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Home is Where...?

April 10, 2018

In Dionisia Morales’s debut essay collection, Homing Instincts, she contemplates the particularly relevant, and hard to define, meaning of home. As issues of migration and social integration play out on national and international scales, Morales provides a personal lens through which readers can appreciate that at one time or another we have all been in the process of arriving. In today’s blog post, Morales offers a brief excerpt from her opening essay, “The Newcomers,” and articulates some of the questions and ideas that were the catalyst for Homing Instincts.

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The Newcomers

I set out for Oregon like many of the first immigrants to the West, lured by the prospect of a new beginning. Until that point, I had lived mostly in cities in the eastern United States and had no reason to believe that the geography of my life would be defined by anything other than high-rise buildings and the anonymous press of crowds. But a month-long wilderness experience in the Colorado Rockies when I was twenty-eight presented a new landscape of possibilities. I had arrived in stiff leather boots, making me a conspicuous novice on the trip, and the thirty days were a taxing blur of hauling, river fording, glissading, and orienteering. But each evening, stomping my feet against the cold, I witnessed the urgent illumination of alpenglow that stretched the last of the day’s light in saturated pinks and yellows across the snowcapped peaks. I didn’t know it then, but in those moments my internal compass started to drift west. (15)

Homing Instincts by Dionisia MoralesIs home based on where we live or the people we love? Is it connected to our culture or our language? Do we think of home in terms of the things we have always done or things we have planned? Does our sense of home stay constant or change with the scenes of our lives?

I grew up in Manhattan, and even though I’ve lived in other places nearly as long as I lived there, I still consider myself a New Yorker. Fifteen years ago, my husband and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, a college town with a population just over fifty thousand. When I tell people where I’m originally from, they smile and say something like, “Well, that must have been a transition.” It was, and still is. They often ask if I miss things like big concerts, museums, the theater, and fancy restaurants. But I don’t. I didn’t grow up with those things because my family couldn’t afford them. After a decade and a half in Corvallis, often what I miss most about New York City is the feeling of anonymity—the chance to get lost in a crowd of strangers with no sense of obligation or expectation. It’s not that I know everyone in Corvallis, but odds are that every person I meet in the supermarket or on the hiking trail knows someone who knows someone I know. Having so few degrees of separation demands a social mindfulness and creates a sense of community. On one hand, that’s part of what I have come to love living in a small town, and yet it is in direct conflict with why I look forward to going back and visiting New York. Before I leave on those trips, I tell people how much I’m looking forward to going home. And then I say the same thing the days leading up to my flight back west.

Over the years, this bi-coastal identity crisis has defined me as much as any connection to a specific place. “Home” has become a fluid idea, a balancing act between the different parts of my personality. My choice to move from one North American coast to another is trivial compared to the journeys millions of people are taking today, migrating around the world for social, economic, and political reasons. Their stories can seem far away when we see them broadcast on the news, and yet we have all been newcomers at some point—whether to a new office or school or neighborhood. Collecting the essays for this book was a reminder that we are all in the process of arriving and that our stories of home are personal and universal, familiar and changing, tangible and inexplicably beyond our reach.

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