Thursday, March 23, 2006

Why Dorothy Went Back to Kansas (My Final Paper For Writing 121)

A dangerous question lurks in the minds of well-meaning people everywhere. A question not dangerous to everyone, perhaps, but for some, especially for families of some English as a Second Language students with whom I’ve had the chance to speak, the question might be unsettling.

“Where are you from?” People will ask, innocently smiling, not knowing that they have touched on a point that shakes the displaced to their very souls. For dammed up in this one question is a potential flood of many other questions, questions which have perhaps not yet been fully answered even in the mind of those who are being questioned: “Where are you from?” leads to “Where is your home?” and “Where was your sense of self formed, and your identity nourished?” These questions eventually lead to “Who are you?”; a startling question for anyone to encounter, and a laborious one to answer on a daily basis.

Still the question must be answered, so as not to seem rude. So those questioned begin to once again dig and scrap, and a kind of frantic pondering ensues as they mentally sort through different pieces of information: many houses and cultures, many stamps on a passport. They are not for the first time, searching, but they hope that maybe this time the answer will come. That somehow a place: a country, town, village - anything - will come forward and make itself known, that someplace will claim them for its own. The displaced must hope that the too-many options will somehow meld into one obvious choice. The child of a refugee or an immigrant finds that there is perhaps one too many homes to choose from, and that he is just as curious as the one who has asked the question to find out what he’s going to answer. More than curious even; anxious is a better word. There is a feeling that something is at stake.

Of course this is not the case with most people; for most “home” is an easy concept. Ask these blessed people where they’re from, ask them even the harder question of where they consider home, and they’ll answer you without the least hint of doubt in their voice, without the slightest shade of worry passing over their face, or trace of uncertainty across their minds. These people, being seen by the gods as somehow the most fit to bear this blessing, will smile an easy smile and tell you where they were born and raised. Born and raised. Home. Easy.

For Mimi’s child the question will not be so easy to answer. Mimi is from Ethiopia, and she has just recently found out that she and her husband are going to have their first baby. Of course they now have a flood of choices before them concerning which culture they are going to raise their little American-born, Ethiopian child in. And in this regard Mimi and her husband are surely not alone; all who have raised children in a culture other then their own have tangled with this beast of a issue. But I wonder whether parents like Mimi, who have to ask the necessary question of what culture they will raise their child in, who have to ask essentially “Where will my child be from?”, know the terrible power they wield. I wonder if they have a choice.

Consider too Claudio, from Mexico, who came to the U.S. when he was a teenager because his father wanted him to come. I wonder where he will now find his identity, if he will find it in the land in which he lived the first half of his life, or the land he will likely live in for the rest of his life. Perhaps Claudio will never really be home; perhaps he will only ever live in a corner which he had no choice but to back into. I wonder if I could grow fond of a corner.

Perhaps it seems frivolous, though, for people to make such a big deal about wanting to live where they were born, or, at least in some way or another wanting to be able to call the place they’re living now “home”. Perhaps to some, wanting to be raised either in the same culture as your parents, or the same culture as your peers seems superficial. But those who are tempted to think this way of the the people whom Judith Ortiz Cofer describes as “the perennial new kids on the block”, would do well to consider the gift they possess, the gift they were born and raised with (562). They posses the gift of being from somewhere. It’s a gift inexorably bound to the most basic of all gifts, the very gift of being, itself. Such might be tortured by the question of where they are going to (in the future or the hereafter), but at least they know where they’re coming from. My heart goes out to the child that can list many places he has lived, but has no clue what to tell people when they ask him where he is from.

For those who are not of any culture, the ache indeed must weigh heavy. However, could it be that these seeming unfortunates, the displaced, the uprooted, and the divided, those who are going through life homesick, but without a place on earth to call home, are better prepared for something in the end? Might they be better prepared, perhaps, for a different home, a home that lies beyond this world?


eucharisto said...

MK's and TCK's. (for those of you who don't know what that is, it stands for Missionary Kids and Third Culture Kids.)
Didn't we have a conversation about this while we were visiting? So fascinating. Well written, good job! Catches the essence of the feeling of such people (as a matter of fact, I'd consider myself one of those people!).

Foolish Knight said...

Thanks, Eucharisto! Yes, count yourself amongst the chosen few.

What was hard about this essay, was that I wasn't supposed to write about myself, but with this subject matter, well... I had trouble keeping me and my sob story out of it. Oh well.

Katie said...

You better have gotten an A on this paper! I loved it.

I think of all the TCK's I know or have known, and that my brother in law is now working with, and I think they do in a way have a gift. I don't know that they always realize it.

The idea of "home" is such an interesting idea. Home can be an idol we set up in our lives. We hold onto it so tightly when we've become used to a specific idea of what it is. I hope to make my home in the far country, but its not always easy to keep that perspective.

Thanks for sharing...

Anonymous said...

Andrew Largeman: You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some place where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew Largeman: You'll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day one day and it's just gone. And you can never get it back. It's like you get homesick for a place that doesn't exist. I mean it's like this rite of passage, you know. You won't have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for you kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

eucharisto said...

Katie reminded me of the best quote I have yet heard about home, courtesy of Meister Eckhart. It speaks for itself, so I will make no effort to explain it. There is something beautiful when truth doesn't need explaining:

"God is at home. We are in the far country".

Katie said...

That's the quote I wanted! Thanks, I knew it wasn't coming out quite right at first.

Queen of Arts and England said...

What an excellent piece of writing! THose are some serious questions that most people don't give much thought to. In truth, we Christians aren't home. What an overwhelming thought of being there!

Thanks for sharing this with us!

Foolish Knight said...

Thank you, Katie, Queen of Arts and England, and Eucharisto (and Anonymous too, I guess). I'm glad that you got what I was trying say with the essay. It actually wasn't what I was going to write about originally; originally I didn't have any mention of a home "beyond this world" at all (remember, Portland Community College is not a Christian school, that is to say, it is a school full of pagans and raging liberals), but I felt that if after I put it into the last paragraph, I was in mortal fear that my teacher would think I was trying to convert her from her hedonistic lifestyle or something. However, I didn't feel that I could leave it out because then the essay wouldn't accurately reflect how I felt about the subject. So I left it in, and Katie, I don't know what I got on it.

Psalm 27:4 is one of my favorite Bible verses (it talks about David's one desire, which is to dwell with God).That idea of our true home being with God (and God being at our true home) is probably what makes a verse so striking to me.

Again, thanks reading it and commenting!