From Paris, France to Tucson, Arizona

I just finished the best semester of my life. Heck, the best time of my life.

I spent a semester abroad in Paris, France. As a newbie to the “Old World”, I had all these notions of what Europe was, what Paris was, in its splendid French-ness.

However, it was indeed a different time to be traveling to Europe. In the midst of an ever-technological and globalizing world, the Paris attacks of November that left 130 dead were part of a larger and interconnected series of violence that struck the world, and unfortunately, continue to pervade (#BLACKLIVESMATTER). So yes, I was stoked to achieve my dream of hopping on a transatlantic flight to Paris, but I was also somewhat worried.

Upon my arrival, I settled into my single room in the French-British dormitory in the Cité Universitaire, really beautiful student housing in the periphery of the 14th arrondissement. Quickly, I became immersed in the French language, getting used to, or as the French say, “habituée” to all-French everything. I witnessed the manifestation of the French state of emergency, with the presence of the French forces in public spaces. Indeed, as some Americans will echo, I initially struggled with making French friends, mainly because I allowed myself to become intimidated by the linguistic and cultural barriers. Nonetheless, and to my surprise, I kept in contact with a couple of French friends who I connected and bonded over our class titled “Women, Gender, and Politics and Africa.”

The semester was filled with school projects, museum trips, music, shopping, good eats, “Nuit Debout”, or the French social movement protesting the newest labor law, as well as plenty of laughs over cultural misunderstandings and a myriad of other new, exciting experiences. Studying abroad solidified my desire to become part of a community of academics who question and tackle these big issues facing our transnational communities, especially those on multiculturalism and diversity.

That’s partly why I’m currently in Tucson (welcome, daily 100°F weather) – I’m participating in a summer research experience to prepare me for graduate study. Really, I want to get my PhD. I’ve realized that my heart lies in social and political advocacy. Presently, while juggling test prep, research classes, housing for next year (off-campus, hooray!), I’m also working with Dr. Anna Ochoa O’Leary, chair of the Mexican-American Studies Department at the University of Arizona on a project on immigration and racism. I’m taking the GRE in a little over a week (yay standardized tests…), and I’ve been looking at programs that interest me.

It’s like the junior year of high school all over again. Personal statement writing, etc.

So, I currently find myself thinking about my future, while hanging on to sweet memories of my time in Paris, and balancing (or trying, and failing) being an informed and active citizen about the state of the world, a world that struggles to remain one that is just.

 

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Ephemeral homes

I’ve been thinking a lot of the concept of home ever since I’ve been living abroad for three months now. What is home? Is it defined by family? By friends (our chosen family)? By our obligations, in my case, academics, or by wherever we have accumulated the most number of experiences in?

Home is conventionally thought of as a house, a physical space, with several rooms, but I’ve realized that home can also be conceptual, or territorial (bigger than a house). I’ve been moving from home to home since high school graduation, with my home taking the shapes of rooms across campus throughout the years, some shared, some not shared, with home also representing the town of Ithaca/New York state, my parents’ home in Southern California by the Mexican food joints, their house in Michoacan, Mexico, my own apartment in San Cristobal de las Casas in southern Mexico, and finally, to now, my room in Paris. I realize that my mobility is a privilege.

I’ve come to conclude that my notion of home is plural, but most importantly, that I am home, and must continue to see myself as such. How so? In that I am an accumulation of what I’ve lived, that the spicy sauce recipe handed down to my mom by her ancestors, the indigenous textiles from Chiapas, and the fresh bread from Parisian boulangeries are all home. They’ve all evoked emotions of belonging. All of the moments lived elsewhere, the ephemeral houses I’ve inhabited, are all home. Home is not static; it is ever evolving. As a result, home is also inherently epistemological, a way of knowing within itself.

More pragmatically, home makes me think of immigration, of migrants who have no alternative but to search for home elsewhere, of people who literally dissolve the meaning of fixedness and who challenge the norms of homogeneity. Immigrants in Europe, and in the world, are forced to build a home for themselves in environments where they are not desired because of their otherness. Immigrant communities are powerful in extending the meaning, and the manifestation, of house and home, often most open to receiving difference than those from that particular territory.

Thinking of leaving Paris in the next weeks makes me feel nostalgic already, but I realize that the moments spent in this particular place will be added to a growing list of homes, and that when I return in the future, I will be coming back to a place I once grew used to.

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“To Inherit. Inheriting the familial story and understanding its roots through the past.”

 

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between the sounds of ethereal vocals and guitar

Before the sun rose, I left Paris on a Thursday for Barcelona with Tu and Ashley, two of my Cornell friends also studying abroad in Paris. This was my first time leaving France since my arrival, and it was all very surreal, from the plane boarding to the landing.

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I knew it was real when at the airport, all of the signs were primarily in Catalan, then Spanish, and then English. Soon we were in our hostel, anxious to explore the city of Barcelona: Gaudí and more Gaudí and lots of paella.

OBVIOUSLY we were starving. College students are always, always hungry. We had fish and spaghetti for lunch and walked around a market. One of Tu’s friends also from Cornell studying abroad in Barcelona took us to see Casa Batllo, Gaudí’s first work that I saw.

I bought some tourist keychains for my mom and then Ashley and I proceeded to the Picasso museum. We were there for literally only 15 minutes, but I learned the most about Picasso’s body of work than I ever have.

12743924_1287839104565956_1528701542193160778_nOne of the most shocking realizations was the transition of depiction (excuse my lack of better vocabulary on art) Picasso’s work illustrated after his youth. His younger years were conventionally beautiful, with his older pieces being more chaotic, divided, and multidimensional. Las Meninas, his most renowned piece in this museum, was so rewarding to stand about 3 feet away from.

 

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Art makes you very hungry. We headed to Yelp’s #1 rated restaurant for paella in Barcelona afterwards. While in Spain, we ate so much paella, which is served in a (very hot) pan, shared among two people. Like, every night we were in Spain. It almost reminded me of my mom’s Mexican rice, except with seafood on it.

Actually, much of the scenery I saw and the vibes from Barcelona reminded me of growing up Latina, and it especially brought me back to my summer in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. The livelihood of the streets, the passion in the food and in the music was parallel to something I knew, something old, something colonized, from another universe. Barcelona and San Cristobal are places that exist outside of time, I believe.

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Returning back to my itinerary, the following day we visited la Sagrada Família. It was truly emotive experience. To me, it felt extremely spiritual, a place of nature and humanity. Unlike most of the French Roman Catholic churches, la Sagrada Família felt less “institutional”, and more like a place one could find in nature. This was all Antoni Gaudí, of course, who I quote: “Isn’t it true that both the earth and the sky appear to be united?” In the interior, there were beautiful bright colors in the stained glass windows in which green and orange particularly brought each other out. Inside, we walked for around an hour and took photos. I felt extremely at peace, and connected to nature – inside a building.

 

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After, we made our way to Parc Guell, a truly sublime place where earth meets sea. The strums of a classical guitar echoed through the trees as we walked on the trails through the park. Pink, blue, orange, and lots of green harmonized together.

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And finally, the trip ended in Valencia, a beautiful Mediterranean city by the sea. One of the last nights was spent at a flamenco concert, where I truly believe resumed my feelings during my trip in Spain. The music and dance captured the collective emotions of a people, caught forever between the sounds of ethereal vocals and guitar.

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