June 2, 2013
Home. Or not.
The New York Times’ Doreen Carvajal has written a short piece wondering how Third Culture Kids deal with the concept of “home”, given that they seem to have either none or else a multitude of them, depending on how you look at it. Despite being very charming, the text presents nothing really novel, as it emulates the same format as many others: once again, it lists the multitude of contexts one lives with and presents some anecdotes on how we rationalize the many paradoxes of living, both mentally and physically, in simultaneous worlds which, more often than not, do not overlap. What it does not offer, however, is an answer to the question.
Where is “home”, then?
The article kept coming back to me, always with a very slight seasoning of that bitter and nagging feeling, almost imperceptible, that something was wrong. I couldn’t say what it was; after all, I have never been able to answer the question myself and thought I had made peace with trying to, a long time ago. It only took me a few days to realize that I knew the answer all along. What’s more, I had probably known it from the very moment I stopped looking for it (and I have looked for a very long time) or, in a very zen twist of fate, because I had stopped looking for it. There was no single moment of revelation, but rather the sensation of a giant wave slowly washing over me; only when I was wholly engulfed, did I notice its magnitude.
I am not absolutely certain that I qualify as a Third Culture Kid (for one I’m not a kid, and also am at odds with the expression itself), and have no pretension of having had an epiphany that’s hidden from others like me. The question of “home”, however, is one that has claimed too much of my time and has been the cause of too much hesitation, puzzlement and yes, sadness in my life. Unlike others, only seldom did I see the romantic, quirky side of it, and when I did, it was mostly to use it as leverage. I am not the only one: let he who is with Third Culture cast the first stone.
My life is made (so far) of more than 40 addresses, 4 countries, 5 languages, 10 schools and all the other trivia of which those numbers are significant multipliers: I’ve never, ever lived in the same house for more than 5 years (where the average is 3), “the tube”, “subway” and “métro” still sound to me like foreign words describing the U-bahn, in my world there’s a place in Utah where the cowboys speak French (Hoss Cartwright and everyone at the Bonanza ranch), I’ve tried, without any luck, to explain why, in my mind, the angst of the Sezession is almost exactly the same as Fado or the Blues and I had once to spend thirty minutes at a restaurant in Miami trying to convince the Mexican waiter that I was not from Galicia (he was not convinced.) There are literally hundreds of examples like this. They may sound funny, endearing or outrageous to you, but to me, they are like a giant hurdle, an announcement of the moment when I have to start explaining the same thing, one more time, over and over again.
One day, I chose to not subject myself to them anymore, by simply perfecting the proven method of discreetly maneuvering the conversation to places where those kinds of questions don’t exist. With time, I’ve become quite good at it.
Now I know that looking for an answer to the question of where “home” is for me, is fundamentally irrelevant. I know exactly where it is: it’s when you find yourself surrounded by people like you, where you can let your guard down and be all the “yous” that you are, at the same time, speaking that mezcla of a language that includes all the languages, where you can start a sentence as a real Viennese, continue it like an Englishman and finish it like a Frenchman. And I don’t mean the words themselves, but rather who you are at that exact, atomic moment. For me, speaking a language was always a consequence of being of that culture and not the other way around, to the point of never having been able to answer the simple question: “what is your mother-tongue?” (I still don’t know).
I am of no place and of all the places, I am of those moments when you’re finally like everyone else despite being uniquely different. That’s where home is, and unlike many I can carry it around with me.