I know, I know. The saying is sticking out like a sore thumb.
I’ve always felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb, my whole life. Whether I was the only student in my class with an American accent or the only person of color in a room (Whether it be lighter than the rest, or a tad darker). It was hard not to notice how much I stuck out. It became such an important and distinguished part of who I was — how much I stuck out or how much I fit in.
For many years I weighed myself and my identity based on that concept. Do I stick out like a sore thumb or do I stick in? Do “others” see me as one of their own, or as other? Am I with or without acceptance, belonging, and kinship?
I am neither this nor that. Not quite fitting into the mold and makeup of the places that I lived, the people that I rubbed shoulders with. I’ve always tried to blend into the environment that I was in, to fit into the constructs of a society, of a people. But as much I molded and tried. I still stuck out a little.
The most hated question
Everyone has that one question that they hate answering when meeting someone for the first time. Mine? Mine is ‘Where are you from?’ I hate that question. Even now at 26, I slightly cringe when I hear the question. Always uncertain and cautious when answering. Why you ask? Because sharing my family background and upbringing is very difficult and complicated. Even to this day. My identity, who I am, was and is, complicated. Even now in writing this blog post, I don’t quite know how to phrase it. Okay. Breath. Here we go:
- My father is from Seattle, Washington, and went to Papua New Guinea in the 80s to become a missionary.
- My mother is from Papua New Guinea and lived there her whole life until she met and married my father.
- I was born in Papua New Guinea and grew up there for most of my childhood.
- I spent year-long furloughs (missionary term for coming to [country of orgin] to rest, connect with [home] churches, and with partners) for grades 1st, 4th, and 9th.
- I came to the US for college from 2012-2016
- I have been living in the US since 2016
- I am a dual-citizen of both countries and held passports for both countries until my 18th birthday.
Oh wow. That’s a lot. Sorry, you asked yet? 😉
So why share a long list of bullet points to explain my identity and background? This isn’t the best way to explain who I am or answer the question where are you from? BUT I hate putting myself into a box. The box manufactured by words, by language, by people’s perception – it’s too small.
My history and my background is so colorful, complicated, and beautiful it’s hard to explain with a couple of words. I am from 2 countries, with 2 cultures, with 2 races, lived in multiple cities, towns, and states. I moved a lot, back and forth, went to a handful of schools, and met new people every time I moved.
I care for both my cultures and both my backgrounds that it feels like an act of betrayal to say that I am one or the other. It felt like a betrayal of my parents, my countries, and myself. I want to stick out like a sore thumb. At least a little…
This balancing act that I have played my whole life is exhausting. Trying to stay true to who I was but not share my whole life story with every new friend in the first five minutes of meeting. It’s very draining to know who to share which parts with so that I would fit in and most importantly not make the other person(s) uncomfortable.
I woke up one rainy April morning in 2020, feeling lonely and isolated. There’s a global pandemic going on and the US had government-mandated everyone to isolate ourselves. I laid in my bed, contemplating my loneliness, the isolation that had become my life due to the pandemic. Wait, was this really the reason?
I started to think about my overall life. I was in an isolating job, that kept me on the road. But even before that, I kept myself away from others and making connections. Why? And as a reel of excuses and complaints raced through my head, the truth hit me. It hit me hard. That somewhere along my 26 years of life, I had decided that sharing who I was with others was too complicated. Too uncomfortable. That I would stick out too much. My identity and my background that I had been so proud of for years, was too complicated and too hard to share…. So why try at all.
Without effort, I had made myself a chameleon. Blending, no, fading into the background until I had completely vanished. I had no color, no flavor, just another person “sticking in” to the mainstream society. Sticking in because I didn’t want to stick out. I did the very thing that I didn’t want to do, I buried my two cultures, my two countries, even my two races. I had betrayed myself. The very thing that I did not want to do, was to choose between my worlds. And I had chosen none.
By choosing none, my relationships and friendships weren’t as authentic, but just a blending. Friends would talk and laugh about the nickelodeon shows they watched as kids, or talk about the fad toys they grew up playing with. I’d just smile and nod, pretending to understand, but not connecting. Not knowing and being a part of it. It left me lonely.
I am a sore thumb.
A thumb looks and functions slightly different than the other fingers on a hand. I tried to bend and bruise my thumb to make it look and feel like the other fingers, but it just left me sore. And it left me still a thumb.
I started this blog in hopes to find other sore thumbs, people who don’t quite fit in anywhere but instead fit in everywhere or nowhere at all. Which is okay.
Which I think is great!