Season 3 of “This is Us” is really about where Randall Pearson belongs. It starts when he comes to a new community, pitches a campaign speech because he cares about the people of the city, and is rejected. “Go back to where you belong.”
For people like him, and for people like me, hearing that could be interpreted as a rejection by the whole human race. Because Randall had lived in Alpine, NJ, for years, and yet didn’t feel like he belonged there. He was a black man in a majority-white neighborhood. He endured covert racism wherever he went. “Now, why don’t you tell me where I belong, then,” he responds. “Because, trust me, you’ve be answering the biggest question in my entire life.”
Randall had never truly asked himself where he belonged, at this point. I think he might have always felt guilty about feeling he didn’t belong where he was loved, and feeling guilty to the people who loved him – that he had a responsibility, an obligation to be grateful. And yet, he had always felt that he didn’t belong, from when he was small to when he had grown.
After helping out some people, and seeing exactly how the city is being let down, he decided that he wanted to run for city council and help the city where his birth father lived. After successfully helping a few people, and after finding some acceptance in the Korean and eventually in the Black communities, Randall finally sees that he has a place. Not a place where he is understood, no…but a place where he belongs.
To parallel my own story, I grew up in the United States in a Korean-culture family, while I myself had mixed korean-white DNA. I grew up in one of the top three most ethnically diverse cities in the US, potentially #1 at a time during my childhood. I grew up with the sons and daughters of Chinese, Indian, Middle-Eastern, and Korean immigrants and early-generation Americans. Although the US is majority-white at the time of writing this, I actually didn’t make a single white friend until I eventually moved away from this city. I simply didn’t have much opportunity.
And, as someone who was half-white, I was seen as the other by quite a few of my peers. I couldn’t relate to my peers the same way…and I avoided my Korean peers as I was ashamed of my lack of Korean language skill. I eventually settled into a Chinese friend group as a place where I kind of fit in. My first four girlfriends were Chinese…everyone I had ever dated. My earliest best friends were Indian, Taiwanese, and Chinese.
I have encountered large cultural differences in every single human relationship I have ever had. Even in my own family. I even have large cultural differences with my korean mom, my white dad, and my same-heritage sister. Because they all inherited different amounts of culture.
I may need to give up on being understood. Else, I may want to become a better explainer!
But, I ended up with the same complex as Randall. “Go back to where I belong? Where is that.” I had a deep, compulsive need to be understood.
I even ended up feeling angry at my parents for even having me! I am not at all angry that I exist, but I just felt that they didn’t think through what kind of experiences I was going to have! Well, I am not angry anymore. I know they did the best within the capacity they had. I know that they couldn’t predict the future.
Anyway, it might be time for me to let go of finding a place where everyone naturally understands me and a place where no one misunderstands me based on a stereotype I should be like but actually doesn’t represent me at all. (I actually understand, this is my form of “microaggression” and I can experience it from anywhere. It is not their fault though.)
But, I kind of felt God communicate to me something as I finished an episode of Season 3. I got the impression God was saying, “See, he found somewhere he belongs. Not that they understand him, they don’t. He still has to explain his own unique cultural background to everyone (hence why he is so good at the “fire station” speech), but that he has found a place where he is uniquely suited to help them. Where he can make changes for them that they can’t do for themselves, and he is specifically able to do it for them because of his experiences.”
I understand what he meant. This same day, I picked up an international student from the airport (going on a small trip before he has to leave the country, his visa is expiring in a couple days). I heard him talk about how much he loves this country, how the people here have treated him so well.
I think about the times where I have felt that I didn’t belong, the times that I struggled with a language barrier for three months in Korea, some struggles of language learning…and I get some of it. Even if they don’t know that I get it. Dropping him off at his house, I feel like I understand where I belong.
“For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but…to serve.”
I think God is trying to tell me that where I belong, is where I can serve. With the internationals in america.
Has he told you where you belong, too? If not, you should ask him 🙂