Each time after a jog, I walk through Central Park, where the sun-glazed rooftops of wrought-iron-balconied apartments never cease to awe me and the streets don’t smell like dog piss, I think of how fortunate I am to be living in this city—the city of big lights and flashy dreams.
I had my first New York bagel the other day; I can name each subway stop on the 5 train in order and Starbucks is no longer my neighborhood go-to for coffee. I’ve sort of settled down in this city—or settled-down as much as I can anywhere. The short story is, New York City will never be my city—its mass transit system will never cease to flummox me and the alcohol taxes are too damn high—but more than that, everything here seems transitory.
It is not unique to New York as I feel restless everywhere, and nor are my feelings of “not completely belonging” unique. People who are raised abroad, brought up in various countries and many of whom, like me, come from a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-racial background share this concern.
Aside from great college application fodder and interesting material for ice-breakers at summer camp—“I shook hands with the Dalai Lama during a class trip to the Himalayas,” “You started drinking Smirnoff ice when you were 15? We started when we were 12”—our experiences move us to grasp bits and pieces of knowledge about wherever we are living and the skill to adapt quickly to new situations. We have the opportunity to make friends in numerous countries around the world, but that leaves us wishing for a core identity that grounds us besides the vague concept that we’re part of a community of “international kids” and we have each other.
From early on, the question of identity and the meaning of belonging was forced upon me—or perhaps, more correctly, at us, the third-culture kids. It made life from the beginning a celebration of how special we were and a dichotomy of “us” and “them”: the expats versus the locals, American versus the internationally-born-American-passport-holder-but-really-not-quite-sure-what-I-am-Me.
We can’t disregard how our specific, third-culture story fits into the web of identity-searching stories that have existed for centuries and continue to unfold—Afro-Hispanic immigrant narratives, the recognition of transgender and queer identities within minority populations and the progressively large movements of refugees throughout the world who strive to settle and find stability somewhere new, are only to name a few.
The concept of home, of one, single place defining our identity is no longer relevant for many of us. What makes us is no longer the city, but our singular experiences in them. New York will never be my city, but it’ll do for now.