What Is Home? A Hmong-American Woman Reflects On The Many Homes She’s Had

Home. What is home?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives us two definitions: 1) the place (such as a house or apartment) where a person lives, and 2) a family living together in one building, house, etc.

A child in primary school could possibly tell us this, if exposed to the word “home” at an early age. As for me, English was not my first language…

This week’s reader-contributed story addresses an intriguing topic for those who’ve spent a good deal of time on the road: Home

Lysa Yang is a second generation Hmong, an entire ethnicity who over the decades has had to reevaluate their understanding of what home is to them. Today’s story, however, focuses on Lysa as she shares her home-life growing up, moving abroad, and then starting her career back in the US.

Lysa Yang
Lysa Yang

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In kindergarten my teacher asked me what kind of home I lived in: an apartment or a house? I remember not being able to answer her, because I didn’t know there was a difference. Wasn’t a “home” just a pentagon with a rooftop, two windows, and a door? I was living in one for sure, or at least I could draw one.

For homework that evening, I had to ask my dad what kind of home we were living in. Turns out I was living in an apartment at that time, out in Fresno, California. Throughout my youth, I would find myself in more apartments and houses around Fresno and then a few more when we moved to the Twin Cities.

Today, my parent’s home is a yellow split-level house outside Minneapolis. But when I was there as a teenager, it was faded blue—the original color. To me, it is still blue. Whenever I return home to see my parents and younger siblings, I still think I’ll be greeted by such a color. It took pictures of the house to remind me that the building is no longer the calm, easy-going, laid-back blue I’ve always known it to be. Instead, it is now a look-at-me yellow.

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At least I can now tell my kindergarten teacher (should fate ever bring us back together) what kind of home I–or my parents–live in.

Yet a house is a just a place; a home is a feeling. And while I love my family, I have to admit that I’ve never felt at home with them. I’ve always experienced a sense of awkwardness, being out of place, and alone in my family home.

As an active little Fresno girl with a shoulder-length bob and bangs, I never wanted to be home. I enjoyed being at school, and I loved being at my niamtais‘s house (maternal grandmother in Hmong).  There I could run around and be happy.

I spent the first 12 years of my life running in and around niamtais‘s house with my cousins. I loved it there. But that part of my childhood was to come to an end when my parents packed up all our belongings and made a three-day car trip to Minnesota.

I would only return to niamtais‘s two more times afterwards.

The second trip was last summer. I treated myself to a vacation at my aunt’s place (now that niamtais passed away about 15 years ago). The one-and-a-half weeks there passed by too quickly. The day before my departure, I found myself weeping silently in the back of my cousin’s car as we drove down the mountains of the Sequoia National Park. If my cousin and her husband noticed me, they didn’t say.

I would be leaving my home one more time.

My family and I in Fresno.
My family and me in Fresno.

Yet I have found other homes since I first left California.

Two years ago, I made a bold decision to move to Daegu, South Korea. Professionally, I felt it would add more experience to my teaching as well as allow me to travel. Personally, I needed to “find myself.” After having been separated from my home in Fresno for so long and lacking emotional, mental, and spiritual support from my family, my spirit had finally broke. I walked around as one unsure of herself, numb to all emotions…yet emotional. The happy me was gone, and I wanted to find her again.

For a whole year, I lived in South Korea with the me I had been searching for. I learned to love myself again, and I also learned to love my new home.

My home in Daegu
My home in Daegu
My neighborhood
My neighborhood
My colleagues and friends
My colleagues and friends

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I realized how at-home good friends made me feel. And after returning to the States, I was able to gain support from my friends here. They became–and still are–another home to me:

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My most recent home lies in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is a charter school set in an old Catholic school building. It is filled with love, laughter, and support. Like my California and my Korea, this home is not to stay with me forever. But I know I will always find my way home, because I’ve learned that home is where the heart is.

Home is not a polygon with a rooftop, windows, and a door. Home is a feeling. Home is created by people who come together and love you for who you are, and who will always do their best to make you happy. Because in the end, you too create a home for them.

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Lysa Yang is a 4th grade teacher. She enjoys reading and writing, watching Dr Who, and spending time with her friends. According to said friends, she is a go-getter, independent, and honest.

If you’d like to share your story on The Periphery, please email me at Brandon@ThePeriphery.com. We’d love to hear all about your adventure.

What say you?