What we talk about when we talk about home

I want you to take a moment to think of home.

Who do you see? What do you taste? How does it smell? How do the people talk? Are there people there at all? What do you feel? Is it one place? Is it many places?

How do you know you’re there?

How do you know when you’ve left?

For me, home has always been more of a concept than a place. I was born in Thailand to a Filipina mother and an American father. My first memories are in Mexico, where I learned to speak English and Spanish at the same time and where my brother was born. When I was five years old, we moved to the Philippines, where my bus traveled past some of the world’s most destitute shanty towns to attend an international school with the sons and daughters of diplomats, politicians and businessmen. I moved to Northern Virginia when I was nine years old, with a Filipino accent rounding the edges of my English. Since then, I’ve lived in the South, in Vietnam, in Colombia and now, in L.A.

“Where are you from?” has always been a difficult question for me to answer. It’s also been a very loaded question. Sometimes, it’s the softer version of “what are you?” a question that, in America, is almost always about race. Other times, it’s an effort to place me within a context — Where is the place I belong? The place that gave me my accent or my looks or my way of thinking? How far have I traveled to get to where I am? Where is home?

Me, shipping out somewhere.

I feel most at home at a Filipino table, but when my uncles and cousins tease each other in Tagalog, I can only snatch snippets of conversation. I feel at home in the South, among the thick drawls and humidity, but I also feel more like a sympathizer among Southerners rather than a true neighbor. In my parent’s home, I feel supported and loved, but also deeply uncomfortable. Home was something I thought everyone else had, and the fact that I couldn’t identify one always left me a bit disoriented and jealous.

A TedX video from Taiye Selasi shattered these constrictions for me. She discussed her issue with being “from” a place. A country is a concept, she argued, and how can a person be from a concept? She argued that, instead, the idea of “being local” made more sense, and that one could feel local in many places. That, in a rapidly globalizing world, this new way of thinking may be far more appropriate for people.

I cried watching that talk, the way one might when stumbling upon family you never you knew you had. For close to 30 years, I have created home everywhere and yet have been “home” nowhere. Now, someone was telling me that it was okay to be from nowhere. That it was okay for home to be complicated.

Being unmoored in this way, I know, has profoundly shaped who I am. It has shaped how I relate to people, where I’m comfortable and who I’m comfortable with. I’ve been aware of this for years, but it’s only been recently that it occurred to me that other people could feel the same. That home can be many things beyond where you are from or where lay your head. It can be the place where platanos are cooked or where French is spoken. It can be the place where you are called that nickname your coworkers would never know. It can be a person. It can be a feeling or a taste and for some, just a memory.

It may not be the place where you were born, but the place you became who you are.

My hunch is that home is complicated for many people in this country. That this could be true for millennials, who have seen the housing crisis, the great recession, and the demographics of this country shift as they were coming of age. That this may be true for first and second generation Americans who have to consciously decide how to hold on to home, or create a new one. Or for all the Americans returning to cities, seeking communities and a way of life they felt disconnected from in the suburbs. Or for the people seeking to make America great again, who want to rebuild the home they feel has been attacked.

My hunch is that home for us has changed, fundamentally, in ways that we have yet to articulate. That it’s important that we define home for ourselves, but also to listen to each other talk about home.

So, I want to hear your stories of home. I want to hear how you’ve defined it. How it’s shaped you. How you seek to create it. Here, you’ll find my questions, and some of my experiences. You’ll also find stories I’ve gathered of people who’ve opened up about what home means to them. I hope you’ll be one of those voices.

Reply to this post and let me know your stories about home. How do you define it? If this is a topic that enthralls you as it enthralls me, go ahead and like the Facebook page. I’ll be posting questions and sharing what I’ve gathered along the way, and I’d love to share your stories on there too.


Let’s start the conversation.