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Kristin in Nicaragua

coming/going "home"

while living abroad has its challenges -- learning new languages, adapting to new climates, finding addresses with new directions, adjusting to different schedules, and attempting to understand others' ways of being -- for me, coming "home" (in my case, back to Southern California) is always the more difficult adjustment. this has been the case after I lived in México for a year, Honduras for a summer, Nicaragua for 2 different summers, Brazil for 6 months, and now Nicaragua for 11 consecutive months. I've been back for two weeks now and the thing that struck me most initially was how LARGE everything in the U.S. seems: cell phones are bigger (and handhelds are ubiquitous), freeways are massive, supermarkets have more choices than anyone could ever desire, and people themselves are bigger than in many other places. All these things combine, I think, to lead people in the U.S. to lose a sense of self-consciousness (I'm generalizing now), what I mean is that it's so easy to become un-self reflective about: how much we consume, how much physical and material space we occupy, how loud we speak (on our handhelds when everyone is listening), how we think, and how we impose these ways of being (consciously and unconsciously) on the rest of the world. I don't mean for this to be a blanket critique of the U.S. -- I for one, LOVE my ethnically diverse, working class Los Angeles neighborhood where, somehow, we all seem to get along: the Central American first generation immigrants, the South Korean storekeepers, the Cambodian donut store owners (who make delicious pan dulce, by the way, which they sell using their quite proficient Spanish), the Mexican botanica owners, the Salvadoran pupuseria operators, the African American families, the Latino hipster-skater youth, the neighborhood borrachos, and even the calle 18 gangsters -- we all seem to get along. I love that I live in a building built in the 1930s that has rent control (saves me in grad school!), that I can bike to work with my neighbor, and that Los Angeles celebrated yesterday when a district court judge overturned Prop 8 (yay for civil rights!). I love, in short, the diversity of L.A. -- ethnic, national, religious, sexual, linguistic, age -- diversity. And of course it is good to be reunited with my cat Salvador, and to be close to my mom and my aging grandmother. However, my heart longs to be back in Nicaragua, I miss the incredible engagement I felt in every activity in my daily routine: in my research, in my relationships with the families in my study, in my work with Servicio Jesuita para Migrantes, and even with students in my spinning classes! Somehow life in Managua grew on me - despite the heat, traffic, political instability, insecurity and even chaos - I developed a sense of community, of belonging. In short, these feelings raise deep personal issues about the meaning of "home". In part, home is where we have family, friends, neighbors, caring, trusting and supportive relationships with other people, our pets (of course, I'm an animal lover!), our work, our hobbies. In a more academic sense, migration scholars have written about how the meaning of "home" shifts for migrants, who often form new families in destination countries that become their new "home". However, these scholars point out, despite time and distance, migrants' longings for an imagined "home" that they feel about their country of origin persist, and many dream of one day moving "back home", buying a house, returning to live near extended family in their country of birth. In a curious way, I'm feeling my life now as straddling borders, part of me -- my commitments to my work and the relationships I formed with colleagues, friends, and two particular families in my study -- this part of me remains in Nicaragua, and I'm making liberal use of modern communication technologies (thank goodness for skype - seriously, anthropological fieldwork pre-web communication capability was a whole different experience!) to "stay in touch". I am also currently teaching a summer class at UCLA and hoping to bring some of the passion I felt during my fieldwork to the classroom and to my students' quest for knowledge about Latin American Communities (the title of my class). At times I think about how it is as if I am a reverse, voluntary, migrant whose birthplace happens to afford her the ability to travel, to cross borders "legally", to live, work, study in other places, in places that other people want or feel compelled to leave because they find limited or no options for sustaining their own and their families' lives in their countries of origin. Life has given me this privilege, has opened the world to me, and this endows me with an incredible sense of moral responsibility to tell the stories that Nicaraguans shared with me - this is now the project I face in writing my dissertation. It's also strangely difficult to conclude a blog, but this will be my last post here. As I move forward with different projects in the coming months, mainly writing my dissertation, but also ongoing solidarity with the work of SJM, and other personal adventures and goals, I may open a new blog; if I do so, I'll post the address here. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments this past year, on and off this blog space. **peace/paz**

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