“Where do you come from?”
This was a question I dreaded answering; the responses I gave usually puzzled those asking. “Greece, Ireland, Russia, France, Israel, Germany and… America,” was my usual retort. It’s true; I am from each of those places, no matter how minuscule the connection, yet each time I received a confused and doubtful look, a little part of me became doubtful as well. “Maybe it would just be easier if I only said America… But I’ve never lived there, it’s not my home, and… I don’t FEEL American,” my inner monologue would say. I envied those who could simply spit out a single country and be done with it, as if it was as simple as reciting the ABC’s.
I later learned that my hesitancy and fear of this question is what is generally described as being a “third-culture-kid.” Being a child raised as an expat, with an American passport, growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, was difficult to say the least. I was treated like a tourist in the country I readily called home and was called the “Asian-Cousin” by my American family since I didn’t know cultural icons like Chuck Norris or Blink-182. No matter where I went, I just wasn’t enough of any culture.
Until high school, this issue led to confusion and self-doubt, as if I needed more of these as a teenager. It wasn’t until I took a trip to rural Indonesia that I gained confidence in where I came from. On the trip, I not only found myself discovering the faults of the country I call home, such as the national proclamation repressing choice of religion and forcing choice of six faiths as listed by the government. Yet, I also experienced the intricate beauties, like the care and love shown by complete strangers who were willing to go so far for someone they’d just met. This experience not only opened my eyes to the many severe situations to be found, but also helped me to realize how much I love Indonesia. It’s the sort of place that measures a person by their actions rather than their faults. After I realized that Indonesia was one of the few places like that in this world, I became not only comfortable but also confident to say that it’s my home.
Imagine the smell of burning and rotten garbage wafting through the streets of Pondok Indah, a neighborhood nestled in Jakarta, the scenic view of high rises, smoke, and thousand-long-car-lines of traffic fill the eyes. The unique and picturesque experience in Jakarta is one that most are repulsed by, that I find nothing but beautiful. Sitting on the balcony of my old apartment, gazing at the orange tiled roofs of the tiny houses below, I feel reassured and calm --as if all the worries in the world, and in myself, can wait. I’m in the one place where no matter what I do, I’ll be accepted and valued. I no longer dread being asked, “Where are you from,” because I now know more than ever. I may look white, pasty, or occasionally tan on the outside, but on the inside there’s a Javanese Dancer, a Wayang Kulit master, and above all — an Indonesian.