To be Native

Regardless of where you live now, have lived, or will live, you had a birthplace and a place of upbringing. You are a native of that place.

To say you are a native of some place brings a sense of belonging, if not pride. Even if the town you came from is small, it is still somewhere to call home, somewhere you can trace your ancestry back to. For in China, seemingly more than anywhere else, your roots are important.

Early on in any introduction you are asked where we are from; moreover, where your parents are from. Even if your mother was born overseas but her parents were from Guangzhou, you are categorized into that region forever after. If you are a young professional in Beijing but your parents live in Shanxi, you still fall short of being a true Beijing denizen. You are tall although the people in this region are short, because you are not of this place. If you grew up in Shanghai, but you speak no Shanghainese because your parents are from another province, you are still not a true Shanghainese. From your accent and your use of words, locals can brand you as one kind of Chinese or another.

But if you can identify with the same hometown and same dialect as someone else, a bond is formed. Immigrants meet each other overseas and realize they lived just a few blocks away from each other in their hometown. The upbringing and social life they had there is unique to that region and that time. Watching the high school scenes acted out in “那些年我们一起追的女孩“ (You are the Apple of my Eye), I realize that these immigrants probably experienced many elements from the movie that I never did. No matter how well they may have adapted to life in another place, they will connect because of their shared childhood experiences.

Roots go far beyond understanding your family tree. Roots are where your family settled and lived for generations, literally sinking roots into the ground there. You gain a social and cultural capital because of the relatives and their friends that spring up from those roots. The olympic games each time demonstrate the significance of native locale through the distinct cultural heritage and the genetic traits each country possesses.

Perhaps as more and more people travel and move, their shiftiness has made others uneasy. The human mind wishes to organize the world neatly into definite parts, but in reality society is far more complex. Like third-culture kids who spend their lives in international schools around the world, you meet many immigrants who seem to have no base, no native land, and are thus difficult to categorize. The brain is unwilling to accept heterogeneity outside of certain parameters.

New York City, the melting pot, falls within these bounds. You can accept that different ethnicities can all be native New Yorkers. I am one.

To be a true native is growing rarer as families move more frequently and children study abroad. But the birthplace and the relatives there you can always go back to. For the grandparents are always waiting at the old house for the young ones to return home.

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