Immigrant Writers Define Home

Immigrant Writers Define Home

Written by Nate King

The concept of “home” has changed a lot in 2020, as we asked our homes to do a lot more than usual this year. Our bedrooms morphed into conference rooms and dining tables doubled as school desks. Or if you live in a studio apartment like me, your space played multiple roles: bedroom by night, office/kitchen/gym/living room/dining room/bar/echo chamber by day. A convenient and fun all-in-one room. (I can attest that this is, in fact, neither convenient nor fun).

And now, the concept of “home” is weighing especially heavy on a lot of us this holiday season. This time of year, “home” is usually synonymous with feelings of joy, reconnecting with family, and the sweet smell of my mom’s cookies. But this year, it’s a little different. Personally, this is my 28th Christmas and the first one in which my family and I will wake up in different houses. This is sad, but we are the lucky ones. My chair at the dinner table will be filled by an iPad, but many more across the world will sit empty. We’ve had to reimagine a lot this year, and the idea of what “home” means is no different.

And yet, reimagining and redefining what “home” means is nothing new to immigrants and refugees. Recently, I’ve turned to these writers for comfort and advice, all of which are featured in our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, which I encourage you to explore. What I find especially appealing about these writers, is that they define “home” for themselves, on their own terms. By owning that definition, they are more able to negotiate the feelings associated with it.

So if “home” feels a little bit different to you this year, here are three writers featured in My America who have helped me redefine home for myself.

We asked all 31 writers featured in My America a set of questions based on different themes. For the theme of home, we asked, “What place makes you feel most at home and where you belong?

Ngozi Ukazu

Graphic novelist Ngozi Ukazu is from Houston and her parents came to the U.S. from Nigeria, but she found a home in fandom on the Internet. I really love this because, as we all know, we all spent A LOT of time on the Internet this year, which can sometimes be a scary place. But it can also be wonderful, connecting you to people with shared interests across the world. These sorts of “found families” or “chosen families” are so important, especially so this year. I for one am grateful for mine.

Ukazu is the author of the wildly popular comics series, Check Please!, which at the time was the most funded webcomics Kickstarter ever. Read more about Ngozi Ukazu here. We also hosted Ukazu in April for a virtual program to discuss this series, her life, and approach to writing. You can listen to a condensed version of this discussion on the AWM Author Talks podcast, or in its entirety on YouTube.

Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi lives in liminal spaces, which comes from the Latin root word “limen,” which means “threshold.” According to Better Help, these are “transitional or transformative spaces…the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next.” This feels very fitting, as 2020 sort of felt like one really long loading screen between a pre-COVID world and a post-COVID world. What I like most about Emezi’s perception of home is the power it holds. Emezi never felt like they belonged anywhere, but with writing they were able to create entire worlds where they felt at home. To me, this is crucial and exemplifies why writing matters so much. If we don’t feel like we have a home, we can always “bend them into existence,” as Emezi has done.

Emezi was born and raised in Nigeria and is the author of Freshwater, The Death of Vivek Oji, and Pet, as well as many other essays and writings. Pet was a 2019 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. Learn more about Akwaeke Emezi here.

Reyna Grande

“My writing is the place where I feel most at home.” I mean, is there any better way to put it? Originally from Mexico, award-winning writer Reyna Grande discusses what it’s like trying to feel at home between two cultures. When she visits Mexico, she is perceived as an American and an outsider. And yet, even after living in the United States for more than thirty years, she is still treated like a foreigner in this country. But in her writing she feels at home.

Grande is from Guerrero, Mexico and now lives in California. She is the author of the books A Dream Called Home, The Distance Between Us, Dancing with Butterflies, and Across A Hundred Mountains, which won a 2007 American Book Award. Learn more about Reyna Grande here.

All in all, what I’ve learned most by listening to these writers and others is that home does not need to be a physical location. Home is perhaps more of an idea, or better yet, a feeling. And it’s different for everyone. It’s up to us to define it for ourselves.

So wherever you are this holiday season and beyond, I hope you feel home.

Nate King is the Content and Communications Coordinator at the American Writers Museum

Edited by Nate King

Nate is the Content & Communications Coordinator for the American Writers Museum. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2014 with a B.A. in Journalism and a penchant for American literature. For three years he waited tables while developing a healthy writing habit, during which time he became a regular blogger for the AWM blog. Originally from the mountains of New Hampshire, Nate moved to Chicago in 2015.

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