Image credit: Nathalie Grogan

April 21, 2021

A Military Child Learns What It Means to Be an American. By Leaving

By Nathalie Grogan

“So, where are you from?” The question used to throw me whenever it was asked, long after it was reasonable to be confused as to the answer. I didn’t know where I was from. What does it mean to be “from” a place, anyway?

And how could I be “from” a place I was excited to return to, but had to rely on secondhand memories to recall?

Although born in the United States, my relationship with my country began in an unorthodox way. At six weeks old, I left the city and state of my birth to await my father’s orders in the U.S. Army. At six months old, I was on my way across the world to begin eight years of frequent moves. Two years in Seoul, South Korea, and the addition of a younger brother; three years in Givry, Belgium, and the arrival of a baby sister; two years in Herndon, Virginia; and a final move from Virginia to upstate New York. And each time I would start at a new school, make new friends, attend a new ballet studio, join a new soccer team, and side-eye the question, “So, where are you from?”

The ideal America that I learned about—and observed at a distance—doesn’t exist anywhere but in my mind. It’s my home because of my commitment to the ideals that we have never fully lived up to but will always strive for.

When my parents told my brother and me that our next move would be from Europe to Virginia, I burst into tears. Confused, since I had previously begged my parents to fast-track our next move as I was “bored,” my dad asked me why I was upset. Was I sad about leaving my friends? he asked. I could be pen pals with them, which was a lot of fun.

“No,” I sobbed. “I don’t want to go to Virginia—you said we were going to the States!”

Now, as this story gets repeated at every family gathering, I flash back to the little kindergartener who was excited to return to the country of her birth but who had just begun to realize that she didn’t know America at all.

Read the full article from The War Horse.

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