Did I Pack My Nail Clippers? - By Faye Yu
In my head, I am still that girl that graduated from college, moved to a big city and started working. I don’t think I’ve “arrived” or have become what I should become; rather, I am still stumbling around and figuring it out with each “yes”. I see friends who have gotten married, purchased homes and made those “adult” decisions that I haven’t been able to make. I feel like the fuzzy seed of a dandelion that is being blown around from one location to the next; with nothing to anchor me. It’s been fun and interesting, but I feel like I am perpetually living from a suitcase. I have at least 10 sets of nail clippers packed in different suitcases in my parent’s and friend’s houses, but with each place I move, I purchase another set of nail clippers because I have no idea where the other nail clippers are packed. I dreamed of the day when all my things can be in one location and I can just have 2 sets of nail clippers.
When people ask me where I am from- which is a common question asked in Africa- I have a hard time answering. I was born in Taiwan, grew up in Wisconsin, parents live down in Atlanta, GA, but I have never lived there because they moved down there when I was in college; and I’ve lived on and off in DC since 2000, which is where some of my closest friends are, but I don’t own a house there so technically I am a visitor when I go to DC. Most people are very confused by my answer and have no idea what I am talking about, but they are happy that I said DC because everyone knows DC. So after my long answer, they are excited that they can picture where I am from.
Yet, DC is not where I am from, nor is it my home. If “home” is a location, I don’t have one. There isn’t a place that I can return to and feel a deep rooted sense of history and connection. There are no streets or neighborhoods that I can walk through and remember Faye as a little girl. However, as I think about my lack of location permanence, I don’t think this is a strange thing for my family. I am from a family of immigrants and refugees. My grandmother and grandfather were born in China. After the Nationalist party lost the war in China, my grandfather, who fought on the side of the Nationalist party fled with his pregnant wife and children to Taiwan. Taiwan at that time was an underdeveloped island which was recently ruled by Japanese government until they lost the island after World War 2. There was a lack of infrastructure and the island was already inhabited by indigenous Taiwanese people. While it was a challenging start, but my grandparents made Taiwan home. However, unbeknownst to them, they would immigrate again 30 some years later to make the United States, home.
Home for my grandparents and my parents is where the family is. My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. because all of their children lived in the U.S. Even though they had a comfortable, established life in Taiwan, they didn’t see a point in staying there when their family was on the other side of the world. So, they sold their house, packed up their bags, left the tropics and moved to the inner city Milwaukee during winter to start again. Home is about being with family; and in a sense, I feel “at home” when I am with my family. Yet, in the last 20 years I’ve lived away from my family; each place for 4 months to 5 years at a time. Some of these locations like Sierra Leone and Malawi have been bigger steps of faith. I left a place where I was loved and cared for, and moved to an unknown location as a single person. In each place, I needed to figure out what type of person I wanted to be and what my new normal would be.
I have given up on Wikipedia’s dictionary of home: a permanent or semi-permanent residence. I’ve accepted the fact that I may continue to live from my suitcase for the foreseeable future. My collection of nail clippers will continue to grow. I may never own a home or live in a place where I am known for longer than 5 years. However, with each new location, my inner being knows that it is where I should be. Also, I have security because I know that in an Atlanta suburb where my family lives, I will always have a place. And that knowledge that there is a place that will always gladly welcome me back, gives me the courage to travel to the next unknown destination. I come from a family of immigrants and refugees. We move.