The Shortest Path Home

Monday, June 4, 2012

Whenever we have the chance, my father and I dive into philosophical discussion. After dinner, before going to sleep, upon waking up (at the absurdly early time of 5:30am, mind you, because my body is still in time shift). We've been talking a lot about the abstract concept of home.

I've talked about 'home' writ large before - in relation to Asian Americans as a whole and my own South Asian identity. But being in Dhaka makes me want to revisit it yet again.

My father and I both feel that home has too many meanings - let's just take geography. As a first-generation immigrant, his natal home is here in Bangladesh, but his lived home of many years is in Seattle, Washington. For me, the place of my birth is also Bangladesh, but when I picture home, it's suburban American or - more recently - Upper West Side NYC. Geography is the simplest part. Then you start piling on the questions of life stages, language, culture, personality... For me, being in between - that is, feeling kinship to this very unfamiliar place and distance from a much more common one - messes with my head.

I eat with my hands, but I say no to liver.

I can take the heat and humidity, but am afraid of house geckos and cockroaches.

I want to improve peoples' lives through organizing, but can never divorce myself from my privileged primarily Western viewpoint.

I understand some Bangla, but am afraid to speak.

And then you come to the most integral question: do any of these things even matter? Are these things cultural imperatives or can you be Bengali without them? Without eating fish eggs or knowing how to ride in a rickshaw? And the reverse: can you be American and know all of these experiences intimately?

Unfortunately, none of this can be elucidated from the conversations I have with my father over tea, three or more times a day. We embody the maxim that just because you have the pieces, doesn't mean you can make them fit. And at some point, our contradictory lives must cross over - American Bengali or Bengali American. The frustration of having no answers. Therein lies the problem of setting your feet on two separate paths and having to decide which is the shortest one home - will you ever be satisfied with your answer?