When people first meet each other, this is usually one of the first questions: “Where are you from?” Well … define from.
I’m Vietnamese by blood, but I was born and raised for 16 years in Warsaw, Poland. I have also lived and studied in the United States for the past seven years. So you can see that it’s a complicated question for me to answer. It touches upon questions such as how individuals form our identities, with whom we associate with and how we relate to the world around us.
There is a lot of academia that concerns itself with the experience of different identities in the Unites States. I personally was not concerned with these questions during my college career. Now that I am a graduate, I have the time to think and reflect about the issues of where I belong. I’ve learned that there’s a comfort in knowing that there is a place we can call home. Personally, I have never been able to place myself comfortably within a specific identity.
I have the same blood that runs in the veins of other Vietnamese people, and yet I still stick out even without saying a single word, primarily because of my body language, my actions and a feeble understanding of the culture of my parents and relatives. For Vietnamese people, I am a Viet-Kieu, a foreign-born Vietnamese, someone who is Vietnamese by blood only.
On the other hand, though I know the intricacies of Polish history, culture and language, I will never be Polish. Despite the fact that I have a Polish name, was born in a Warsaw hospital and called the city my home for 16 years, I will still be asked in English about my order in a cafe in Warsaw. I will still encounter people who will be shocked that I speak Polish and that my heroes are Polish poets and patriots.
In the United States, I speak the language, I know the history and culture, but still I cannot relate to being Vietnamese American. I could never relate to the struggles and issues my peers and their families have faced during their time in the United States. Oftentimes I miss the nuances of the American and Vietnamese American experience and culture. So I am lost in the limbo between the worlds I inhabit. You can say I really don’t have a place to return to after my graduation from Berkeley — no place I could call “home.”
On the other hand, I have the freedom to travel and not feel homesick, unbound to a particular area and peoples. Now that I’ve graduated, I can as easily move to Kansas City, Baltimore, Warsaw, London, or even stay in the Bay Area. This freedom is quite wonderful sometimes. I have moved plenty of times, from place to place, city to city, country to country, continent to continent. But I feel uneasy not being able to fully integrate myself into the community and anxious that, no matter how I relate to others, I feel still like an outsider. So I keep looking for a place to call “home,” a place where I can feel a part of, because it is tiresome to live with a nagging feeling of being lost.
The bonds between communities aren’t formed by blood, history or erudition alone but rather as a combination of them all. From my experience as a person who lives on the outside looking in, I implore you to cherish your identity and the bonds that bring your communities together. From a graduate who is looking for a place to call “home” to you, I say, there is no place like “home” when you have one.