How do you cope with not knowing where you’re from or where you belong? This is a question that most millennials often ask themselves as they seek new experiences, adventures and new beginnings. For some people these thoughts began at the age of fifteen when they realized how different they were from the rest of the population in their small town, or the big city, or their entire country. For others, it may have been a lifelong struggle, as they looked around the table at Thanksgiving dinner wondering why they wanted more than their annual family get-together. These questions of identity are questions that arise in most people’s quest to find themselves. And it is all too familiar for someone like me.
I immigrated to the United States at the age of ten, after waiting eight long years for my green card and to be reunited with my mother. I went from living in the poorest province in the Dominican Republic to literally overnight living in a prosperous upper middle class, liberal college town in Connecticut.
Although I didn’t speak the language, I still managed to engage and form social relationships with individuals that had the patience to get over our communication barriers (most of these individuals are my best friends to this day). Naturally I felt very uncomfortable and out of place. I remember my childhood consisting of relentless efforts to convince my parents to move somewhere more “Spanish friendly.” This place where I grew up, that I am just now able to cherish and give tribute to in my development, was the absolute worst for me at the time. And so after high school, with much anticipation, I went to college in North Jersey.
I was seeking growth and education, diversity, livelihood, and an overall difference, all of which Jersey provided, along with a much shorter commute to New York City. But as an out-of-state student in a school where 97% of students were from the same state, I was always viewed differently. From the way I spoke to my license plate and my “white suburbia Connecticut mannerism,” North Jersey-ans viewed me as a soft outcast. Until they learned that I was actually born and raised in a different country. Then I was just an overall immigrant, as in generally “not from here.”
I spent five and half years in Jersey, with a minor stint in Connecticut after college before deciding that the northeast wasn’t for me anymore. Within a month of visiting some friends in Florida, I packed up all of my belongings and joined them. Although not perfect by any means, and filled with uncertainties, I loved the old life I left behind. I felt more at home in Jersey than I’ve ever felt anywhere, but to my surprise, that was a very scary feeling for me at such a young age. There were so many more things that I wanted to see and experience and I decided to leave my comfort for something new.
Even though I made some amazing friends and had some great adventures and experiences, within months of living in Florida, I decided it wasn’t for me. I wanted to live somewhere more lively – that and some differences of southern mannerisms (although hospitable) proved to be too much of a change for me. It was also my first time living in a red state, during perhaps one of the most conflicting, controversial political times in modern history. After almost two years, shortly after November 8th, I decided it was time to do something I had been trying to avoid for a while, and again cramped up all of my belongings in my mid-size SUV, and moved to Los Angeles.
For east coasters, being on the west coast feels like being in a completely different country. The vibe is slower than any of the cities we’re used to in the northeast, the food is different, the people have different values, activities, and generally, it is very, very far from everything that we’re used to. LA is very beautiful, and everyone I’ve met has been very nice and welcoming. There were and still are some major cultural shocks, from the values, the way people talk, everyone’s insane obsession with avocados, dogs and their social media, the way people dress or don’t, and its major concern with beauty and perfection. I’m experiencing the second biggest culture the US is most famous for, and while it is quite interesting, it also very different from the US culture I’m used to.
In a generation where most individuals are bold enough to fight and seek their happy place, I am not alone through these journeys. There are many positive outcomes in proving to yourself that you can thrive over and over again in a new place. That you can meet new people that will become great friends, and that you can find a piece of yourself that has been missing. The good outweighs the bad, which usually consists of some difficult times for your mental health, as your emotional being tries to adjust to all of the change. Now, I’m not necessarily seeking to live in as many places as possible, nor do I see these places with an immediate time stamp for departure. I’ve genuinely believed that I would be settling in all of the places I have left behind.
And although I’m usually driven by a burst of energy and excitement when I decide to start over in a new place, I also enter a state of mourning for the old life I’m leaving behind, which in turn becomes a self-driven guilt trip for my own miseries.
As of now, the hardest part in being a mild modern day nomad is answering one simple question: “Where are you from?” There has never been a simple answer. There are dimensions to my identity far beyond those of a Russian doll. I have picked up habits, mannerisms, and aspects of every culture I have lived in. The biggest question I’ve been asking myself lately is am I finding myself? Or losing myself? While sometimes this is the root cause of some tough days, I like to think there is much beauty in the two.
I’m learning that the biggest challenge is to stop fighting the constant urge of wanting to know where I will be forever. I’m learning that only the end knows that and although easier said than done, I need to follow the path as it lights up the way for what my soul is seeking. I also know that this is just the beginning for me, as I have not been able to travel as much as I would like to internationally. And that a simple question used to better understand a person does not apply to me. Or maybe that I’m thinking too hard about it, and should instead say the next time I’m asked “I’m not from here nor there but everywhere,” and drown in conversations with the follow-up questions.