Where are you from? Part 5

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

How do you relate to where you are now? Does it feel like home? Who lets it feel like home?

I have lived in this city all my life and it still feels transient. I’ve never quite understood the feeling and rhythm of this city, never known where and how to be and how I might fit in. There are places I’ve visited that feel vastly more like home. Maybe it’s that coldness with which Sydney is so often characterised, or maybe it’s finding that the Australian mainstream likes to alienate people like me, but I never have felt quite settled here. It’s kind of awful and fascinating that this place which has been my place of residence as long as I’ve been alive isn’t home. If not here, where? I might be “from” this city, but I’m not really “of” it. The belonging implied is as insubstantial as smoke.

Sometimes I think that it’s not so much that I have a different culture, but that the mainstream culture here is so actively hostile to other cultures. Supposedly, Australia is a multicultural society in which people of all backgrounds are accepted, but the trade-off is that we have to give up our cultures, our foreignness, ourselves. And we give it up not to be absorbed into a mix of cultures, but a specifically Anglo-Australian one such as is constructed as racially and ethnically neutral.

I’m still not sure what makes a hometown, or a place of belonging. Have you found that sense of home in where you grew up, and where you are? How is that influenced by whether you share a background with the people in those places or not, or how accepted you feel?

27 comments for “Where are you from? Part 5

  1. March 28, 2011 at 2:51 am

    I’d appreciate if folks could keep my comment note at the top of the last thread in mind, even though we’re *to an extent* moving away from a racial focus in this post. Thanks.

  2. March 28, 2011 at 2:53 am

    I’m curious Chally if this has been the same in all Australian cities/regions you’ve visited versus Sydney. I’m not familiar with Sydney myself (have not even visited it that much), and am curious about experiences faced in other parts of Australia (both from Chally and from other non-white Australians).

    Are there parts of Australia which are less Anglocentric than others? As an Anglo-Australian, I really can’t comment about or experience this in the same way as a non-white Australian.

  3. Beppie
    March 28, 2011 at 2:58 am

    My experience of Sydney is very different to yours. That feeling of transience you speak of, I felt that way about the rural area in which I grew up. Much as it’s a place that I love, it’s not a place that wanted me. (I’m speaking of the general culture there, to be clear — I am not speaking of my family, who always made me feel wanted.)

    Moving to Sydney in my late teens, that was the first time I actually felt wanted and valuable in a meatspace context (although I had found acceptance in online communities before that — and I suppose one could argue that in many ways, the internet is my “home”).

    I am sure that, in part, my good experiences here stem from the privilege I have, but the friends I have made here are diverse, and I am always shocked, when I go back to the place I grew up, at how monocultural it is there — the only people I see there are white-appearing, and the only language I hear spoken is English. (Which is not to say that your points about superficial multiculturalism in Sydney are wrong, just that in comparison, Sydney is far far more diverse.)

  4. March 28, 2011 at 3:04 am

    Rebecca, I’m sorry that I can’t give you a proper answer, because I haven’t spent enough time anywhere else to give you one! Maybe I’d be happy nowhere. ;)

  5. March 28, 2011 at 3:36 am

    The place I live now is my home, even if I’m here for just four years. It’s my home simply because it has changed me (my accent, part of my food, what I consider to be a “proper time” to eat, basically for almost every difference with my “born-here” place and my “living-here” place, I’ve adopted the “living-here” way) and because I’m concerned with the local politics. (and obviously because locals accepted both my “fromness” and my “homeness”).

    I’ve been told, from someone that’s not from my “living-here” town neither my “born-here” town, that I’ve got the right to call it my home because I wasn’t born there and I felt like he had no right to decide this. I guess it must be awful to always be denied your right to claim “this is my home” all the time :(

  6. March 28, 2011 at 5:50 am

    I’m always torn when websites ask me to enter my “home town”. Other people seem to have one to identify with, some place which is more than just the place where they live now, where a cultural link and long memories anchor them to that one place.

    I was born in Liberia to a British father and a Swedish mother. In my childhood, I lived in two cities there, two in Sweden, one in the UK and two in the Netherlands. Since then, I’ve added several more to that list and am working on where the next one will be. None of these is a home town, though many were lovely places to live.

    Like the rest of my family, my home is where I’m living now. It’s highly likely that my next home (or the one after that) will be outside of Europe again (most likely the Middle East or Asia) and that will be home, too, even though it’s further outside of my cultural background than where I live now (Germany).

    I don’t know if I’m missing something not having that town where I have those roots, but I do like being able to settle pretty much anywhere, as long as I feel safe and happy there.

  7. Jim
    March 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

    “I’m still not sure what makes a hometown, or a place of belonging.”

