Dear America, We're Breaking Up
My fourth high school didn’t know what to do with me. This American transfer student coming to them from Peru. My transcripts were a mixture of international schools, different ways of grading things and scores from tests they had never heard of. They put me with the foreign exchange students. For one semester, when I was with all the foreign exchange students from all over the world, I was content. In our classes they would have the new students stand up and say where they were from and I would proudly say Peru, oblivious to the shocked look my teachers gave me. I was living in Peru a month earlier; we had just gotten our residency and I didn’t know what else to say other than Peru—that was where I came from. It was an easy answer and it made sense to me. The semester ended and my foreign exchange student friends went back to their home countries. I was lumped in with the rest of the American students at school. I didn’t stick out, and even though I looked like I fit right in, I had never felt so isolated. I went home and begged my mom to homeschool me. My mom, who was working nonstop to support my sister and me while also looking for a house for us to live in so we could move out of our friend’s basement, said no. I lost the battle and had to stay at this school.
I kept moving and very quickly discovered that the question, “Where are you from?” only got more complicated. Now I try to answer it as simply as possible by omitting whole countries and just choosing one place to answer with. Thinking things like, maybe today I’ll just be from Florida or Minnesota. Most of the time I don’t tell people about Peru or Costa Rica for the sake of a shorter conversation. I do this to make it easier on myself and on them. I don’t like the slew of questions that come when they find out I lived overseas growing up. They usually don’t understand when I say things like “America is not home.” I have an American passport, but I feel out of place in this country. Truthfully, I feel out of place most everywhere.
I think back to high school and how easy it felt being able to say I was from Peru. Time has passed and it’s been more than a few years since I lived in Central and South America, yet I still hold the tightest connection to those places.
I don’t have a filter when it comes to talking about wanting to leave America. Sometimes people seem to get personally offended by the idea that I wouldn’t want to stay and live in this country just because I’m American. I was recently having a conversation with friends and when it came up that I eventually wanted to move overseas, someone asked where I would want to go. I started listing countries I had been looking at; Australia, England, and Spain being the top three. He quickly came back with, “Well Australia is very expensive, and the food isn’t very good—just like England.” He then stated that he “loved” Nashville and America. I was immediately put off by the closed-minded statement. I’m not sure why he felt the need to put down other countries in order to try and convince me that America is better. I’m happy to know that he is living in a place he loves, and good for him that he likes the food here. I on the other hand, would like to move. I’m not concerned about the cultural differences between America and every other country. I’m honestly a little tired of having to justify the way I want to live my life when I’m not asking anyone to live their life the same way.
I think the question “Where are you from?” will always elicit some anxiety and internal questioning. I’m not ashamed of being American, I’m just frustrated that I don’t feel like I belong here. Part of being a TCK is that we are forever searching for some sense of belonging. At least I am. I may not find that in one specific place, but I know I haven’t found that in America. Home means something different for everybody.
Maybe instead of asking someone where they’re from, ask something like, “Where do you get homesick for?” or “What does home smell or sound like?”. I’m not sure where I’m from but I could tell you what city I’m homesick for today and what comfort food I’m craving and that home sounds like cars honking and waves hitting the shore. Life is too short, and the world too big to be from just one place. I’m ready to break up with America again and move on to the next place.