People long for the familiar. Even many immigrants, people who have uprooted themselves from places of familiarity, often end up in ethnic enclaves with like people. Perhaps no city better illustrates this than New York. Whether it was Irish Immigration into Brooklyn, the creation of Little Italy, or the populating of Chinatown, people gravitate towards people of like origin. We, as people, long for familiarity, for constancy, for what might be called home. And ultimately we are bound by familiar ties, by race and ethnicity, by language, or by our schools and neighbourhoods. However, when we lack that familiar place, is there yet a place we can call home? I lack this familiar place; I feel homeless, perhaps not physically (for the very ability to type this places me among the rich), but mentally and perhaps spiritually.
An English proverb says that home is where the heart is. But where is my heart when I hold no exceeding affection for any place? Unlike those living in an ethnic enclave, I find little comfort in friends of like race because such a friend is exceedingly hard to find. I am a Chinese-Indonesian Canadian-American, and there’s between 100-150 people who share this classification.
Friends often root us in shared community, and many of my friends are Chinese, yet I find a chasm of incomprehensibility between me and my Chinese friends as often as with my white friends whose colour of skin I do not share. Sometimes it’s the lack of similar family experiences and expectations. Sometimes it’s the lack of shared languages serving as a reminder of being different by missed jokes and offhand comments. And sometimes places familiar to them to which I remain in ignorance. My ethnicity leaves me ungrounded, homeless, lost for I can’t even begin to answer the question of identity, of what it means to be one in a million.
Hearts are also rooted by familiarity, but after four years in an international university I find that my friends at my home of thirteen years have moved on in life. After meeting up a few times and catching up there’s nothing left to do but observe how things are no longer the same. From things as small as a resurfaced road to large as old hangouts closing or my first house being demolished, where we once were will never be again. And even my new “home” at university was always at best temporary defined by constantly shifting friendships and a knowledge that this place will not be my place in a decade.
The light of home has since become a murky darkness of almost familiarity. My legs still remember the stairs of my parent’s home, though a stranger now sleeps in my room to help fund my studies. Today, I walk these stairs in a home that is home no longer as I look for a home that is neither here in America nor there in Canada. What else now is there to do but to remember the words of St. Augustine, “our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee?” What else is here to do but to cling to hope that faith sustains, to long for a home that is no longer of this world, and to wait for that that final rest where this restless heart is restless no more, where ethnicity is no longer a chasm, where time destroys no friendship, and where that darkness once again turns to the light of home.
Home is where the heart is, but my heart is here no longer.