I’ve often marveled at friends who’ve lived in the same county their whole lives, grown up in the same house, attended the same schools with their friends for years, cheered as adults for the same football team they cheered for as teenagers, felt a deep connection to their college alma mater after spending all four years there. Admittedly, at times, I’ve also been slightly envious of them for their sense of place, their roots in the soil, their hearts never needing a compass to find home.
I live in the American South, and I’ve grown to dearly love it. I love the ability to drive 4 hours in either direction and find serene beaches or breathtaking mountains. I love having waterfalls 40 minutes from my house. I’ve even begun to appreciate fried okra and country music.
But I don’t have a deep Southern accent – or an accent specifically from any region of the U.S. I don’t have memories of growing up with all the American pop culture my peers have. Name a movie from the 90s, and I probably will have no idea what it is. Only in the past decade have I discovered the wonders of Simon & Garfunkle, Star Trek and other TV dynasties, and the fact that there really is such a thing as style. I’m still learning American idioms. And if you ask me where I’m from, I’ll either take the easy route and say, “South Carolina” or tell you this: “I was born in PA. I moved to IN when I was 1 and then to SC when I was 3. I moved to Dallas, TX when I was 10 and to McAllen, TX when I was 11. I moved to Mexico when I was 12 and to Honduras when I was 13. I moved back to SC when I was 15 and lived in Myrtle Beach, Mullins, and Dillon, then moved to Hereford and then Canyon, TX when I was 19. At 20, I moved back to SC and then to GA for the first half of my junior year of college. I moved back to SC to finish college in Myrtle Beach and then moved back to Dillon. I moved to Spartanburg when I was 25 and have been here almost 5 years.”
Five states. Three countries. Ten schools (plus homeschool) in K-12. Four colleges. My family wasn’t unstable; we were just open to the call of God and ready to go wherever He led. And boy, did He lead in the best of ways.
I don’t have memories of growing up in the same house in the same place with the same friends, cheering for the same team, eating at the same beloved grease joints, or hanging out on Friday nights with the same loyal crew. But I do have memories of rounding up cows every evening before sunset, wrangling and riding horses and learning to care for them, having a pet goat named Lalo, ringing the Mexican orphanage bell at meal time and gathering with 30 other kids to bless the food, the cook, and the parents who had to leave the kids behind. I have memories of Christmas – real Mexican Christmas – with tamales and fireworks and late-night parties. With gift exchanges for kids who’d grown up with next to nothing and were receiving HOPE from Christ Himself through the love of people who gave. I have memories of trekking down desert roads to the one good pulperia for the best Coca en bolsa – Coca-Cola in a bag. I remember dodging herds of cattle in the street while just trying to drive home. I remember hours upon hours upon hours of escondite – hide-and-seek – with an orphanage full of beautiful children scurrying and squealing with delight across the entire campus at night.
I don’t have much in the way of pop culture knowledge, but I still remember hearing mariachi in the streets, watching El Chavo del Ocho and Sabado Gigante and Chabelo on TV, and singing my guts out at a Torre Fuerte concert with my best friend. There are worship songs I still know only in Spanish. While friends would pull out their Britney Spears or 98 Degrees albums, I’d be belting out songs by La Hormiga or Juan Carlos Alvarado.
I can’t answer the question of where I’m from, but I can tell you that my heart still calls to the Honduran mountains, majestically green with precarious roads etched into their bellies. I can tell you that there’s nothing like waking up in the morning to a rooster’s crow echoing across the mountains, going downstairs for a late breakfast and hearing the thunderous clanging of the daily rain pelting the tin roof in rainy season, walking outside near the avocado tree and the swing to walk in the cloud that descended in the backyard, climbing the mango tree to read a book, taking a walk down into the pueblo of Santa Lucia to the laguna, stopping at the potter’s house to see his latest creations, and going home for pupusas for dinner. There’s nothing like eating charamuscas (amazing frozen treats made of condensed milk and cinnamon, sometimes with other ingredients) for the quince de septiembre parade while watching people dressed as ancient religious figures marched by. And while I may not have a particular American accent, there’s nothing like being asked by Latin Americans if you’re from their country when they hear you speak their language.
It’s taken me a long time to grapple with the idea of home and what that means for me. I can’t claim a particular place. The question of where I’m from used to nearly strike panic in my heart as I wondered the best way to answer. Say, “South Carolina”, and I’d be neither entirely accurate nor specific. Say the rest of it, and I’d sound like a braggart. It took a while to decide that what others think about it doesn’t matter.
My home, my upbringing, and my memories are no better than those of people who’ve grown up with a deep sense of home and place all their lives. Our experiences are merely different and wholly our own. So, what’s the answer to the question? I’m a 30-year old, American, Spanish-speaking woman who teaches middle school English and can’t seem to cook an American meal well to save her life (but I’m working on it!). And my home is here. Or in the next place or the place after that. My home is wherever I am. My home is the place I make it. My home is the people I love, who, as someone recently told me, “never truly leave us”. My home is in the heart of a God who, in His providence, saw that this particular creation of His needed more than one place to spread her heart; she needed cities and states and countries and mountain ranges and languages and people groups. A God who knew that while I’d never fully belong to any place, I’d always completely belong to Him.