Nostalgia – the warm effervescent feeling within my chest that bubbles up like champagne and expands to fill the tips of my toes while I listen to the deep baritone timbre of Frank Sinatra; the unexplained contentment that floods my veins when I hear the sound of crackling vinyl at the conclusion of a record; the peculiar sense of familiarity, like déjà vu, when I watch the artificially vivid cinematography of decades-old Technicolor films. For me, nostalgia has never just been a longing for something in my past – it’s an internal awakening of the mind, the content sighing of my soul enraptured by moments lost in time, the act of being fully present in the past. Since transitioning into high school, I’ve always felt out of place – or rather, out of time. I couldn’t bring myself to care for the hip-hop tracks infested with the teeth-rattling trap beats my peers listened to. Instead, I wanted to bask in the warm sultry voice of Billie Holiday, sipping a warm cup of tea by the fireplace on a cold winter night. And while my friends were playing sports, I was seated at a piano or grasping the wooden neck of my violin as if training to become a lady from the upper echelons of society in the 18th century.
But regardless of my sentimentalism, I knew that entire sections of my identity were undeniably shaped by the culture of my generation, alienating me from the past. For instance, as an Asian-American woman, I could never fulfill my desire to pursue my own personal career in previous eras. Additionally, in the 21st century I could become friends with whomever I wanted or love whomever I wanted without fear of social ostracism. I wasn’t prepared to give up all the freedoms and privileges I had acquired as a result of living in the modern world, and eventually I had to accept this. But my acceptance changed nothing about my predicament – I still remained disconnected from my peers. I felt in between places, suspended in a state of limbo between two times periods that refused to accept me.
As I grew more self-conscious of my differences, I became more aware of other parts of my identity that cast me as an “in-betweener.” My Asian-American heritage was a major manifestation of this in-betweenness; I knew that my family had never completely assimilated to Americanism, but the influence of America’s culture on my character would prevent me from ever finding solace in Korea. Politically, I also found myself an in-betweener; my conservative religious background pushed me to the right end of the spectrum, but the liberal culture of my hometown cajoled me towards the left. My entire identity seemed to existed in a state of in-betweenness, and for several years I hated how my identity prevented me from finding inner peace.
In academic contexts, I felt more comfortable with my in-betweenness. I still had certain biases, but my in-betweenness made it easier for me to sympathize with multiple viewpoints. For example, my Women’s Studies English elective often discussed the topic of feminism, and before this class, my religion had always held me back from adopting the title as my own. However, over the course of the class I realized it also allowed me to empathize with the women who rejected feminism, unlike my peers who had self-identified as feminists their entire lives. I finally felt like I had found a place where I actually fit in with my in-betweenness. Gradually, I began to accept my status as an in-betweener during my everyday life as well, transferring my experience in the classroom to the real world. I realized that living in limbo allowed me to experience the world from two unique perspectives from a singular viewpoint, and I started to treat every moment of my life as a learning opportunity instead of an identity crisis.