Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Comfort of the Familiar

It was a few years ago that I had the realization - my entire being would relax when I heard Tagalog. It was something I'm sure I'd experienced prior to the realization, but it hit me one day that though I couldn't understand what was being said, my mind just let the words and intonations roll over it without struggle or effort.

I've since concluded that the reason for that response is based in my childhood and before. My mom was pregnant with me in the Philippines, and when we returned to the States we made lots of Filipino friends. Much of my early childhood took place surrounded by commingled Tagalog and English, and it's comfortable.

Once or twice in my life that sort of realization has hit me in other ways: when I'm surrounded by Chinese, I forget my skin color and height and think I look like them. When I enter an Asian market my mind knows exactly where to look for the products most Americans wouldn't ever think to buy.

The other week I was at the Willow Grove Walmart and an Indian family passed me in the aisle, the boy in the cart chattering away in Hindi, the parents discussing whether or not to buy this and that, their voices mingling with their son's, the tones skimming up and down scales in ways that English never does. And I closed my eyes for a moment to enjoy the sound, and felt my mind relax, without even wondering why.

Today I went to the library in my hometown. In the space of five minutes I passed four Indian families and scanned a shelf of DVDs with 3 in Hindi and 2 in Punjabi. And I suddenly realized that the faces and languages of a country I've never set foot in have become familiar comforts. When I find them in another place, I think of home.

What's home? The familiar. To me the familiar is a mix of countries and cultures. When I see those faces, hear those languages: I'm home.

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