Homeland is where we long to be. As French philosopher Jacques Derrida put it, it is “where our ancestors lie or the immovable place where all travel and distance begin.” Perhaps this is the reason why some people who lived in foreign lands wish to be buried where they were born. But not for American writer Ha Jin, who visited Korea last week to receive the first Bucheon Diaspora Literary Award. He says that homeland is where one puts his/her roots down. It is not some place that you left behind, but where you build.
Ha’s words resonate his life. He decided to seek asylum while watching televised scenes from the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. He became famous for his literary work with Chinese background written in English, winning National Book Awards. The Chinese government regarded him as a traitor and forbid him to enter China for several years. However, he believes that the betrayal is done by the nation that killed innocent young people, not himself. China was a “mother that had eaten her own children,” which is why he does not regard China as his homeland.
However, in psychological reality, things are different. Ha refers to America as his home but constantly reverts to China, as seen from Chinese immigrant characters in his work. Perhaps this is because he had left his homeland in his 30s when his ethical identity was already established. Unlike his words, the U.S. might not be his real homeland or home.
He returned to the U.S. after his visit to Korea without visiting his homeland, though it was just a few hours away. Then again, he had lived that way for 36 years. He had not even been able to visit to mourn for his parents when they passed away. It was a cruel punishment. His being made him a diaspora writer whose works reveal wounds of the past.