The Bridge

Transnational adoptees have probably heard the metaphor of bridge more than once in their lifetimes: we are “bridges” between cultures, according to well-meaning social workers and sending government officials.

Regardless of what you think about the metaphor of bridges in adoption (and there are many who disdain its use), I find it to be a compelling image.  Perhaps its because I’m claiming it for myself, rather than letting it passively define me. I definitely think it is overused (yet another dissertation example here–note, I did not see her dissertation until well after I started this blog)…but as a geographer, I keep coming back to the image of the bridge.

As Gloria Anzaldúa and Analouisa Keating so eloquently write in their preface to This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation,

Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness.  They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, crossing borders, and changing perspectives.  Bridges span liminal (threshold) spaces between worlds, spaces I call nepantla*, a Nahuatl word meaning tierra entre medio. Transformations occur in this in-between space, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition space lacking clear boundaries.  Nepantla es tierra desconocida, and living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement–an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling.  Most of us dwell in nepantla so much of the time it’s become a sort of “home.” Though this state links us to other ideas, people, and worlds, we feel threatened by these new connections and the change they engender.  I think of how feminist ideas and movements are attacked, called unnatural by the ruling powers, when in fact they are ideas whose time has come, ideas as relentless as the waves carving and later eroding stone arches.  Change is inevitable; no bridge lasts forever. (emphasis mine)

*Anzaldua and Keating use nepantla to theorize liminality and to talk about those who facilitate passages between worlds, nepantleras.  Nepantla is associated with states of mind that question old ideas and beliefs, acquire new perspectives, change worldviews, and shift from one world to another.

Well, damn.  If that’s what a bridge is, then sign me up! Actually, never mind…I’m already there.  I am one of those nepantleras.  I do feel most at home in the in-between, the liminal, the land of questions and not-knowing and always wondering.  I have come to understand that the bridge is not just the passageway, it is the destination, the place I occupy all the time, because it is the only place I belong.

The bridge in the header is the Incheon Bridge, completed in 2009.  It connects the Yeongjeong Island to mainland Incheon, outside of Seoul.  Over 13 miles long, this bridge captured my imagination when I first saw it.  It is long, and while not the longest in the world (it comes in as the seventh longest cable-stayed bridge in the world), it evokes a sense of distance.  I find myself mesmerized by its form and equally intrigued by its function:  Yeonjeong Island is home to the Incheon Airport, Korea’s major international gateway.  This is the bridge you drive over to get to mainland Korea. I have yet to experience that entry…but someday, I hope to make that drive.*

*In September 2012, I did finally see this bridge, although only from a distance. We took the train from Incheon to Seoul, so we didn’t drive it ourselves, but I did see it from the airplane on our flight from Seoul to Jeju-do.

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