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  • May 16, 2024

WHY HOME NEVER LEAVES US— Even When We Leave It

What was it?

Was it the rotisserie pollo a la braza slowly rotating in the glowing hot charcoal spit? Or the bright yellow pedal ice-cream cart with the logo of the smiling red sun enjoying a paleta while sweating? Or was it the tall glass with the chilled freshly blended papaya juice?

Or was it walking down the malecón, promenade, of Miraflores in the misty cool drizzle as the ocean waves roared at a distance 300 meters down?

Or perhaps it was the distinct singsong lilt of Limeñas chattering with their amigas or the good humored tit-for-tat cochineo, roasting, among a group of patas, guys.

But then could it have been the sombrero and poncho decked rider on a caballo de paso, a horse from the north of Peru, trot dancing la marinera with a handkerchief-waving bailarina in a swirling red dress? Or was it the complex syncopation off a cajón, a wooden box with a guitar-like hole in the back of it, to the AfroPeruvian beat of festejo?

What was it that settled me? Centered me? Made me joyful to be back in my hometown again?

Maybe it was the friends who remembered the glory days of a championship soccer team or the lit classes with a favorite transcendent teacher? Or the unselfconscious, spontaneous and immediate collective rush up to the dance floor once the salsa beat kicked in. Or when it was followed by Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Or finding ourselves in the flow of flawless Spanglish where the fusion of two different languages flowed in perfect syntactical sentences. Or surely, was it the pisco sours going down ever so smoothly?

Or conversely, was it the vast vistas of Pacific Ocean dotted with surfers that captured the memory of me in that same spot so many years ago? Or maybe it was the Indigenous market full of multicolored clothes and art work and trinkets where we learned the art of playful bartering without being greedy.

Maybe it was the walking all along Avenida Larco, block after block of boutiques, cafes, bookstores, and pizza joints among a multitude made up of couples, groups of students, business people in a hurry, beggars with paper cups to catch clinking coins?

Was it likely the bougainvillea cascading down over colonial wall? Or the ficus tree-lined avenue from the coast to colonial downtown? Or the familiarity of narrow streets that had not changed even as the world has turned upside down? Or just maybe it was the modern enhancements that made the city’s life easier even as it retained its original charm? Or perhaps it was the revived memories of Discotheque Nights, Study Afternoons, Surfer Sunsets, Soccer Stadium Days?

No, it wasn’t just one thing.

It was the fullness of things. The envelopment of sights, smells, sounds, tastes, touches. It was all of it.  An axolotl—the Jorge Luis Borges concept of the entire universe being in one spot—of memories and sounds and sights, with gazes back into the past while simultaneously peering into the future.

Branded by Home

I had been away from my hometown of Lima for five years. First Covid and then social and political unrest had kept me from staying connected with the source of my origin story.  It had been too long. And now, I was back. In Lima Querida, Beloved Lima. Every walk of a block. Every conversation with a friend. Every family gathering memory relived with cousins. Every sip of an espresso. Every bite of Peruvian stir-fried lomo soltado. All became part of a continual wave of home, washing over and through me, seeping into my every pore. 

Home is the life source that manifests the here from which we were formed. The beginning of who we have become—either in joyful embrace or rebellious rejection (and most likely a combination)—of our beginnings and formation.

While my sights and sounds and smells and sights are not the same as those of someone who grew up in Istanbul or Mumbai or Paris or Hanoi or Iowa, the five senses engagement is the same even if the stimuli are completely different, such as a call to prayer from the minaret, or the waft of sandalwood and jasmine incense on the street, or the puffing up of perfect chapati on a flat iron tava, or rows of colorful paper lanterns glowing along the city canal, or biting into a corn dog, gazing at the hogs, and smelling the hay at the State Fair.

Home reassures. Not only because of the cherished, but also because of the suffered. Home provides the combination of salve and trauma that has given—and can still give—us strength and pleasure and centeredness. We carry scars in our psyches like our hometowns carry them in their infrastructure. For some, the scars are of familial abuse, neglect, diminishment. For our cities and towns it can be the landmark of a terrorist bombing, or where an earthquake leveled entire blocks, or when a hurricane filled homes with water.  Whether the scars are personal, environmental, architectural, or sociopolitical, these too are part of our Home and personal psyche landscape. For better or worse, the scars of Home never leave us.

Yet despite these gashes in what we call Home, we can still look back from our present selves and say to the painful pasts: I am still here. I made it. I worked it out.

The Home that never leaves us can renew us. But this requires a conversation with Home: what is my unchanging essence? what is my evolving self? For those of us who left, this conversation with Home can resettle and restore the distortions to ourselves, to our identities due to having to—in our diaspora landing-place—sit, talk, and eat in ways that are unnatural to us. Going back home can help settle the self-identity doubts caused by continual pressures to assimilate and release and erase those very things that make us different in the New Place. While our beings are stretched or compressed or lopped off to fit into others’ expectations, Home can help us reconstitute within the contours of the original shape of our early identity formation. This pruning and rejuvenating process allows us to retake those parts of ourselves we may have surrendered.

Not that we want to snap back fully into how things were before venturing out and having new places and people and experiences shape and be internalized into our ever-evolving sense of self. But Home can be our touchstone, something we revisit to immerse ourselves in to remember, reground, and reevaluate the choices of adaptation and change we have made since departing.  

It is Home as our touchstone and life source that allows us to not just center ourselves, but to also hone the Home we carry inside of us that we can bring back to those around us in our home away from Home.

Home is both the source of what initially formed us, as well as the person we are continually evolving to. It’s our yesterday, our today— and that from which we will continue to draw to shape our tomorrow.

Even when we leave Home, we will always carry it inside. It’s why Home will never leaves us.

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