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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.
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.