The Concept of Home

As the boundaries that denote our physical spaces and group identities become more blurred, individuals may become more and less tied to their imaginaries of home and ethnicity — while we, as human beings, seems to always have the desire to “go home,” the construction and idea of what it means to be “home” is changing in a new, complex way due to the technology, and therefore, mass migrations that we are seeing in today’s world.

china adoption

China’s one-child only law created a spike in adoptions about 10 years ago, particularly, in situations where an American family adopts a Chinese female baby (often abandoned because of the value of a son in Chinese culture). This increase in the amount of multiethnic families resulted in a generation of children who have a nontraditional, new concept of what it means to call something a “home.”(

In the article, the authors mention Clifford’s question: “What does it mean, at the end of the twentieth century, to speak . . . of a ‘native land’?” (9). At 8 months old, I was adopted from Hunan, China, and brought to the United States of America by two white parents. While I have few memories of China (thanks to a two week visit) and many memories of growing up in America, the question of what my “native land” is becomes complicated.  Due to my physical appearance, many would infer that my “native land” is one in Asia. My memories and experiences, however, tell me otherwise. To others, my identity is certainly more tied to my group identity, while to myself, my identity becomes a complex, blurred thing tied both to my physical space thanks to growing up in America and also having a Chinese heritage. What I identify as my culture as a Chinese American, therefore, “cease[s] to be plausibly identifiable on a map” as a single location (11). I also wonder what it means to lack what Gupta and Ferguson call a single “remembered place,” an imaginary home (11). Home, for me, is two places, halfway across the world from each other. As an adoptee, I belong fully in neither place, but still hold agency to call both places my home. In both, I am insider and outsider, neither fully one nor the other. As our society becomes more and more interconnected and globalized, it seems that the emphasis on “remembering where you came from” still holds true. However, this idea of “home,” for many, can take on many different constructions, and I wonder, with the incredible speed and capabilities we have today for various types of migration, if “home” will eventually cease to be tied to a single physical entity, and instead, become more tied to an individual’s unique history in our global society.

Shared Humanity

“I am what I am because of who we all are,” said Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee in her TED talk, defining the term “ubuntu.” This concept, addressed by the likes of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, is difficult to define but has to do with the recognition of humanity in others, as described by Gbowee. Tutu explains it in his memoir as “my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours,” the connections and community we share as a result of our humanity.

This closed circle of children, feet touching, evokes a strong sense of community - while each child is an individual, each child is also needed to create the circle, to create this community.

This closed circle of children, feet touching, evokes a strong sense of community – while each child is an individual, each child is also needed to create the circle, to create this community.

While I remember the first time I saw the photo of “The Boy on the Beach,” I never wondered why it went viral, as Charles Homans discusses in his article. Homans describes empathy as “a measure of distance from one experience to another,” a definition that is certainly tied to the idea of Ubuntu. For many, the boy in the photo is not so distant; for many, Aylan Kurdi is an “insider” to their culture and community, making it easy to empathize with him. Kurdi’s “humanity” is instantly recognizable, something that causes us to instinctively understand our connection to him, to understand that we cannot truly be “human” alone.

Perhaps this photo of Kurdi is so powerful, so compelling because it evokes such a strong sense of humanity in us. We are able to understand the connection we hold to the boy in the photo easily, we are able to see him in our community, and realize that our lives and actions, however small they may seem, hold meaning across the world.