Thursday, October 18, 2012

Where are you from?

Me at Emon Beach circa 1995

Since I left Kwajalein in 2002, I am constantly asked the question, “Where are you from?” For me, this has always been a dreaded question. Most of the time, people do not really genuinely care, it’s just one of those questions you ask, akin to “What’s your name?” and “What do you do?” This is another sad fact of life today; however for me this question still carries importance, as I believe that the answer defines me as a person. I am fiercely proud of my humble beginnings on Kwajalein. I love everything that Kwajalein gave me, specifically a childhood as perfect as they get. Nonetheless, it is sometimes a difficult question to answer.
After I left Kwajalein, I moved to Alabama and later went to college in Mississippi. Do I say that I’m from Alabama? Not really. I lived in Alabama for eight years, but I’m not “from” there and I don’t identify with what makes Alabama, Alabama. I’m certainly not from Mississippi. My mother is from Connecticut and my father is from Wisconsin. Do I try and claim either place? No. Sometimes when I am asked this question, I go with, “I went to high school in Alabama.” It’s much easier than describing Kwajalein and it leaves room for interpretation. Most of the time when I answer, “Kwajalein, Marshall Islands” people just nod their head and smile. This is interesting to me, because I know almost certainly that they have no knowledge of Kwajalein and the magical place that it is.
This lack of understanding and knowledge is something that I try to eradicate.   When I get to explain where I grew up, I do so with a smile, pride and the bittersweet nostalgia of a time long since passed. After my explanation some people say, “Well, you’re American. You’re not FROM there.” No matter how silly it sounds, this offends me. I may not be Marshallese, but I am from the Marshall Islands; I am from Kwajalein. I was born there and raised there. I even have a Marshallese birth certificate.
I happily spent more of my life living on Kwajalein than anywhere else in this world. When I think of my one-of-a-kind childhood, my mind drifts back to bonfires on Coral Sands, the snack bar that always gave me more chicken nuggets than I ordered, sandy floors, watching the nighttime missions on Emon Beach, buying donuts alone as a four year old (and then crying when I lost the change that I put in my basket), my custom bike my Dad constructed, shaving cream socials, day trips to Bigej, watching the dolphins swim alongside our B-boat, ocean side tide pools, the sound of monsoon rains on my trailer, going to my Mom’s work every day after school, riding my bike home for lunch, husked coconuts, using “Yokwe!” as a common greeting, feeling like I was part of a large, extended family clustered on a tiny island and so much more. I could go on for days about my home, and that’s what Kwajalein really is to me: Home, in every sense of the word and all that word implies.