How do I “go home” when I’m already in the only home I’ve ever known?
My “home”, to racists, is a country where I spent very few years of my life and with which I have extreme culture clash.
From a young age, I was different. I knew I was different. I felt different. I looked different.
My parents sounded different when they spoke English, and I found myself constantly learning new words that all the other children seemed to already know.
Everyone did things differently from what I remembered being taught and there were constant reminders that I wasn’t “doing things properly”.
Most of my friends saw their grandparents regularly and I saw mine for a few weeks every year, if that. For me, my grandparents are close elderly relatives with whom I unfortunately have very little in common and never had the opportunity to develop that emotional closeness.
As most young immigrant children do, I quickly adapted and ‘assimilated’, but that feeling of ‘otherness’ never really left. It wasn’t helped by the constant reminders that I didn’t quite belong in my country of origin, nor did I really belong here — whether from direct taunts of “go home”, “go back to where you came from” and racist stereotypes, or observing the discourse on immigrants and ethnic minority people.
Ironically, people who know me well often tell me how ‘English’ I am — I can always complain about the weather, I drink a lot of tea, I default to being very polite if I’m uncertain, and my accent is clearly English. This last characteristic is almost always commented upon. I appreciate it and realise that people often don’t come from a point of malice, but I also don’t think that immigrants who have a non-English accent should be treated any differently.
No, I was not born here, but to me that doesn’t really matter. Other than stories other people have told me, I only have a couple of hazy memories of my life before England, and none of them carry much sentimental value. My close friends come from a variety of backgrounds but almost of none are from the same country or culture I was born into — I find the culture clash gets in the way.
I tested out everyone’s theory when — also partly out of my own curiosity — I spent some time studying in the country where I was born and where most of my family still live, alone, and not with my family, to see what it felt like to actually live there for the first time since my early childhood.
The results of this experiment: extreme homesickness and a serious decline in mental health that took a couple of years to overcome.
When my flight landed back in the UK, I looked outside, saw the dreary weather, and felt a sudden sense of relief: I was home.
For some years now, I have only had British citizenship. Losing my original citizenship hasn’t nearly affected me as much as I thought it would.
I thought this was all settled, until the pandemic hit, and suddenly anti-Asian hate spiked to unprecedented levels. Lockdown came into effect in March 2020, but, as an Asian woman living alone in London, I had made the decision to go into self-imposed lockdown for my own safety towards the end of 2019 — rarely going anywhere other than my flat, my university, and the local supermarket. By May 2020, the stress of everything caused serious mental ill-health.
That said, I have still been quite fortunate to have had my life. I am rarely subject to abuse like “go home”, and, even when I am, I am usually secure enough in my own self-confidence and support system to be able to not let it affect me too much — though, of course, it still hurts and I’m pretty sure I have internalised some of it.
Many young people and women are not as lucky as I am, and that is why I think it is extremely important for me to use my experiences and privilege to make a difference for those who, bar a few coincidences of life, could well have been me. I have had a good education in diverse surroundings with little deprivation. I believe I should know better than to let abuse or discrimination against others slide — particularly when they address ethnicity, gender, or immigration status.
Funnily enough, the midst of my last mental health crisis is when I joined JAN Trust and found a new purpose. I feel like I have been able to channel my negative experiences into something positive and, although some will always think differently, I have found my home and what makes me feel at home.