I first submitted this piece to the zine Motherlands & Hometowns, a themed zine series by the wonderful Disaffekted Ethnic Queer Youth (DEQY) collective in Sydney, who recently raised more than $700 for RISE, a refugee advocacy group at their pop-up cafe-cum-benefit gig, held in conjunction with the zine’s release.
This essay discusses my feelings surrounding home, belonging, and migration; on grounding and re-grounding and finding my roots and my place. It is a topic I am sure I will keep exploring for the years to come.
I am writing this from home, 6000kms away from home.
Almost 2 years ago, I moved from Singapore to Adelaide to be with my partner. It’s not as exciting as it sounds—I moved for love, and it’s wonderful, and “an incredibly brave thing,” but that’s not what I want to talk about. Migration is as migration does.
Most of us have done scores of migration over generations and centuries, over lands and times. I am a 3.5 generation Chinese/Singaporean, and also, to a certain extent, 1st generation Singaporean/Australian. I feel my identity stretching out across 3 different lands: one I’ve only very slightly visited, another I’ve spent most of my life in, the other I’ve only just lived in (and always remembering: it isn’t even mine in the first place).
They all coalesce to become something—Home, always shifting, in my body.
Feeling a close connection to the motherland (China), an acquaintance once told me, “you can’t feel emotional ties to something that’s broadly conceived.” And that may be half-right, considering how I’ve never even been to Shantou, and don’t know where my mother’s ancestors lived in Fujian province exactly. I’ve never even been. But I know the traditions, the sayings, the food, and I remember both my grandmothers fussing over me in a way I felt was specific to their respective cultures. My mother’s father was a Mao aficionado, despite living in Singapore all his life. The putonghua used to colonise an entire land filled with people belonging to various ethnicities and tribes is something I read, speak, and write with ease.
I think about Singapore, a place I grew to love as I was only just leaving. Growing up, I never saw Singapore as home; it was only a place of residence. In my adolescence and young adulthood I would imagine my home as being somewhere “out there,” waiting to be discovered. I travelled a lot during this time, trying to see if I would stumble upon a city where I could see myself moving to. Melbourne, Berlin, Bandung, Kuala Lumpur, Brussels, Hong Kong: these places seemed close, but not quite.
Where was home? Home is relative. Home is right here, in my mind and body, fluid and constantly in flux.
Like any other hometown, Singapore is associated with cultural cringe and ambivalent feelings. I think about the glitzy high-rises and clean streets juxtaposed with its atrocious human rights record; the ease of mobility I experience as a member of the dominant race; the drug laws and the capital punishment; the times I spent getting lost in far-flung suburbs (only 40mins from the city centre). William Gibson, it’s not just the “Disneyland With the Death Penalty” and you fucking know it. I spent my formative years there, owning my reality: my heart broken and restored, over and over.
When someone from Australia refers to Singapore as my ‘home’, despite all good intentions, I feel insulted. Singapore was my home, is my home still, but it is up to me to call it. Adelaide is my home now, too, and when you inquire about my trip ‘home’ (there), it feels as if you are invalidating my efforts at building a life (here). At the same time, is it really? I am a settler too; I stole the land I’m standing on, just like (most of ) you.
Where is home? I carry it within me.
I remember travelling elsewhere, people attempting to place me. “Where are you from?” they ask, and nothing I say feels like a truth. “I live in Australia,” I reply now. These attempts to delineate geographical lines are once again repeated, both in Singapore and Australia: in the former, it is received as a source of pride, a forced alienation resulting from a desire to disassociate; in the latter, it is alienating—implying a cultural failure on my part to assimilate. Underlying it all is this: the privilege to reject something vs. the lack of privilege to own something, to belong. I am trying to assimilate to a culture that once stole the land it stands on. Remember, I am complicit too.
Sometimes, I don’t know where home is. Home is where my affections are centered, and they can be many places at once, temporarily and permanently.
I carry it within me.