Monday, 8 April 2013

going home

one of the issues that i've written about regularly here is that of belonging.  or not belonging.  or probably to be more specific, my feeling that i belong here which is not matched by other people's feelings that i don't.

it's a common problem for children of migrants and even great-grandchildren of migrants, and the ones like me who came here at a young age.  for the actual people who migrated here, i think it's not such an issue.  even though they have chosen nz as their home, they often still feel a very strong association with the place they were born & grew up.  it's likely that they have close family and friends at the place they came from; they have strong memories and childhood associations with places, smells, food, language, cultural traditions.  all the things that make up the person they are today tend to be grounded & founded in that place they grew up.

so when they travel back to their country of origin, they talk about "going home".  home is still that place where the associations are so strong, it's still that place where everything is familiar, and where they feel a strong sense of belonging.  home is the place where everything is comfortable and known and understood.  patterns of speech, metaphors, cultural markers, typical shared experiences, all make up that feeling of going back to the place where one belongs.

but for their children who were born and/or grew up here, the associations aren't quite the same.  that place that their parents call home isn't as familiar as it is to their parents.  a lot of that feeling can depend on how often the children travel to their parents' home country, and how long they stay there.  how much they are able to immerse themselves in the culture and how well they speak the language.  some of these children will strongly identify with their heritage, others won't.  but i suspect that most of them, as they become adults, won't talk of "going home" when they travel back to the place their parents were born.

for them, as for me, home is here. this is the place i grew up, and where i've lived for 41 years.  it's what i know, what i'm familiar with, and if i don't always feel comfortable here, i know i'll never feel more comfortable than this anywhere else.

so when someone who knew a little bit of my background innocently asked me how often i "go back home", the question jarred.  because i don't go back home, i'm here at my home.  hamilton is home, it's where i belong.  it's when i'm overseas that i talk of going back home, and that's when i fondly remember the rolling green hills of the waikato (well, still a little brown at the moment) and the river running not too far away from my house.  that's when i think of the familiar streets, the language i grew up with, the friends, the places that all create that sense of home.

but more than that, the question jarred because it meant that the person asking it didn't recognise that i belong here.  or at least didn't appreciate it.  and this is something i'm going to face a lot as i campaign for the local body elections: how to overcome this entrenched notion in so many people's minds that i'm not a local, that i don't belong, that i'm not one of them.  it's insidious and persistent, and is most commonly seen when people use the word "kiwi" to mean people of european heritage.  as if the rest of us can't be kiwis.  funnily enough, this terminology is used by migrants just as much as locals - they will use the word "kiwi" to means local, white people who are other than them.

it's a concept i consistently fight against.  it's something i constantly need to remind people about: that as far as i'm concerned, the word "kiwi" includes me.  it's my identity as well.  i'm a nz'er, maybe not born, but certainly bred.  and this place is home.

1 comment:

daphne said...

I am currently re-reading Michael King's On Being Pakeha Now and appreciating once again his thoughtful understanding of the complexities of who we are. He found himself at one time in Papua New Guinea, for the first time in his life a tiny obvious minority. He said that every European should have that experience. I agree.