Where is home? What is a hometown?

I have a complicated relationship with the word “home”.

The idea of home is ingrained in our society. Sayings like “Home is where the heart is” and “Make yourself at home” and “Home sweet home” have wormed their way into our culture, all of them bringing both the idea of home and the search for a home closer to us.

It’s easy to say that the place where you live is home. While this is an accurate meaning of the word “home”, the word means so much more than that. There’s a cultural significance to claiming a place as home, as claiming a place as home means claiming that place as part of yourself: past, present, or future.

The question “Where are you from?” is a loaded one for me, as it can mean different things in different contexts. When surrounded by people who don’t live in the same geographic area as me, the question “Where are you from?” often means “Where do you currently live?” To which I easily reply with where I currently live. Easy peasy. No real issues there.

But sometimes “Where are you from?” can mean “Where were you born and raised?” To which I begin my answer with “I grew up in”, careful not to say I am from that small town that almost all of my immediate family still calls home, because doing so would show that I still claim a connection to the town of my childhood, a connection that isn’t there, never was there.

Being biracial, the question can also mean “Where are your ancestors from?” or “What is your race, because you don’t look like a typical white person?” I’ve taken to answering this question with “Atlanta” or “Here” if I’m already in the city, just to be a smart aleck, especially if I’m not in the mood for further conversation. It’s true: I am from here. Besides having a Korean parent, I can’t claim much connection to being Korean or being from there. I don’t speak a word of the language. I’ve never been to Korea. I was raised with completely Western attitudes toward life and culture. Truth be told, the only Korean in me is biological. I’m from Korea in the same sense that French fries are from France.

My mom frequently asks me when I’m coming home when we talk on the phone, and truth be told, I never have a good answer for her–both for the “when” part and the “home” part. I’ve mentioned this before, even though I know exactly what she means: when am I going to make the trip up to visit her and my dad and brother. And truth be told, I’ve told Mom this before. I’ve never felt like I was from the town I grew up in. The small town, where almost everyone lives and thinks the same, was never a place where I truly belonged. It was a place that did the opposite: made me feel like I stood out for being different, made me want to get out of there at the first opportunity. The town of my childhood never provided that.

Home is supposed to be the place where you belong, where you feel perfectly comfortable being yourself. The town I grew up in has never been that place for me. Discovering a community where I truly belong has provided more of that home feeling than my childhood town ever has. Home may not be wherever I’m with you (whoever you may be), but for me, home is more of a feeling than anything else.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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