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  • Kirsten Kyllingstad

Welcome, You Belong Here

Growing up I never understood how people couldn’t answer the question “Where does your family come from?” How could they not know? It wasn’t until much later that I realized the only reason I knew was because I was so close to the immigration. My father was born in Norway and emigrated to The United States when he was a toddler. My mother was born in Astoria, Oregon, as was her father. But his parents were off the boat Finns.


When I was 12, my father took me and my two sisters back to Norway to visit family. It was my first time on a plane. We all got new duffle bags to put in the overhead compartments so we wouldn’t have to wait at baggage claim. (I still have that duffle.) It was July 4th, and we flew out when fireworks were going off. It seemed like a celebration just for us. I’m not sure how it could have been any more exciting.


We stayed on Vassøy, a small island off Stavanger, where my dad’s uncle lived. We had bread and butter with jam for breakfast and raspberries with cream for lunch. We used a bathroom with a heated floor. We ate fish balls and crab that our family had caught and made by hand. We went on excursions through the islands on the little fishing boat my great-uncle owned. We compared chocolate and chewing gum and words with the other teens we were related to. European chocolate is better. American gum is better. The word “bellybutton” was endlessly funny to them. I watched a shocking movie with them I would never have been allowed to watch back home. We went on a drive through the country.


And then, there it was. In huge letters on a road sign.


KYLLINGSTAD


My last name.


Never in a million years did I expect to see my last name on a road sign. We couldn’t believe it. We all got out and had our picture taken. I knew we were “from” there. I knew we had “family” there. But I had never met them. It didn’t really mean that much to me personally. It was cool, but more in theory than in practice. After seeing that sign, I felt different. My family wasn’t just from there. We were from there. I belonged there. Even after I flew back to The States, I knew I belonged.


I think we all want to feel like we belong. Some might have a strong sense of belonging with their birth family; with a group of friends or chosen family; with people who have a shared interest or hobby; with a community. But for others, they struggle with feeling like they belong anywhere. They don’t feel like they belong with their birth family. They may feel different than others in their community or feel like they don’t know anyone who has any similar hobbies or interests. They might feel left out in their workplace.


But whether or not you know it. I am here to tell you: you belong. Thank you for being you. Thank you for simply being. Thank you for being part of this community. You are important, and you belong.


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