I lived in British Columbia from years 0-8 and again from 17-18. I lived in Hawaii for years 8-17 and 22-26, and southern California from 18-22. I’m now living in South Korea. All these places have been vitally formative in different ways, and have earned the label of “home” whilst I was there. So where am I from?
I remember when I went to college, I first encountered the phenomenon of being from places you really aren’t. Not that people lied outright, merely simplified. If you were from Marlboro, MA, you told people you were from Boston. Montgomery, PA became Philadelphia, Spokane WA was Seattle, Durango CO was Denver, etc. The point being that major cities are common touchstones for reference; unless you were familiar with the area, the places people actually hailed from were meaningless words. It was practical, time-saving. Plus, most people you meet end up as small-talking acquaintances, at least at first. Should they climb into a closer, more intimate circle in your life – great. But let them do the legwork to earn the truth.
So I’m from Hawaii. When I think of home, Kailua is my immediate association. It’s the fortress of my most distinct, vivid memories of childhood, the host of a culture and lifestyle that I identify with most. I love the ocean and sun, not the snowcapped rainy mountains. I play ukulele, not hockey. And so on and so forth: the more I go on, the easier it becomes to simplify my identity into more palatable compartments for others to reference. It’s pragmatic; the purpose of any box is to hold many things easily that would otherwise be difficult to carry on their own.
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People tend to stake their identities in all sorts of things. Profession, religion, socioeconomic status, race, alma mater, geography, ideological affiliations, hobbies. I’ve been to a few weddings lately where, in their vows, couples included jabs at their almost-husbands and wives’ favorite sports teams. No judgement, I’ve just never had that serious of a connection with any professional sports teams to think to include them in my wedding. Then again, there’s a good chance I may incorporate gangsta rap references in my vows. Pot, meet tha mothafuckin kettle.
Who’s to say Raider Nation isn’t as legitimate a source of identity as the Nation of Islam? A law firm is every bit the fraternity that the Pi Kappa Alpha house is, though no doubt better at burying their legal transgressions. Ultimately, all of these are equally valid sources of identity and meaning, regardless of how silly it may seem to the rest of us to plant an existential flag of definition in a favorite band. One man’s head scratch is another man’s heartbeat.
Tim Kreider wrote about a scenario in which you walk down a staircase, whereupon you hear all the compliments and warm fuzzies people have ever said about you. But in order to get there, you must first endure all the gossip, insults, and judgement that people have spewed. Beyond the obvious broccoli before ice cream angle – since most people will agree that they can only take so much broccoli before the ice cream is no longer worth it – the staircase scenario begs an important question: which is worse – what was said, or who said it? Would it cut deeper if it was true or false? These are questions without any answers, and would reveal central etymologies of the definition of who you are.
That process just comes off as inconvenient to me. Sure, I’d get hurt, upset, and defensive about some of the negative comments about me, but mostly I think it would be redundant. Yes, I AM an asshole, I do interrupt, I judge people, my farts are horrid, I don’t listen! Welcome to the human race, pal. The more I go on, the easier it becomes to compartmentalize, classify, and label my defining traits and characteristics in the simplest terms possible. Add to that the complimentary portion of the staircase descent and I transform into an easily digestible dichotomy for all to box up on their mental shelves. Is it worse if that box is accurate or not? Rather, what’s worse – the box people put you in, or the people who put you there? How many boxes of others are on your shelf?
I am polite and courteous (Canada) and aggressively territorial (Hawaii). I am patient with kids and impatient with adults who act like kids, tolerant of what I don’t know and intolerant of what I don’t agree with, an agnostic who appreciates religion and a socialist that understands the beauty and necessity of capitalism. To say I’m a hypocrite is just a harsh way to say I’m a human. Or as Walt Whitman put it: I am large, I contain multitudes.
My father is from Angola, his mom China. My mother is from Long Beach and her father Brooklyn. That’s part of where I’m calling from. To say Hawaii is where I’m from is like saying Donald Mac is who I am. We’re all more than the sum of our footprints. Wherever you consider home, don’t be from a box. Don’t let yourself fit.