I recently visited a medical centre to get some travel vaccines, and out of curiosity, the receptionist asked me to where was I travelling. I replied, saying I was going to Brazil. Having put together my name, how I looked and sounded, she interjected with the question, ‘Is that home for you?’ I wasn’t sure what to answer. It was such a simple question, but it certainly provoked some interesting thoughts and feelings that have been bubbling inside me for some time now.
Is Brazil home for me? Let me think. I was born there, I am a Brazilian citizen, speak fluent Portuguese and have relatives living there. But does that make Brazil home? On the flipside, I have lived in Brazil for a total of 16 out of my 36 years – that is only 44% of my existence. I haven’t been back to Brazil since I left for Australia in 2008 – that is a total of nine years without setting foot in my ‘home country’. And until last year, I could say that I didn’t have any close family living there until, after ten years in the Netherlands, my parents decided to return to Brazil after my father’s retirement.
So if Brazil doesn’t feel like home, then where is ‘home’? I would have liked to think Australia was home. Why such doubt? After all, I have been living in Australia for nine years; I am an Australian citizen, speak good English (albeit with an accent) have an Australian girlfriend, good Australian friends and enjoy doing Australian things. I would have liked to think that I integrated myself enough that I could consider Australia home.
That lady’s innocent question reminded me that it is not that simple. Being an NLP Practitioner, I have the ability to hear what was not said – to read between the lines. That simple question, ‘Is that home for you?’ presupposes that home is not Australia and therefore, I don’t fully belong here. It reminded me that I am a foreigner who was born and raised somewhere else. Despite living here for nearly a decade and being a citizen, if you don’t look like someone from the cast of Home and Away, don’t have the Aussie nasal twang, or don’t have an Anglo name such as Shayne or Wayne, for most native-born, white Australians, your home country cannot be the same as theirs and that your true home will always be somewhere else.
I am not accusing that poor lady of racism or xenophobia. I am sure she didn’t mean any harm. She was lovely and friendly. In fact, I wouldn’t say I was insulted, but slightly confused and disappointed. It was a reminder that when you leave your native country, there is a feeling of being rootless. There is a constant reminder you don’t fully belong to your new country, and it also feels you no longer belong to your old country either, as your values, beliefs, and culture have changed.
That lady wasn’t the only person who reminded me Australia was not home. A few years back, after asking me where I was from, one of my students innocently asked, ‘How often do you go home?’ My answer was, “Every night after work.” He looked at me startled having noted the slight lack of sensitivity in his choice of words. He then quickly proceeded to rephrase his question with, ‘How often do you see your family?’
On that note, how else could that curiosity for someone’s background be satiated? Well, it is just a matter of carefully wording questions to something more like, ‘is that where you are from originally? Is that where your family lives? Is that your cultural background? Is that where you were born?’
Even if someone believes an immigrant’s home is where they came from, they can at least be polite with better-worded questions that acknowledge that although they were not born in Australia, this country could still be their home.
In a nation where 28% of the population was born overseas, making immigrants feel at ‘home’ will sure go a long way to how we get along and progress as a multicultural society.