As an extranjera living in Guatemala, a frequent getting-to-know-you question is, of course, where are you from? It’s a pretty standard question, usually easily answered, though it does give me some trouble because I’ve lived in quite a few places in the U.S. and at this point, I’m not sure which place to call home. I was born in Texas and my Dad still lives there, but I also lived in New Orleans, where my mom, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins now live. I spent some time in Florida, but I was living in Chicago for the past five years before coming to Guatemala. And when I return to the U.S., I’m not sure where I’ll go.
The place that makes me the most excited to talk about is Chicago – it’s my most recent home, the place I find myself comparing all other places to, where memories are freshest. When I am asked to explain how things are at home (transportation, grocery stores, houses, the weather), I generally find myself describing Chicago. But here in Guatemala, the place that most people are familiar with is Texas. I’ve found that most Guatemalans who have visited the U.S. have gone to Texas – it’s more or less the closest state, many Guatemalans have family members there, and of course, there is a large Latino and Spanish-speaking population. It’s also the place I lived the longest, and it is certainly interesting to hear the perspectives of Guatemalans for whom Texas is their only experience of the U.S. And when I think of flying back to the U.S. to visit “home” during my time in Guatemala, I think of New Orleans – not only because so many of my beloved family members are there, but it is a city I love, and where I always have a place to stay. So sometimes, I just say I’m from los Estados.
Recently Natalia, one of the Tzutujil women in our fair trade embroidery collective, asked me, through a translator, “Where is your pueblo?” Which basically elicits the same information as “where are you from?” but I found her phrasing very indicative of her experience, and that of many of the atitecos from Santiago Atitlan. This is their pueblo. They were born in Santiago, raised in Santiago, many married and have families in Santiago, and an astounding amount have never left Santiago. This pueblo is their world. And, perhaps because they are members of the indigenous population, they don’t readily identify as Guatemalan, but as Atitecos – a word centered around the town they’re from, rather than the country. And looking at the world from this perspective, living in a place where your experience is common, one would assume that most other people identify with a pueblo as well. Natalia probably would never have imagined that at my age, I’ve already lived in and traveled to so many places. That I don’t feel I have a pueblo to call home. And that any of the cities I might have mentioned are far from pueblos, compared to Santiago Atitlan.
On a recent trip to Mexico with one of my dearest friends from Chicago, we began discussing why traveling is so exhausting. The trip to Mexico was a bit rushed, and the drive, which includes at least one transfer, was about 12 hours. But we spent that time sitting in a van, sleeping on each other, gazing out the window, chatting – none of which are tiresome activities, yet when we finally arrived, both of us felt well spent. He mentioned to me something he had read recently – that humans were not meant to travel such great distances in so little time. The technologies of modern travel allow us to speed over ground and water and fly through the air at high velocities, allowing us to traverse previously unimaginable distances in only a few hours. This means of transport stands in stark contrast to the human body’s capability and the traveling of old, when a person walked to each destination, the distance traveled limited by the speed and capability of physical exertion. Now, in our planes and trains, and even buses, we are traveling through time – an exhausting activity.
I spent the last few days in New York City, a whirlwind trip that allowed me to be a part of some unforgettable experiences in the lives of my loved ones. Traveling back, I took a plane to Fort Lauderdale, then on to Guatemala City, a cab to the bus station, and a bus to my town. Sixteen hours after departing my friends’ house in NYC, I stepped foot on the stone paths of Santiago Atitlan, hauling my luggage to my apartment near the town center. As I made the last turn onto my familiar street, I looked down at my feet on this path in awe – here I was, on solid ground in a completely different country, back home in time for dinner, when I’d eaten an airport breakfast across two national borders. It is amazing, overwhelming, exhausting.
It is a great privilege to be able to travel the world, to live in new places, to experience different countries and cultures, to explore and adventure. But I imagine there is also great comfort in feeling rooted to a place, in knowing it from your first days on earth, in remaining in place and experiencing and appreciating the life around you. For now, this is my pueblo. And while I wasn’t born here, and I’ve lived many other places, and I don’t think I’ll be here for too long, it feels like home.