Redefining Tradition Away From Home

Photo by Francesca Bernardino

By Francesca Bernardino

Homesickness never lingers, but arrives in doses potent enough to send me into an unfittingly pensive mood as I drag two weeks’ worth of laundry to the basement or eat some variation of a black bean burger for dinner for the third time that week. Though feelings of missing home dissipate as quickly as they came, mirage-like, they still bring on a sense of guilt for the sheer excitement I felt when leaving for college. Surely owed in some part to my eagerness to escape perpetual quarantine-induced lethargy, my itch to leave was mostly propelled by the appeal of being somewhere completely unknown to me. Prior to actually being in college, I relished in the fact that not a single soul in St. Paul knew me before. I’ve never been one to need to be dragged away from familiarity kicking and screaming. I welcome new experiences; in fact, I like to think I thrive in them. Yet, my time so far here in St. Paul speaks volumes to how I took the familiarity of my hometown of Las Vegas for granted. 

I went to a high school where most students were Asian, so I’m not trying to invoke the ”child of immigrants searching for a sense of ‘belonging’ in community service and study groups” that carried all of my college admission essays. If I’m being honest, most of my essays invoking feelings of alienation were mainly intended to stir the hearts of a college admissions office; I rarely truly felt out of place in high school. Now, at what’s definitely a Primarily White Institution in the Midwest, I realize I seem to have written myself into that very notion of displacement. I know what it sounds like- I don’t want to sit here and feed you a repackaged alienation narrative. I certainly don’t want this to be an Instagram infographic-esque call to action, either. While I’m talking about what it can feel like to be the only Filipina in the room, I am also talking about the ubiquitous missing something you know well, especially when you’re faced with a slew of new people, places, and things during the holidays, a time usually saved for those you know and love.

As the holidays and pervasive doom of finals approach, I’ve been catching myself preoccupied with almost daydream-like visions of how my life would be going if I were in Las Vegas. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying my time here, though; I happily partake in the most cliche of activities fit for the front of a college brochure, like lawn picnics, walks around campus, and getting boba during study breaks. While nice diversions, however, these mundanities can serve as fuel for homesickness, too. Trying to find a regular order at the boba shop by campus (despite the fact that none of the drinks could possibly rival my go-to orders at my favorite shop at home) and wondering how I’d make new friends laugh if we played Jackbox together (even though I haven’t once been presented with a single opportunity to play) are just a few of the ultra-specific yet ever-persistent thoughts I’ve had during my first semester of college. 

Often, I wonder if I just miss what my friends and what we’d do together at home, or if the lack of Filipinx representation at my school works to exacerbate my feelings of homesickness. In high school, I was painfully unaware of how much of my interactions with others were shaped by my identity as a Filipina. A semester at a Midwestern college where the pinnacle of Asian heritage lies in the Panda Express-esque dining hall section helped me realize that my identity and the traditions I maintain with my friends shouldn’t have to exist separately.

In (a slightly frantic) response to my new environment, I joined my college’s Filipinx cultural organization in the fall. Nearly one semester in, the club is a much-needed anchor between the new life I’m trying to construct here and my unchangeable identity. Aside from that, it’s shown me the importance of adaptability, especially during a time of the year when I’m constantly looking towards home as fall and winter traditions proceed while I’m living out of my little dorm room. 

As a member of the club, I’ve never had to sacrifice one facet of my identity for another. While we share Filipino meals reminiscent of my mom’s home recipes, I see our walks through the neighborhoods around campus and our favorite card games as the beginnings of new traditions. Our makeshift Thanksgiving consisted of leftovers in plastic Tupperware and endless games of Smash Bros. in a dorm common room, and I couldn’t have asked for a better Thanksgiving away from home. Prior to finding my school’s cultural organization, I felt like I was constantly creating new personas, sacrificing elements of my identity that should never have to be shelved for the sake of convenience. While the past few months have been fun, I’m quite exhausted- and a large contributor to my fatigue is the balancing act I’ve tried to keep up as I scrambled for a sense of familiarity and tradition. 

As my first semester of college draws to a close, I’ve had lots of time to reflect on what this semester has left me with. Being part of a cultural organization and having a support system, while exactly what I needed, doesn’t change the fact that I am at an incredibly white school- however, it makes it much easier to create traditions that allow each part of my identity to exist fully. I spent much of fall searching for replicas of traditions I loved at home, but now that winter’s here, I’ve realized that trying to recreate what makes me feel at home here in St. Paul is pointless. That’s not to say you should abandon all hope to try and make a home away from home, however. What’s important is that you allow all parts of yourself and the traditions you’ve loved to exist in any way possible, despite all the newness.


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