    I think the Chinese have a nice standard for that. After three generations you are from that place. By then you have some graves in the ground and you belong to that soil. By then you speak in that accent, you have grown up on those foods, another connection to that soil hopefully.

    That’s my connection to California, although I feel pretty much at home here in tacoma (Seattle area).

    That’s not much comfort if you are an individualist and hope to belong in your own single lifetime, but if you are such and individualist, why not go all the way and take Emily’s approach?

    Emily: I don’t know if I’m missing something not having that town where I have those roots, but I do like being able to settle pretty much anywhere, as long as I feel safe and happy there.

    Emily, you don’t sound like you’re missing a thing. As we say here “We’re all just passing through” anyway.

  8. Linnaeus
    March 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    In some ways I do feel “at home” where I live now (Seattle, Washington), but like Jim, I’ll always feel some kind of connection to where I grew up (Michigan – which is one reason I’m so sad about what’s going on there right now). I’m not sure if this dualism (for lack of a better word) will ever be fully attenuated; I could end up being a resident of Seattle for the rest of my life, but I don’t know that I’ll ever fell fully “from here”. Part of that is because the US Northwest has a stronger regional identity than the Midwest that I came from. I know that other places in the world have even stronger regional identities, but moving to the Northwest was the first time I’d really experienced that in a way that was readily discernible to me.

  9. Meghan
    March 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I have been living in L.A. for four years now, and I have a home with my husband, stepdaughter and our soon-to-come baby. However, I will always call Vancouver, BC, home. When I moved here, I thought that it would take me some time to transition, and it did, but I never thought that four years later, I would still not feel at home in L.A. I love my family, friends and work here, but Vancouver is where my heart is, and we are planning to move back up there some time in the next few years.

  10. Jim
    March 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Linnaeus: I’m not sure if this dualism (for lack of a better word) will ever be fully attenuated; I could end up being a resident of Seattle for the rest of my life, but I don’t know that I’ll ever fell fully “from here”.

    That’s the lot of the immigrant. In a sense we are internal immigrants, although you more than me. I’m a West Coast to West Coast immigrant, and the Midwest is in many ways truly another country.

    Meghan: When I moved here, I thought that it would take me some time to transition, and it did, but I never thought that four years later, I would still not feel at home in L.A.

    Megan, isn’t it weird how that happens for some people? True story: in another life I was being stationed in Germnay for the third time, and was in the Household Goods Office arranging shipment of my crap from the US over to my new place. The whole office was civilians, but none of them were German. One guy I was working with was from Eritrea. Of course he had his own reasons for living in Germany, but at the time all I could think about was my dread of three more of their winters; hell, three more of their pale, pathetic summers. So I asked him how he could have left a sunny place like Eritrea, and did he miss the climate? He said he had never looked back, and that as far as he was concerned he had just been born in the wrong place. He had even gotten citizenship, German citizenship! Just unheard of. So at least one of them was a German after all.

  11. saurus
    March 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Where I live right now once felt like home, but it doesn’t anymore, which is odd because I figured that home would always feel like home.

    And yet – in a way, it does feel like home, and so did the place where I grew up – but the feelings of intense nostalgia and familiarity are clouded by trauma and isolation and loneliness. Together they brew into something that feels a bit like heartburn.

    Right now, the closest I can get to “home” is lying on the couch with my partner and my cat, nestled together – it doesn’t feel like “family”, which is another loaded word I don’t really relate to – but it does feel a bit like “home” to me, a good kind of home.

    There’s a pleasure in this “home” feeling, just as there’s a pleasure – maybe more like intoxication – for me in the escape feelings of leaving, or of being somewhere utterly unfamiliar, where I feel like others will see me anew, and maybe I can see myself anew.

  12. Jim
    March 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    saurus: Where I live right now once felt like home, but it doesn’t anymore, which is odd because I figured that home would always feel like home.

    What changed it for you, Saurus – friends moved away, strangers moved in, something else?

    It’s wonderful to go someplace completely unfamiliar, although for me, the more invisible I am the better I like it. I have to remember not to fall into the trap of assuming I am as invisible as I would like to be; in a lot of the really unfamiliar places I have been, I really stand out one way or another.

  13. March 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    ‘Cause something here
    In the way, in the way that we’re constantly moving
    Reminds you of home
    –Anna Nalick, “Catalyst”

  14. saurus
    March 28, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Jim: What changed it for you, Saurus – friends moved away, strangers moved in, something else?

    Something else – too painful to think about, really. What I would give to be invisible – you have no idea.

  15. haiaha
    March 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    the reason australia feels like that is because they haven’t come to terms with what they did to the indigenous people, they’re haunted. White settlement IS transient compared with the indigenous nations who have been there at least 50 000 years and refuse to die or assimilate. It is not just you, it is insecurity of all settler colonial states. I think the reason settlers are so threatened by other cultures is because their own culture is so transient and rootless. You might feel better if you get to know your real landlords.

