When I look at the world, it’s checkered with little boxes. Little boxes drawn from opaque, black lines, underlying the thin, invisible borders that the world pushes you to define yourself in. It’s these walls that confine people who fall in between the lines, struggling to find the right answer. 

And if they don’t find a definition for the person you are? The world imposes one on you.

All my life, I’ve had people ask me where I’m from, ask me where home is.

Home. What a simple, one-syllable word, that to me, holds incessantly more than just a place, a residence, an origin. But through the limits of the world, through others trying to make sense of who one is for their own convenience, for demographic purposes, the core of one’s identity is minimized and contemplated, really, in a new light – an experience, an identification that is meant to be solely individualized and unique, morphed to fit societal standards.

All my life, I’ve had one group of people tell me that I was making a bigger deal out of where I was from than I needed to, and for another group tell me that I didn’t belong. 

Born and raised in the multicultural hub of Hong Kong, what is unbeknownst to the rest of the world is that this is a place where, depending on your educational upbringing, youths are instinctively separated into two paths that fail to intersect, communities that barely intermingle. Having been in the local stream for 16 years before I set off for Pearson, and having only ever called Hong Kong my permanent residence, it seemed only natural that this was my home. And yet, spending every break there was, come Easter, Christmas and New Year’s in Taiwan, and not needing a visa with the flexibility of two blue-cover passports; being teased mercilessly at the fact that I still spoke accented, grammatically incorrect Cantonese, the local language that was never spoken at home; never fully integrating into local school culture and being naturally set apart by peers and teachers alike in class, who would themselves make excuses for my poor grasp of the Chinese language based on their assumptions of my cultural background and upbringing, told me something else.

Sometimes I wonder whether or not the reason for my lack of proficiency is due to the encouragement of the ‘labels’ imposed on me by my surroundings. As teachers dismissed my Chinese writing skills since ‘English is your first language’, peers questioned and laughed at my presence in the Chinese debating team and vice versa for the English team, and so much more. I wonder if it is that box that I got checked into since my youth, simply because my family was composed of both an alternate East Asian and Western culture, that simultaneously left me outside of the circle peering in and above a solo pedestal. And perhaps this lack of integration, is also why I never truly found Hong Kong home growing up.

But outside of my city, that mirage is too shattered, when all I’d seemingly figured out about myself – born and raised in Hong Kong, Canadian national, Taiwanese at heart – is utterly dismantled in the Western world, where the two East Asian cultures I attribute to are generalized as one with their shared roots and my nationality is but a document. And through simple conversations, questions like ‘how are you from (this place) if you’ve never even lived here’ and confrontations like ‘this isn’t really your culture’, I came to question why there were others defining who I was. That even things that are meant to be discovered by oneself are subjective to the boundaries that are set in place, and that the world can utterly deconstruct who you have made yourself up to be.

Coming to Pearson, going through countless re-introductions of who I am and where I was from, being immersed in a multitude of diverse cultures some so like my own and others from an alternate universe, finding my fit and where I felt comfortable enough to attribute myself to; somewhere through it all, I think I’ve come to re-evaluate what home means, and acknowledge where home is for me. And with that, I reject every single box that the world has tried to checker me into, I refuse to be confined into the trajectory.

To me, home has more to do with the place I grew up in. It’s about the sense of belonging, it’s about the multiplicity of places and the plethora of nostalgic triggers, and ultimately, there is no one and nothing that can define it for you better than yourself. 

Hong Kong is my home, not because of the city or the place, but because of my childhood, my family, my friends. It is the place that merges and that has nurtured both aspects of my identity, Chinese and Western alike.

Taipei is my home, because it is my mother’s heritage that has been shared with me since my youth. It is the pace and human touch of the place, that makes me truly feel loved and part of the community.

Pearson is my home, because it is where I have found myself, the individual that I am away from all of the above, away from the places that are familiar. It is where I re-defined who I am and chose to break beyond the borders. It is where, by being a miniscule piece of the multitude of nationalities and stories that we have, I become a part of the puzzle of the world we demonstrate, a world where we find our sense of place and belonging.

Home is not a place. 

It is a feeling, it is what feels right and what feels wrong, it is what fits best into that particular moment, and it is looking back on memories that tug on your heartstrings and cry out to you;

It is the architecture that you know by blind touch, the cracks in the walls, or even the ones you’ve never before seen in your life that remind you of a distant past,

It is the music, the scents, the tastes or the sound of a time gone by;

It is the people you live and laugh with, watch sunrises, sunsets and twilights with, are vulnerable with;

And it is so much more beyond a single, one-syllable, dictionary definition that devalues the depth and meaning of how this word can truly deconstruct and rebuild one’s individuality.

At the end of the day, you decide for yourself what home is, and no one can tell you otherwise.

For me, home will always be a feeling.

That’s what I think home is.

Lena Huang

About Lena Huang