I left my first home around the same time that my father retired and sold our house, and my sister had moved away years beforehand. My father moved to a different continent, and the rest of my family was spread across Canada. My friends had left for university (like me), and I had no reason to return to the place I had called home for most of my life.
“Where is home for you?” People would ask me, and I couldn’t give them a straight answer.
‘Home is complicated,’ I would say to them.
They would laugh, and tell me that they asked where, not what. I still could not give them an answer. Was the house I grew up in still my home, even though I’d never be returning? Was it where my dad was, in a country I barely knew? Or was it where I was currently living, a place that I had never lived in, and considered temporary? My sense of ‘home’ no longer existed; it had spread out across the world, and saying that the house I grew up in was still home, did not feel accurate.
Birth home. Hometown. Home state. Homeland.
What makes ‘a home’?
This is a question I have been pondering for years, and I was reminded of it while reading Mira Schor. She is a visual artist and art historian, yet the last essay in her book Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture, was ‘You Can’t Leave Home without It’. It is a short essay questioning the idea of ‘home’.
‘Hewing for a moment to traditional dichotomies, house has represented culture, the father, the building, the body public and political, the future, and modernity; home has stood for nature, the mother, the cave/womb, the body private and psychological, the past, and atavism. Home doesn’t depend on a house.” (Schor, 191)
While the idea of home is not dependent on a house, people put a lot of effort into making a home from a house. People surround themselves with family, photos, and material objects imbibed with memories of past travels, and experiences. The home is a collection of memories, specific to the people who occupy it.
I have moved multiple times to different apartments, houses, towns, and provinces, and every time I move, I do what I can to turn my current location into a familiar and safe space. Even though I do not have a connection to the place via my past, or my family, I try to ground myself in my new environment so that it becomes a place I want to live in.
“Domestic security rests precisely on being spared, at least briefly any sense of closure, loss, or mortality. You don’t see your home unless it is threatened, just as you don’t notice your skin unless it is injured.” (Schor, 203).
I have never had to make a new home in another country, which is an idea I explored at length in a class on Diaspora. Diaspora is understood as a group of people who have been forced to disperse from their home/homeland, experience alienation in their new country, consider their ancestral home, culture, and religion to be their true home, culture, and religion, and they plan to return to/restore it one day (Safran, 2005: 37).
Originally, diasporic research focused on the dispersal of people based on force, like the African slave trading and the expulsion of the Jewish people from Judea. However, this developed to include diaspora based on imperialism, trade or labor migrations, or environmental disaster (like New Orleans and Katrina). More recent theories defining diaspora focus on the significance of home. How people leave home, set up a new home in memory of the old home, and plan to return home.
Diaspora is more than the forceful removal of a people to a foreign place, it also involves the longing and desire for a place of security, familiarity, acceptance, and belonging. It is not the house, but the feeling of being home that is important.
I would not say that I am diasporic, but I am almost envious of those who never had to question where there home is. They grew up in a town, in a particular house, and their parents still live there. They are always welcome to go back. They are the people who have never questioned the idea of home, and they tell people where there home is with such ease.
These people have become rarer over time; more and more people smile at me and say ‘Home is complicated‘.
Safran, William. “The Jewish Diaspora in a Comparative and Theoretical Perspective” in Israel Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, 2005, pp. 36-60.
Schor, Mira. “You Can’t Leave Home without It,” in Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997. Pp. 191-203.
© Tanya Nielsen (firstname.lastname@example.org), 2016