    As for me, I don’t live in my tribal area I live on land that was stolen from another tribe, I feel sad when I think about what the land used to be like and what settlers have done to it. When I go home to my mountain I know I belong there. I am my mountain, my ancestor, wherever I go. Even though Europeans confiscated our land and claim they ‘own’ it they don’t and they know they never will. They’ll never feel secure or comfortable in their position because they’ll never get rid of us.

  16. March 29, 2011 at 7:04 am

    I moved out at 16 and I’ve never resigned a 12 month lease in the succeeding 10 years. It’s hard to feel roots. On a superficial level, I don’t feel comfortable in houses; we didn’t have houses growing up. Home, if I ever find it, will be in an apartment. On a deeper level, most of my years growing up were in spent in and around projects in Oakland, Ca. Maybe I can say I’m from it, but I’m no longer of it. You know, in the literal sense I lived there. The degree to which I was able to share in a common experience of the community as a mostly white person is questionable. And, when people hear I grew up in Oakland, that seems to be where their mind wanders. I’m not of it, in that sense, nor is my speech littered with local slang so many years later.

    saurus: Where I live right now once felt like home, but it doesn’t anymore, which is odd because I figured that home would always feel like home.

    This is how I’m feeling, too. The closest I can define it is something akin to solastalgia. I miss the place I grew up because it changed around me. Then I left, and I changed, too. There’s no going back in some ways. It leaves a sense of homesickness even when you’re back in your own home. Albrecht was talking about the ecology of place, but so much more than that can change and leave one feeling just as homesick even at home.

  17. Medea
    March 29, 2011 at 7:06 am

    What haiaha said is true for me–part of the reason I never felt at home in the United States is because I was part of the settler culture; I didn’t ‘belong’ there even though some of my family has lived in the US for centuries. I feel far more at home in the countries my ancestors came from.

  18. Linnaeus
    March 29, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Jim: That’s the lot of the immigrant. In a sense we are internal immigrants, although you more than me. I’m a West Coast to West Coast immigrant, and the Midwest is in many ways truly another country.

    True, that. In fact, I’ve used the term “internal immigrant” to refer to myself in this regional context more than once.

  19. Jim
    March 29, 2011 at 10:34 am

    haiaha: As for me, I don’t live in my tribal area I live on land that was stolen from another tribe, I feel sad when I think about what the land used to be like and what settlers have done to it.

    Haiaha, this is true for a large number of nations in North America. Even the tribal areas were “stolen” at one time (And it wasn’t stealing; there was nothing stealthy about it. It was open warfare and the losers either assimilated to the new nation or died.) The Lakota are settlers on their land, and they exterminated the plains Apache to take it, and tried to exterminate the Apsaaloke. And the Ojibwe who threw the Lakota off their land in Minnesota are settlers just as well. The Navajo and other Apache in the Southwest are settlers in the same way. Ask the Hopi. None of that makes the Navajo feel any less connected to that land.

    The fact is that people move around, and they do it at the expense of other people. It has been like this from the beginning, except for the Hawaiians and a few others. America has been settled for so long, all the way down to Tierra del Fuego, that we have no idea who got where first. Of course no one’s legends go back that far; even the British have no memory of settling Britain and it’s only been free of ice for, well it hasn’t been all that long.

    Medea: I feel far more at home in the countries my ancestors came from.

    I’ve been there, in all three countries where my ancestors came from, and I don’t feel at all at home. Of course there’s a familiarity; I visited Ireland when I was living in Germany and Ireland was familiar compared to Germany, but that’s not saying much. And the Irish will set an Irish-American straight in a heartbeat – you people left. You no longer belong here. (Any more than a Navajo belongs in Canada probably.) But I wouldn’t feel particularly at home in upstate New York either, another one of my family’s “old countries”, or in Iowa, or in Kansas.

  20. Jim
    March 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

    saurus: Something else – too painful to think about, really. What I would give to be invisible – you have no idea.

    Thanks for confiding that. I won’t ask any further.

  21. julia
    March 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    I left the US at 22, came back the 1st time three years later and couldn’t fit in. I’ve been back for the third time for ten years and I’m living ‘temporarily’ – as if I’ll be gone in six months.

    Reading your post reminds me of the alienation of modern life. It’s a relief to know it’s not just here – I always think the US is the
    hardest and coldest.

  22. Jim
    March 30, 2011 at 10:51 am

    julia: I always think the US is the
    hardest and coldest.

    Julia, you don’t say where else you’ve lived, but try Germany for hard and cold. If you are not born German from German parents, it is nearly impossible to get citizenship – which was the amazing thing about that the Eritrean guy in my comment above. There are third-generation immigrants in Germany, ancestrally and ethnically Turkish and thus not and never can be German.

