As I was traveling back to Andrews University from my high school's alumni weekend, my friend and I spent the car ride reminiscing about high school and how bittersweet the visit felt. We joked about how the idea of going back was better than actually going because we didn't recognize any of the students and most of the staff (even the campus felt different). Somewhere along the trip the conversation shifted, and we spent most of the night talking about the bittersweet feeling of going back to our home countries.
I moved to the US from the Dominican Republic in 2008, and being here a year shy of a decade has left me feeling without a place to call my own. Every time I go back, there are new sayings and roads I don't recognize, customs I follow less and less, and more family that refers to me as la gringa (white girl). Oddly enough, the longer I'm in America the more I became the face of all things Dominican and Platano (Plantain) Cuisine related topics. . .which is super (not) fun for me. As of recently I've found myself stuck between proving I'm Dominican to my family, and yelling at all the Americans that I don't speak for all Dominicans #BiCulturalProblems. This limbo posits a lot of confusion in my little heart sometimes. There are days I want to go home so bad and then I remember I'm a foreigner in the place that birthed me and a visitor in the home that raised me.
I think going home feels less like home the longer one is away. For a long time I've struggled coming to terms with all that I left behind, which in hindsight boils down to a series of what-ifs based on childhood memories I cherish but at times idolize. I loved—love—the Dominican Republic and my phenomenal childhood that consisted of randoms trips to the beach on weekdays, telenovelas with Grandma after school, and going to the colmado (corner store), and getting caught up with the sounds of drunken laughter, salsa and the array of colorful chip options. I'm grateful for every second of it, but growth requires more than staying in your happy place.
In the middle of the conversation we both started considering what it would've been like if we had stayed home and not come to the United States—would I know all the latest bachatas? Find my way with ease around town? Know how to make pasteles (similar to a tamale) and sancocho (a traditional soup)? Possibly dress more lady-like, and know how to do my own tubis (protective hairstyle) without my mom's help? As we each compared what-ifs, sadness settled in our hearts, but after a few jokes about some not-so great alternatives, we remembered God makes the best out of any situation placed in his hands.
Coming here wasn't an easy transition for my friend and me. It still isn't easy. But it is where God wants us, so it is where we want to be. Missing home sucks, but remembering that our forever home isn't far away helps ease the pain a bit. Ultimately, I enjoyed my ride back. It was one of those bittersweet conversations were I felt so understood by the end of it that it took most of the bitterness away.