Thinking about home is my greatest source of anxiety. I crossed the border when I was 3 years old and grew up in North Carolina, but I never quite felt like the US was my home. Despite the fact that I only had vague memories of Mexico, I always wanted to return. This summer was my first time returning and I was surprised by how quickly I slipped into the normalcy of living in Mexico. I had cried for weeks leading up to the trip because I feared that the place I had always considered home would not be what I expected, but it was exactly the part of me I had always felt was missing.
I came to feel at peace in Mexico, but I could not help but to think about what this meant for the piece of me still tied to the US. I left Mexico knowing that I will always be of that place, but feeling more conflicted than ever about my presence in the US. My presence here feels political, my NC ID says that I have “legal presence, no lawful status.” How can I feel at home in a place where my existence is so conditional?
Flash forward to now, in my study abroad program in Madrid where it has been easy to tell people I’m from Mexico when they ask where I am from, and I have started to deny my US identity perhaps more than I should. I was speaking with an advisor at the program about my conflict navigating my identity between two countries and she said to me, “consider that it is possible to have roots in many places because people aren’t like trees and we can do that with our roots.”
When she said this, I thought of my parents and how they have planted roots in the US both literally and metaphorically. My mom often talks about the many trees she planted in our house in Mexico and how she was sad to leave them when we migrated. She refused to plant trees in the US for a while. When we would go shopping for our garden, I would ask her to buy trees, but she would always say in Spanish, “We could plant those trees, but we would leave them when we leave the US or if we get deported.” 16 years later, we now have two peach trees in our yard. The first was an accident, a tree that grew after someone threw a peach seed on the ground. The second, my mom planted so that the first tree wouldn’t look so misplaced in our yard. I was joking when I asked my mom, “but what happens to the trees if we leave or get deported?”
“I’m not leaving unless they deport me. My kids have grown up here and I’ve been here so long, this is my home now,” my mom answered. My dad shares the same feelings. My parents have started to make their home here and while this is also my home, my roots have not fully planted themselves here. My parents have accepted that the US is home now in a way I can’t seem to accept. It has been a little over a month since I left Mexico…and I’m still making sense of it all.
I am confronting for the first time that the reason I have not allowed my roots to grow in US soil is because I have never felt welcomed here. Here, I have always been ‘illegal’ and it feels that I am not allowed to exist in a way that is my own. Even in my first years in the US, I knew something was not right. I can’t quite describe what it feels like, but it was something heavy in my stomach and I would have an overwhelming urge to run away and go back to a country I barely remembered. I wanted be with the family I only knew from pictures and quick conversations on the phone. It’s a feeling I did not have in Mexico because for the first time in my life, I felt sense of belonging and happiness I have not been able to feel in the US.
Leaving Mexico at the end of the summer was much different than the first time I left. This time I didn’t have to cross a border by foot, I got to comfortably fly back under my own terms and I knew I had family waiting for me when I landed. Unlike the first time that I entered the US, it felt like coming home (despite the hours I spent waiting for immigration to process me), but it still felt like I was leaving another home.
I guess what I’m trying conclude here is how much my definition of home has been influenced by politics and how maybe it would be different if I was documented, if I did not have to go through a long process trying to leave and reenter and if there was not a physical border separating me from my motherland. I’m trying to understand how much I want politics to influence me on this.
There’s actually no conclusion to what I’m saying because my feelings about this are not fully developed and I have a lot of progress to make. I’ll admit that I do feel bitter due to the treatment my people and I experience everyday in this country, so part of me wants to rebel and not accept this place until it accepts me, but I don’t believe this approach is making me happy. I want my roots to be okay planting themselves and growing in both places, but one is growing almost by accident because I happened to be born in Mexico and feel happy there, the other is growing because I’m choosing to plant it so that I can start to learn to live between two countries and be happy in both places. I’m trying to understand under what conditions I want to call the US home.