Coronavirus redefines home for immigrant


By Luis Mejia Ahrens

To most, home is a physical place, a place you go when trouble arises. When dark times loom, home is where you seek refuge and wait until the storm passes.

We are in the middle of a maelstrom, lost at sea, with nothing but a dim light in the distance giving us a chance to go home – a chance to hear “everything is going to be okay.”

Sometimes, home is the only hope we have.

But what if there is no home to return to? What if home isn’t a singular place?

The idea of home is a complicated one for immigrants like me. I try hard to adapt and assimilate to this new land that has adopted me. I’ve made friends. I’ve made memories. I’ve experienced joy and suffered heartbreak. The United States should be home.

But Mexico is still waiting for me to return, a homeland with no questions asked. Mexico is the place I was born. Mexico has my family. Mexico has been and will continue to be my backup plan if my American experiment does not pan out. Mexico should be home.

But I am now also stranger in that land South of the Border. Soon I will have spent more time living in the United States than in Mexico, and despite my parents’ best efforts, if I can help it, I never want to return. I am a kid that stepped out of his front door to face the world, refusing to look back.

And the United States, a place I have learned to love and appreciate despite all its faults, continues to remind me that my presence is not wanted. Every day I am reminded through the news, through Twitter, through the radio, that I am not welcome here. That I am nothing but a leech hanging on to the soft underbelly of the nation.

“Go home.” “Speak English.” “You’re a rapist and a murderer.” These are all statements that have looked beyond my abilities as a skilled worker and a student, targeting the one place I so willingly left. The United States is the parent trying to kick me out of the house, hoping I never return.

And so, essentially, I am homeless.

Enter, coronavirus.

The closing of the universities, including mine, Loyola University Chicago, and the shutdown of all public gatherings called for people to go home and stay home. For once, go to your loved ones and lock yourself in.

But how can someone go home when there is nowhere to go?

I believe immigrants have a different notion of what home means to them. Homeless souls wandering from town to town are unable to have a permanent place to set their roots –  nomads wherever they go.

I have started shifting my views on what home is. Home is no longer a house or a family I return to. Instead, home is the people around me who make this hard life worth living. Finding those who love you and want to be loved is the closest I will come to home while living in Chicago.

Returning to my Rogers Park apartment does not mean returning home unless my roommates are there. I am not at home unless my best friend sends me his favorite meme of the day. Preparing a meal through a virtual screen can be home.

Coronavirus told me to go home and stay home, but I’ve nowhere to go. All I have is rotating cast of characters that love me for who I am and are happy to have me around. Not having a permanent place to return to may sound intimidating. But a traveling circus can be just the home I need.


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