Friday, July 26, 2013

My sense of "home"

It's the normal question that seems to follow the standard small-talk of getting to know someone in the United States:

"Hello." pause for the reciprocated greeting What's your name? pause for the response and the returning of the question. respond with your name. Where are you from?" pause for the response and the returning of the question. respond with where you are from.

It is with this question of, "Where are you from?" that I get hung up, because I don't have a good answer. I despise the question, "Where are you from?" and let me explain why:

I'm not from anywhere in particular. At least, not in the way that most people I encounter have understood the idea behind their question. To many, the question is roughly equivalent to, "Where were you born?" "Where did you grow up?" and "Where do you call home?" And - to many people (especially those who don't have families of their own) - the answer to at least two of the three questions is likely the same place. (And for many people I've encountered, the answer is the same for all three.)

I understand why the question is helpful: it gives the questioner a short-hand version of "getting to know you." I mean, if I meet a person who's from Boston, I know (or think I know) so many things about them. If they like baseball, they're likely a Red Sox fan. If they like football, likely a Patriots fan. If they like basket ball, they're likely a Celtics fan. Etc. Etc. Etc. And - heck - if I knew even more about the Boston area, I could even ask them what part of the city they're from (or even if they are from Boston itself, and not the greater Boston area).

But I'm not like that. The answers that I would have to give to those three implied questions would be, "I wasn't born where I grew up," "I grew up in seven countries on three continents," and "I call pretty much anywhere I've lived for more than 1 month 'home'". These answers aren't really conducive to people getting to have anything to go on when trying to get to the short-hand of "getting to know you." Indeed, when I've answered truthfully the locations I was born. grew up in, and felt at home in, most people look resentful or lost or put off (and some of them - I learned later - thought that I was trying to be arrogant by listing off so many different places so quickly and nonchalantly).

In short, I despise the question, "Where are you from?" because the truthful answers I give are nothing that most people want to hear.

And then I saw this video, where Pico Iyer eloquently explains why:

One excerpt really spoke to me:
Home has really less to do with a piece of soil than with a piece of soul. If somebody suddenly asks me, "Where is your home?" I think about my sweetheart or my closest friends or the songs that travel with me wherever I happen to be. And I've always felt this way...
The stats that Iyer points out about people like me (a member of "this great, floating tribe" - even if only in spirit):
The number of people living in countries not their own now comes to 220,000,000. That's an almost impossible number to imagine, but that means that if you took the whole population of Canada and the whole population of Australia and then the whole population of Australia again and the whole population of Canada again and doubled that number, you would still have fewer people than would belong to this great, floating tribe. And the number of us who live outside the old nation-state categories is increasing so quickly - by 64 million just in the last 12 years - that soon there will be more of us than there are Americans. Already, we represent the fifth largest nation on earth.
And that's kewl. But what he says about the children of those people who are part of that great, floating nation really, really hit home for me:
The typical person that I'll meet today [in the world's biggest cities] would be - say - at half-Korean, half-German young woman and living in Paris, and as soon as she meets a half-Thai, half-Canadian young guy from Edinburgh, she recognizes him as kin. She realizes that she probably has much more in common with him than with anybody entirely of Korea or entirely of Germany.
I can definitely relate to that statement, being half-Japanese, half-American, growing up in many different large cities around the world. But Iyer continues.
So [the young woman and young guy] become friends. They fall in love. They move to New York City. ... or Edinburgh. And the little girl who arises out of their union will of course be not-Korean or German or French or Thai or Scotch or Canadian or even American, but a wonderful, and constantly evolving mix of all those places.
That sounds just about what I expect for my future. However, I wonder if I can get a "Great, Floating Tribe" passport...

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