Wednesday, November 15, 2006

At peace, with you

The word "homesick" does not exist in Spanish. You can say "I miss my home" or that you are feeling "nostalgia", even "melancholy", but it's not a handy, right on the mark, single word like it is in English. Which is odd, since Mexicans are world known to miss their beloved Mexico when they're away. (And is, furthermore, proof that you can indeed feel what you don't have a word for.)

What exactly is "home"? When you leave your country of origin to go to another, when does the place you go to become home, if ever? Are immigrants destined to feel forever incomplete, harboring a vague sense of loss, of not belonging, a disorientation that lingers for years? Do these people dream of one day returning only to realize that ten, twenty years have gone by, that their lives have been accidentally built elsewhere, that what they knew as "home" no longer exists?

Many years ago, when I was living in Paris, I called my father on the eve of September 16th (Mexican Independence day) wailing for my family, Mariachis and Mexican food. Aside from that single sleep deprived dramatic exception, my personal experience is that I tend to make home wherever I am. I don't mean that I have no roots, but rather that I grow them quickly. Personal space is important to me, so I swiftly create and inhabit it. I seldom suffer from homesickness (unless I'm traveling on business, in which case all I want is to return and walk around the house touching my things, doing laundry and making soup.)

In a recent family reunion in Mexico, the subject of "homesickness" came up, as Kathia, my brother's wife, seems to be afflicted by it. In the middle of the conversation, my father turned to me and said with finality "you are never coming back to Mexico". It was an unmistakable statement, but I wondered if he hid a question in the folds of its certainty. I shook my head. "While I don't think it's impossible" I responded "I think it's unlikely. Home is California". This is incredible to me, as I grew up feeling for my country almost the same way I felt about my parents. It has happened, though: I'm homesick for California when I am in Mexico. (I tell myself that California used to be Mexican territory. Can I be blamed for circumstancial political geography? Am I not, strictly speaking, on Mexican soil?)

I must make a reference to two songs here - an Italian one, where Jovanotti raps "Voglio andare a casa - e la casa dov'e’? La casa e’ dove posso stare in pace con te" (I want to go home! And where is home? Home is where I can be at peace with you.")

And a Mariachi song that I can't help but cry to:

Mexico Lindo y Querido (Sweet Mexico Dear)
Si muero lejos de ti (If I should die far from you)
Que digan que estoy dormido (Have them say that I am only sleeping)
Y que me traigan a ti (And have them bring me back to you)

When I die, I'd like my ashes strewn across Montara Mountain, which I know in my heart to be Mexican territory, with its dry brown earth and grassy patches that overlook the Pacific Ocean. In the meantime it's home - casa, dove posso stare in pace con te.

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