Libby posted some thoughts on integrating into mainstream culture after you left fundamentalist culture. Some of the things she said made me think – she compared living in the mainstream American society to moving to a different country. I think that’s a great way to explain how we all feel to outsiders. But I want to add some more thoughts from the perspective of someone who actually went to live outside US culture altogether.
There are many people around here who have asked me if I’m homesick sometimes. It’s a puzzling question for me – am I homesick?
Some people ask me if I want to go back “live in America” some day – and what I miss about “America”.
Some people ask me if I miss “the American Way of Life”.
Yes, I have to use quotation marks. Because my answer would have to be NO. Not at all. People often assume that it’s because I enjoy the “free stuff” around here so much – a typical stereotype here is that most lower class Americans have no health insurance and higher education because they can’t pay for it. They assume that I’m from one of those families (which I am) and that I’m a sort of “health insurance refugee”. I let them think that because the truth is so much more complicated.
When I think of “America”, I think the things Europeans tend to think. I think of LA and California, Las Vegas and New York, I think of millions of lights and yellow cabs and Elvis and Rap and lots of drunk teens, rich stars and some real poor ghettos, of 9/11 and war and Barack Obama.
The place I lived, the way I lived, that’s far, far away from America. The mainstream America is as strange to me as if I never lived there. All I know about it is the fundamentalist way of looking at it. America scares me – it’s a strange country. It’s a nation I have little in common with, except my language and my passport. If America called me tomorrow and asked me to give my citizenship back, I’d agree – not because I don’t want it, but because I would understand why they wouldn’t want me.
So no, I am not homesick for America.
And then there are others who ask me if I feel “home” here. And again, that’s a complicated thing.
Yes, I do, as much as an immigrant can feel at home. Because that’s just what I am. I share no common “memory” with people my age – school, TV shows, experiences, nothing. I’m a stranger to this culture, not as much as I used to be, but still.
I got used to doing things the German way – being right on time (not a minute later!), accepting the perceived “rudeness” of people (which, in reality, is just painful honesty most of the time), dealing with relationships of all sorts, work ethic, political views, and so on.
Yes, most Germans find me to be very “integrated”. I’m good at pretending.
But there’s still something – this longing that can’t explain – this feeling that this isn’t quite my “home”, this feeling that I’m not part of everything.
This town is very popular with tourists. We had many Americans coming through and I tend to avoid them. They give me a strange feeling. I always recognize them instantly, they don’t even have to talk. The way they look, dress. I can tell they’re American. And when they speak, even when I’m prepared for it, still makes my heart jump. It sounds a bit like “home”. On one hand I’m drawn to them – I want to be close and listen and just… hear them speak English. On the other hand I’m afraid they’d talk to me, that they’d be able to tell that I’m not as American as they are.
Always being the one who’s a bit different.
Belonging but not quite, everywhere.
Is there a home for someone who doesn’t belong anywhere?
Is there a place for somebody who has different roots, no matter where they go?
What is home, when your home is a place that doesn’t exist in reality? When your home used to be a palace in the sky, built by religious fundamentalists? Is there a home for those of us who willingly tore it down to be free? Or aren’t we just what we are, what we’ll always be, displaced people trying to grow a second pair of roots, after the first pair dissolved into nothing but thin air?