. Photo by Janette Gloor.

Are there things that make you feel home? In my case, I feel ‘Heimat’ when I feel the sound of a rice cooker as I used to hear this from my grandmother.

Although we recently moved [to another village close by] I still have the mountains around me, so I think that mountains definitely mean ‘Heimat’ for me. But from my mother’s side, ‘Heimat’ also means Nigerian music. So I basically I have two ‘Heimat[en]’ in me.

If I may say so, you don’t look ‘stereotypically’ Swiss. Do you think you are well integrated into the society that you live in currently? Do you sometimes struggle?

When I am in Switzerland I am a foreigner, when I am in Nigeria I am a foreigner. Even for my mum, who looks like a Nigerian is considered a foreigner in Nigeria. The behavior changes when you lived so long in another culture, so you won’t be seen as ‘one of them’ anymore when you go back to your home country.

Have you experienced stereotyping or discrimination based on your looks or your nationality?

Yes, of course. But what can you do? It is too deeply rooted in society. To some people I am just a person who eats only rice, dances well and smuggles drugs (laughs). But when real obstacles in life through this discrimination emerge, I am forced to speak up.

The younger generation in my home country (South Korea) often refers to Korea as "Hell Joseon", a term that the youth uses to describe the socioeconomic situation, i.e. bad working conditions and high unemployement rate especially for young people. This situation is worsened with pressure from parents and teachers to 'succeed' no matter what. Do you feel that what you describe as "Heimat" is being threatened?

No, because for me ‘Heimat’ is not vested to a place and therefore ‘internal’ and nobody can take away this feeling from me.

What do you feel when you imagine "Heimat"?

Happiness! I am feeling home wherever this geographically might be.

Chineye wearing our FW19 collection "The Swirl". In this image she is wearing our Swirl flying pants with Cashmere-mix knit top (Photo by Janette Gloor).

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