This is one of those questions I really struggle to answer and I can only predict that as time goes by, and the balance of years I’ve lived in the country where I was born and raised, Venezuela, have become less than the ones I have lived in the United States it is only going to get more challenging to answer. To me, it feels surreal that it was twenty-five years ago TODAY that I told my dad that two years were going to go really fast, while he bid me farewell at the airport as I embarked in my “Going to get a Master’s in the US and will be right back” Journey.
My parents knew far too well what was going to happen. They were immigrants as well. My mom was only 10 years old when her family made a 30-day ship voyage from Sicily to Melbourne, Australia in search of a better future. Ten years later she would return to Sicily only to meet my father a few years later who proposed to get married and go chase luck in Venezuela. 52 years later they still live there. Their love and gratitude for the country where they grew their family are so big, that despite the incredibly difficult socio-political circumstances, they resist moving back to their homeland.
My mom has always defined herself as a ‘citizen of the world’, and while growing up I could have never related to the expression, I sure can now.
While I am proud of my Birth Country, I have never been able to say that I am Venezuelan without explaining that my parents are Italian. Why? Because the Italians that immigrated to South America when my parents did (1950’s) did everything they could to make sure that their kids were raised with their own culture, traditions, and language. To my parents, it was very important to have us spend the entire summer back in Italy which only made us a bit ‘more Italian’. My friends back in school would call me “MAFI” (with the unfortunate and erroneous misconception that being Sicilian means you are somehow linked to the Mafia). In Venezuela we were “The Italians” and in Italy, we were ‘The Americans’. No wonder I struggled with the question of Where’s HOME from the get-go!
As destiny had it, by staying in Miami for a quarter of a century, marrying a Dutch man, and giving birth to two US-born kids, I managed to make the question of Where is HOME, even more impossible to answer. I admit it that it hit me when I saw my Kids recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” for the first time. It made me think of how my parents might have felt the first time they saw me sing the Venezuelan National Anthem. It seems unimportant, but I assure you, it makes the difference between you and your kids very real in a very unexpected way.
Leaving your own country is never easy. On one hand, you will never return to what you left behind. Not fitting in your own country anymore is a hard pill to swallow, no matter how long ago you left it. On the other hand, no matter how kind people are in the country you chose to settle in, you will always be an immigrant, your accent will always be a reminder that you don’t really belong there. And yet, if you live the experience with an open heart and understanding that you can’t impose your own culture and traditions in someone else’s ‘home’, but instead you embrace and honor your host country’s traditions as much as you can, without compromising your own heritage and essence, the experience is an enriching one.
I don’t know if I will ever get to answer this question in a way that satisfies the curiosity of whoever asks, but this is the answer my heart gives:
VENEZUELA is ME, where I was born and raised and where the seed started to grow. No matter how bad the situation is, I will always proudly say I AM VENEZUELAN and I will continue to fight with every inch of my soul for the day where we see it shine again.
ITALY is my FAMILY, where we come from, and the roots of the tree. Being Italian fills me with pride in understanding where my parents are from and the great challenges they overcame to live the life they lived.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is my kids and the family my husband and I work hard to grow and nurture each and every day. A land of opportunity where the seeds can really grow into a farm. To me, the US is a welcoming host that has always treated me fairly. I also think is the only country in the world that can sell you on the idea that there you can realize the dream of achieving anything your heart desires. I consider myself blessed for the opportunity of having a shot at the American Dream.
As I write this and as so many memories are flashing in front of me, I am coming to the realization that HOME is actually the JOURNEY and not the destination after all. I feel HOME when I am with old friends, in special places, at my favorite band’s concert, seeing my kids having fun, visiting a place that WOW’s me…..or kissing my husband and feeling the butterflies all over again.
Where do YOU call HOME?