My first red flag should have been when I introduced myself by saying, “Hi, I’m Apple and I’m from Glen Cove, New York.” I was so close to saying that on multiple occasions, and one day I finally did. But I’m not from Glen Cove. Sure, my family owns a house there, and I’ve been living there for a few years, but that’s not where I’m from. I don’t own an American passport or even a Green Card. My only tether to this nation is my F-1 Visa. I spent the first 15 years of my life in Chengdu, China. That’s home. That’s where I’m from, not Glen Cove.
My second red flag should have been when I started using more English than Chinese. English would arbitrarily pop up during my speech, even when engaging in a conversation using Chinese. I’d use English to people who spoke perfect Chinese, my dreams were in English, and so was my thought process.
My third red flag should have been when my cursive English started becoming more and more elegant, while my cursive Chinese handwriting, something I’d always prided myself on, became no more than a jumble of lines strewn together. Gradually, I found myself losing the art of Chinese handwriting, the only art I was good at.
My fourth red flag should have been when I couldn’t remember what home felt like. Home, as in Chengdu. I can’t remember the feeling of driving through the streets I’ve driven through for a decade and a half of my life. I can’t remember what my hometown’s traditional cuisine tasted like, how the spice would curl up on my tongue, slightly burning but immensely pleasurable to the taste buds, how one could taste with one bite the quality of the oil used, the dryness of the chili peppers with a second bite. I can’t remember any of that.
I should have had a lot more red flags. Like when I stopped wearing Chengdu as a prided pin on my chest. When I stopped the futile attempt of trying to educate people on my hometown. When the taste of American Chinese food started growing on me (never General Tso’s Chicken though – that is a tarnish to Chinese cuisine). American! The audacity of those people to remake five thousand years of historical cuisine into a mish-mash of foreign ingredients flavored to suit western tastes, not Chinese. Yet sometimes I can hardly distinguish between foreign ingredients and traditional ones. The taste doesn’t jut out anymore.
My last red flag was when, standing at a crosswalk in Queens, I slowly breathed in the buzzing nightlife and realized that America, with all its foreignness, was beginning to resemble home just a little bit. And that’s when I realized that home isn’t where I was born or where I live and study. It’s where I go and where I choose to make it.
Home was never a place. It’s a feeling I carry with me, looking for the right places to plant the roots.