"Where are you from?"

Bea Basbas (graphics & text)

A simple question, with no definite answer.

Born in [insert city], live in [insert another city], passport’s from [insert country/countries].

This question gets to me a lot, more than I’d like to admit it. I can’t comfortably say “this is my home” without contradicting myself of all the places I’ve lived in. Philippines, Thailand, China, my home is anywhere, really.

This piece is a stream of my consciousness, if anything.

Something that I’ve been struggling with recently is the idea of cultural identity. My cultural identity is based on the values, morals and beliefs of a particular country or place. Ethnically, I’m Filipino, but that may not be a good enough indicator of how I think, how I feel about certain topics, and what I believe in. I can confidently say that I’m from the Philippines since I was born there, but having lived in different places in the world for years, all of this was challenged.

I think the term that best describes myself is a ‘third-culture’ individual; a person living in two or more countries, immersed in different cultures. Being a third-culture individual could possibly clarify a sense of my cultural identity. Sometimes I think that I can be too much of one ethnicity and not enough of the other. Most of the people around me were also third-culture individuals, we all shared this confusion when it comes to the same question.

The idea of “home” is always labelled as a place of belonging, where you feel the most “at home”.  Usually they identify “home” as your birthplace or your nationality.

But I can never answer the question of “Where is home?” with full certainty because it can be anywhere. Sure, I was born in Manila but I never really lived there enough to call it my “home”. Having lived away from “home”, there is so much I have learned and seen, from Thai culture to Chinese culture. As I encounter these uniquely different cultures, I realised that the idea of “home” is not just limited to one place. There’s no one possible answer.

Moving from place to place every two to three years is always a huge change. Leaving family and friends behind, leaving what feels like my “home” for a certain period of time, immersing myself in the culture, and learning how to speak the local language is always the process of settling down to a place of “home”.

When I was seven years old, I moved to Thailand. I remember that a sense of excitement towards living in a new place away from “home”, meeting new people and going to a new school, a new environment. Being so young, the sudden change did not affect me as much. It took some time to adjust to the new environment and feel like I “belong” in this certain place. It was unsettling to be called a “foreigner” whenever I go somewhere, I was not used to it.

A few years later, I was informed that we were leaving Thailand, to move to somewhere new. Hearing the words of “we’re moving”, I felt a sense of anxiety rushed throughout my whole body. I remember feeling so confused but angry at the same time that I had to leave Thailand, where I considered it “home”. I was mostly sad about leaving my friends and school behind. I was afraid of missing out.

As I moved to China and began celebrating its national holidays of Chinese New Year, Autumn and Spring festivals, I started to immerse myself in a completely different culture. There were times of hardship where it was hard to adjust to the foreign ideas, but I soon grew to love the culture and adapt to the change.

Living in such a different environment and attending a new school, I made new friendships and my cultural identity started to change. It was harder for me to identify where I really come from. I lived in Thailand, now I’m living in China, but I’m Filipino? It was so confusing.

I sometimes wonder whether my life would be any different if I had grown up in one place. Living in a house with ruler marks beside a door frame, having a friend who I’ve known since nursery, being able to embrace a country as my own. I envy those who have stayed in the same school since early years or primary, as they were able to grow up with the same individuals. But at the same time, I am proud to be able to speak other languages aside from my mother tongue, to be able to have friends from around the world and of course to be knowledgeable about different cultures.

I’ve realised that having a particular place to call home, is a choice. Finding home is definitely a work of progress. The identity of home is attached to a sense of belonging, usually through deep emotional connections that I make through the journey. Leaving everything behind can be difficult, but we can only keep trying to make the place we live feel like “home”. It is important to find like-minded people, and friends who will accept and love all the things that make you who you are, despite the differences in culture and beliefs.

More than anything, I am privileged for what I’ve been able to experience and understand growing up as a third-culture individual. I feel as though I am constantly able to reinvent myself whenever I move from place to place, I carry a piece of each culture with me, a small souvenir from each place. Once you gain a new insight to a new culture, language or anything really, your perspective changes. It’s a constant process of adding, upgrading and improving your knowledge and worldview. Not being able to give a definite answer to the question “Where are you from?”, allows me to belong in not just one place but many.

Haru Sukegawa

a thing about Lisa