I attend a facilitated discussion called Aristotle’s Café most Monday evenings. It’s organized through meetup.com. Attendees sit in a circle and select a question to answer and discuss over the course of an hour. All opinions are welcome, and anyone is free to join. While there are always familiar faces, there has been new blood at nearly every meeting I’ve participated in.
After last week’s meeting, I got into a discussion with a girl who was joining us for the first time. The first thing I asked her, as has become habitual for me since I’ve lived in Hawaii and Thailand, was where she hails from. While I quickly say “the US” or “New York” anytime someone asks me the same question, she was far slower in responding. It turns out that she was Portuguese-Angolan and was born in Macau. For those who don’t know, Portugal is located on the west coast of Spain, Angola is in southern Africa, and Macau is an autonomous peninsula of southern China with a complicated history. Macau was once a Portuguese territory, as was Angola, so that makes some sense of the girl’s ancestral history.
We wound up on the subject of national sovereignty and the boiling conflicts over globalism, immigration, and free trade. What I think I may have realized during our discussion is the source of these conflicts.
As someone who has spent nearly a decade of his life in far-from-home, exotic regions like Hawaii, Northeastern Thailand, and Bangkok, I am totally comfortable being immersed within cultures and peoples that have little in common with what I’m used to. Having a large portion of my family in North Carolina and visiting them often during my childhood has shaped me in this way as well. I am certainly more comfortable speaking and dealing with Americans compared to everyone else, but I still have no problem getting along with others, even if we have our differences.
The girl from Macau is likely even more comfortable in diverse and exotic environments than me as she has lived in and traveled to many more places than I have. But something she said made me realize that there is an important distinction between us. She told me that she does not feel at home in her birthplace of Macau. She knows some people who she can visit, but it is simply not a warm and embracing community or home to return to. I, on the other hand, feel incredibly welcome, comfortable, and at home when I visit New York, particularly in my little suburban town on Long Island. It feels a bit like going back in time to a place I once knew in my youth every time I return. From my house to the roads to the food to the people, it simply feels like a place where I belong.
As you can probably imagine, the girl from Macau was on the left side of the spectrum politically. She came off as incredibly open-minded, and she appreciated a little preview of Libertarianism I provided her. But she had never heard a Libertarian point of view, nor did she have any familiarity with Conservatism. To her, Conservative ideas were backwards, bigoted, and mean, though I think she gained a newfound respect for them after our talk.
One view she expressed clearly was a desire for open borders. She would like it to be easier to travel from place to place and for people to be able to settle and work where they please.
And this, I believe, is the tough-to-reconcile conflict of our time. The girl from Macau is, in a certain sense, a homeless global citizen. She does not understand the meaning of home the way I do, and especially not the way a mom-and-pop shop owner in Middle America would. It’s not that she resents people who have a true hometown, but that she cannot empathize with what that feels like. She does not value the comfort of living near her roots because she is still searching for her own.
Compare this to a rural man living in a community where everyone knows each other’s names; a man who has visited the same church every Sunday since he was a kid; a man whose surname has resided around his address for decades, centuries, or more. While the girl from Macau knows everything except what it feels like to be home, the rural man knows little else. The girl from Macau, with no intended malice, seeks to reform and reshape the established homes of others, and the rural man, with no intended malice, seeks to defend his home from invaders from the outside world.
Our last president was a half-Kenyan, half-White American, raised in Hawaii, who spent years in Indonesia and Chicago, and was abandoned by his father. Could Barack Obama possibly understand what it feels like to be home the way the rural man does?
Our current president has built an empire in the city of his birth, and has spent more than three decades from the safety of a golden tower that bears his name, the name of the father who invested everything in him. Could anyone be more worried about losing home than Donald Trump?
Trump’s 2016 electoral map displays the enormous divide between the colorful, international, and rapidly evolving metros and the familiar, proud, and settled open spaces of America. The former disrespects and shuns the latter. And the latter fears and hates the former.
The issue of home is global and at the heart of nearly every current major conflict. Some want to erase national borders; others want to put up walls. Some want to trade freely; others want trade wars. Some seek the expansion of international alliances; others want to see them dissolved. Some offer a maternal embrace to displaced refugees; others, with fatherly caution, want to keep them at arm’s length. Some want to be judged solely on their individual merits; others want to endow their identities with rights.
I hope that those who value their homes dearly will try their best to share with those who don’t. And I hope those who do not have a home will realize that some of their ideals may threaten the happiness and safety of those who do. If we don’t learn to understand and respect each other this way, resentment and hate will surely fester.