    And that is small stuff compared to the intra-German tribalism. I was in a unit that moved form northeastern bavaria to far northen Niedersachsen, tright up on the coast. The Grman wives could hardly get service in shops, and the comments to them were like something out of the Jim Crow south. When swarms – it was glorious! – of East Germans came caravaning westward out of the DDR many of them came to Nuernberg because that is also a Protestant area and arrangements had been made for them. It was all “Hail and well met our German brothers” until the day the Wall came down, and then they all vanished back to wherever – those Saxons were not at all welcome among Franks.

    There’s a reason why the langauge situation in Germany is the way it is http://www.ethnologue.com/show_family.asp?subid=207-16 (and this understates the complexity). It’s because people don’t move around, for many reasons.

  23. Jo
    March 31, 2011 at 1:40 am

    I grew up in New York City, went to college (and am graduating in May) in New Orleans, and studied abroad in London for a year. New York will definitely, always be home. When I’m on my way home from the airport and I see the skyline, I am overwhelmed with excitement. Walking around my neighborhood, or central park, in a city that’s considered so big but that I know so intimately it doesn’t feel giant, I am honestly just filled with happiness.

    My parents are both immigrants from Poland, and while my dad moved back to Europe after about 18 years, my mom loves New York as well, and can’t imagine anywhere else in the world she’d rather be.

    I have found that the more places I live, the harder it is to feel satisfied in one place (which I know sounds kind of sad!). I love New Orleans for the way you can become a local and master the city in only a few years, the musicians and the beautiful houses, I love that warm weather comes early. What I don’t like—the crime. London… ah, I can’t even begin. Even the central parts of London are like Manhattan and Brooklyn rolled into one (I think this can be attributed to the lack of a grid system, which is definitely confusing, but allows for many quaint and quiet corners everywhere you do). It’s a strange feeling to always feel like a small part of me has a home somewhere else, and that all those places can never be one. But clearly, I am lucky to have (at least!) three places that I wouldn’t mind making my permanent home.

  24. Laura
    April 1, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Now feels like home because there is space to both create and re-create an identity (early 20s, so yeah, still building my identity.) The place I lived in before had a lot of physical space (rural area) with lots of space to oneself, but instead I found that oppressive (cuz I am rather extraverted.) Maybe later in life my sense of self will be less tied to the social environment and to others, but for now, it is much more useful for me to have an urban space, it provides a great richness that all the depth of nature didn’t (albeit it is rich there in several other ways.)

    Also, Toronto is less hostile to other cultures, and to immigrants and the less-well-off, than a lot of places (e.g., a lot of the U.S.) It has a huge amount to do as well, and a million other futures (communities but also big crowds so one can both feel anonymous and recognized in the same day, etc.)

  25. Laura
    April 1, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Meant to say “features,” not “futures.”

  26. julia
    April 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Germany hardest?

    Maybe to foreigners. The US is hard to everyone, and please don’t tell me it’s easy to get a green card here, even if you’re married. We all know about people waiting for years for an INS interview, or Americans waiting for their foreign fiancee to get into the states so they can marry – if the foreigner is brown skinned, from a develpoing country the wait for an entry visa (just to come in) can be over three years.

    I traveled quite a bit in northern Germany in the late 1980s and was treated better than I ever have been here at home. Meet one German who likes you and they’ll pass you along to their friends as you travel. I had housing everyhwere: Oldenburg, Berlin, etc. On my way out, I camped in a friend’s backyard (he didn’t know I was coming and was away for the weekend – I couldn’t afford a hotel) and his landlady came out in the morning, not to tell me to leave but to ask me to come over for breakfast!

    One thing I like about Europeans ( in general) is that they like people. They like guests, they like getting together in groups, there’s real community.

    And that is what is lacking in the US. We talk ‘community’ all of the time but we don’t have it! So many Americans spend time at work and with their spouse or partner and maybe once in a while
    see a friend. And that’s it. In general, we’re guarded with our time and our privacy.

    Of course, not everyone feels good everyhwere. I could tell you my best stories about living in Spain, and you could go there and have an awful time. It’s all relative.

    I did meet a woman in Portland, OR years ago who retired and moved to Munich, just to try it out for a year. She rented a room from a German man who introduced her to his friends and now she has a very busy social life, and she says, the best group of women friends she’s ever known.

  27. haiaha
    April 1, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Jim 3.29.2011 at 10:34 am
    You’re comparing tribal warfare with genocide. Everything I’ve heard about the comments on this website is true.

    To be clear I didn’t mean settlers will never be at home because they’re from somewhere else. They’ll never be at home until they face up to their own history how they got here. until they stop trying to destroy or erase what was here before .Colonisation is not a distant historical event, it is structure of colonial settler societies.

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