“The ache of home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
The question, “where is home for you?,” is one I am hesitant to answer. “Home is where the heart is”—where the people dearest to me live, but it’s also the street corners and alleyways that my thoughts periodically wander down and the tastes and smells that creep into my mind, making my heart yearn and my mouth water. At this particular time and place, that definition of home goes to Shanghai.
After spending 11 years in China, coming to the U.S. for college didn’t feel like returning “home” at all. I had never spent much time on the East Coast, nor had I ever stepped foot on Georgetown’s campus in DC. To be frank, the diversity of this new community initially—and occasionally still does—scared me. It makes me feel small, like I should be hyperaware of my status as a minority, but it also makes me feel big, like I must bear the weight of representing a whole race on my shoulders. Most of the time I try to fight these feelings, by telling myself that people see me with more complexity than my ethnicity, and that I don’t even need to think about race and discrimination because they are things of the past. But other times, I find fair ground for my anxieties. When I notice the disproportionate number of Asians who attend events for business and finance versus the Middle East, I can’t help but second-guess my academic path. When the Spanish-speaking woman from work fools around by pulling her eyelids and bowing at me, I feel a gut reaction of offense, but also fear and shame. Perhaps most distinctly, when I catch myself making assumptions about others, I realize that they stem from a sheltered life that has left an embarrassing ignorance within me.
I still haven’t figured out how to live fully and confidently in this country that doesn’t quite feel like my own; but I am getting there. I am learning that “American” doesn’t just mean being “white,” and that my ongoing struggle to belong is actually an integral part of becoming American. I am reminding myself to examine my own biases before lashing out at those of others. And through every friendship, every brief interaction, and every deep and soul-searching conversation, I am discovering that each of us is so individually complex, and yet, we have more in common than we think.