Most first conversations of mine begin with that ever-present question “Where are you from?” to which I answer “I currently live in Las Vegas, but was born in Vietnam, lived there until I was 13 when I moved to the US and grew up in California.” The conversation then proceeds to “Which part of Vietnam, North or South?” to which I answer “My father is from the North but moved to the Central in 1954 when communism divided the country and then again to the South in 1960.”
I never thought much about how this conversation revealed the parts of my father that I carry with me, daily, until recently, when I heard Pico Iyer’s talk about home. He spoke of the large amount of people around the world whose sense of home is so transnational, so borderless, so multicultural that they have come to think of home as where they are going and where their loved ones are. That very much describes me. Last year, I spent less than half of my time in Las Vegas. Home is Santa Ana, where my family lives, or San Diego, where my best friend lives, or New York, where my husband and I are going this next week. Home is no longer just the fatherland, or the motherland for me, as well as the rest of this transnational group of people, increasing in size so quickly that they will soon make up the fifth largest country in the world, all over the world.
But it has not always been this way, my father, whose sense of homeland, is so attached to the salty soil of Vietnam, that he uses the word “uprooted” to describe the three times he has had to move, whose searing pain of exile still seeps in and out of his heart. Perhaps the most traumatic time of those three was the last one, when he and my mother packed up the only home they’ve ever owned, parted with the only language they’ve ever spoken, turned their backs on the only country they’ve ever known. They left their business, their friends, and most importantly, their sense of self. They left, like countless others, in hopes of a better life for our future. My father, forever since, I suspect, never felt quite at home again, anywhere. He never attached home to a place again. He carried his home within him, and within us, his family.
He gave me a tremendous gift that day. He gave me the home I now carry, within myself, within my loved ones. He gave a personal and collective history to know that, home, is not only built on where we’ve been, but where we’re going. Home is not only identified by the past, but also by the present, and the future.