The more time I spend outside of the United States, the less I identify with the United States of America.
The United States is too big for me to identify with it.
Aside from some days spent in Kaohsiung, I have spent all of the past year and some months in Northern Taiwan, which is about 6,000 square kilometers. The United States – not including Alaska, Hawaii – is well over 7,000,000 square kilometers.
And while I think I’ve finally managed to scratch a bit below the surface of Northern Taiwan, there’s the rest of Taiwan … and the idea of a place as big as the United States breaks my brain..
The reality is, I am not from the United States of America as a whole. I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, which is merely corner of the United States. And I spent most of my life in San Francisco, where it is easy to forget that the rest of the Bay Area exists (I did also live in Oakland and Mountain View, so I feel connected to the greater Bay Area as well).
I have done a bit of travelling around California, particularly Northern California, and I took a California history class in college. Yet I have spent more time in Kaohsiung than Los Angeles, and I’ve never been to San Diego. There only other states where I have spent a significant amount of time are Oregon and Florida, but I’ve spent only weeks in Oregon, and I have not been to Florida since I was eight years old.
What connection do I feel with people in, say, Vermont? We have a common language, some common history, and we are both under the power of Washington D.C. Government. But I have spent years without thinking about Vermont even once, and I know almost nothing about Vermont (I did, when I was a kid, read a novel that partially took place in Vermont – that ‘s about it).
And people often ask me questions about the United States and what people there think. To which I often have to respond ‘I only know what it’s like in San Francisco / California’ or ‘I don’t know’.
I do not think of myself as being from ‘the United States’, at least not in a way that is central to my identity. I am from San Francisco, which happens to be in the United States, but I feel connected to the United States through San Francisco rather than having a direct relationship. When somebody asks me ‘Where are you from?’ my default answer is ‘Jiùjīnshān‘ not ‘Měiguó’.