Writing Home: An Introduction

Hiraeth is a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, a home that maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past. Perhaps it was hiraeth that spurred me to make “home” the theme of this issue of Aster(ix).

I’m thinking of Bushwick, the Brooklyn neighborhood I grew up in that was a pile of rubble back in the 70s and 80s, and is now the face of gentrification with its organic markets, $15 burger bars, and factories converted to loft spaces that go for $4,000 a month—who can afford that? Not the people that were there then.

I think about that pendejo manager of Bushwick Flea who a few months ago allowed an unauthorized crochet mural to go up on the side of a private building adjacent to the market, and then was hostile when he was confronted about it and told to take it down—“We just raised your property value,” he said.

I read on Twitter that on her desk, writer Tayari Jones has “a tiny jar containing a few spoonfuls of earth from Lorain, Ohio. This is how much I love Toni Morrison.” I think of the rubble that was my hood and I wish I could have a tiny jar containing spoonfuls of that soil, from my home.

The soil gentrifiers think they’re saving something that actually doesn’t need saving. That soil from my home is what did the saving. That soil is what molded and saved this girl, who is now writing this introduction at her desk, living this life that she started imagining way back when, in the Brooklyn people now denigrate.

When I came up with the idea of home as a theme for this issue, I was thinking about home as a person or place; home as a longing for something past that no longer exists; home as nostalgia, as genesis, a beginning, an end, and the journey in between.

Home is a rich topic for immigrants, and children of immigrants who call this country home, though our identities are often hyphenated (Latin-American, Filipino-American, etc.). In many ways, we exist in two worlds without fully belonging to either: when we go back to the motherland, we’re labeled Americanos and gringas/gringos, and here we’re told to go back where we came from.

I selected the writers with this in mind: they’re all immigrants, children of immigrants, and/or people who have moved around a lot due to circumstance. All have been made to feel unsafe in the worlds they/we traverse. Some of them, like me, are also from places that are shifting due to gentrification.

I knew these writers would rise to the task. They did not fail me. Joshunda Sanders digs into how being raised by a mentally ill parent made her find home and harbor in her writing. Glendaliz Camacho’s short story looks at home as a kind of prison through the eyes of a young protagonist who can’t get out from under her old school mom’s watchful eye. Rich Villar wrote about how growing up in Paterson, NJ, the son of a Cuban father and Puerto Rican mother, who shaped him into a poet. Gabrielle Rivera got bold with a speculative fiction piece that tackles the question: what happens when home doesn’t want you, when everything you are, symbolizes the destruction of the status quo? Nívea Castro wrote a photo essay about her first trip to Cuba, which she refers to as her “sister home.” Tanya Pérez-Brennan writes about home as memory that haunts, in dreams, music and food, and even the smell or smile of a passing stranger. Finally, the two griots, Anthony Morales and Luivette Resto, write about their beloved Bronx, the love made, the violence, the grief and everything in between. 

Writers have been tackling the topic of home for millennia, and we will continue to do so, for as Maya Angelou once said, “The ache for home lives in all of us.” I hope these pieces serve to assuage that ache, if only for a moment.

Image Credits: Powell Burns