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Home is Actually Where the Heart Is

“Home is where the heart is” is likely a phrase you have heard plenty (or read on wooden canvases next to others that announce “live, laugh, love!”). The saying attempts to simplify though also broaden the notion of “home”. It assigns it to not a specific place or location, but a space of care and comfort. However, like many phrases or sayings, it is much easier said than done. “Home” is constantly being defined and redefined by people that feel they have a space of belonging. So, what is “home” for those who feel that they do not belong – it turns into a mythical place many long to be part of. Though abstract in nature, the word attempts to imply stability, singularity and a place of permanence. This is inherently flawed when the places we feel stable and have established permanence can change multiple times during our lifetime, and beyond, generationally. Furthermore, the latter reasoning doesn’t even consider the places that feel like “home” but do not accept us, the individual, as part of said space – when you are rejected from your home, is it still your home?

“Home” is probably the most essentialized idea I have encountered. Its inherent ties to matters of family and belonging can create incredible dysmorphia when it comes to defining where one’s home(s) lie(s) and what one’s identity is within that, if they are to inform to one another. Zadie Smith is acutely aware of this whilst writing White Teeth (2002) – a novel that follows the later lives of wartime friends Englishman Archie Jones and Bangladeshi Sammad Iqbal – and their families, within late 1900’s multicultural London. She explores the themes of family, multiculturalism and the interpersonal relationships that revolve around them. The characters all go through individual but also collective issues together and at the end of the day, the questions that remain concern their identity and where said identity feels at home. During the last chapters, Smith focuses on these inquires through an internal monologue by Irie, “[…] if it was not somebody’s child, could it be that it was nobody’s child? […] a perfectly plotted thing with no real coordinates. A map to an imaginary fatherland”. Smith is concerned with the connections between home and family and the traditional exclusivity of the terms.  George Lamming, in his book In the Castle of my Skin (1990), focuses on the lack of a tangible place to call home, due to emigration and/or colonialism. The book, a coming-of-age narrative, follows the events in the life of a young boy named G and the Caribbean community he is part of during the times of British colonialism in Barbados. There is a consistent anxiety that lives amongst the people due to the instability of their land and houses -- their homes are being stripped from them by various sources. Nonetheless, they are able to find stability in the people that form part of the community. Both authors take a foundational part of what makes home a home and eradicate it in order to see if the notion still stands. What is left is the idea that home is as fluid as movement, in it exists multiplicity, and it is found not in a space, but a sentiment: that of belonging.

Every day it becomes more difficult to pin down “home” to a simply four walls. In 2020, there were 281 million international migrants in the world, which equates to 3.6 per cent of the global population and the number is predicted to keep increasing exponentially. When there is wide available access to overseas transportation, it is bizarre to assume the lack of multiculturalism present in any or all spaces. People move for a variety of reasons and establish roots in alternative countries. Furthermore, the generations following the first immigrants become of that new country, as established by their parents/grandparents. They most likely assimilate into the cultures of said space and potentially, establish their own families with other people that have similar experiences. Then, not only is a person of two ethnicities and cultures but a combination of multiple, all blending and informing one another.

Zadie Smith is cognizant of this “phenomenon” in the writing of her debut novel, where she argues how it is not a phenomenon. This is best portrayed in Alsana’s thoughts when Joyce tries to help Millat during his phase of rebellion. She thinks about how about how Joyce says that she is "involved" in her life, whether she like it or not. Alsana reflects on the idea of getting "involved" and how many people take it as a reason for celebration, as if it was a radical and progressive place to be in -- "to be involved". But Alsana, argues, it is simply a consequence, "a tired, inevitable fact", made possible through the technologies of travel and open borders. If everyone is inevitably to be involved with one another, the opportunities of belonging in a multitude of spaces becomes ever more possible.

It could also be argued that the multiplicity of place and community disseminates the chances over all to fully belong. As if one does not belong entirely in any place without sacrificing the fraction of identity that pertains to another. This sentiment resonates especially true with people that feel they “live on the hyphen”, neither of here nor there. However, this ideology clings to the notion that one must be of a singular space/home/community and the lack thereof signifies a disloyalty to all. People are multifaceted and complex and have the capacity to be part of dozens of spaces at once, there is rarely a need to sacrifice a facet of any. That is if we consider bigoted spaces – those that reject the wholeness of one’s identity and multiplicity of belonging – as not a true home. Paul Gilroy speaks similarly about a multicultural identity in the chapter “The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity” where he states: “However, where racist, nationalist, or ethnically absolutist discourses orchestrate political relationships so that these identities appear to be mutually exclusive, occupying the space between them or trying to demonstrate their continuity has been viewed as a provocative and even oppositional act of political insubordination.” The exposition of cultural plurality begins a questioning of allegiance to one or more of said identities. This essentialized and “absolutist” understanding of identity and home, works in favor of nationalist ideology that promote unwavering dedication to a singular community.

The fluidity of “home” is most prominent in George Lamming’s novel, The Castle of My Skin, through the figurative language found in the descriptions of the town the main characters are part of. Lamming portrays the community as being physically and structurally weak through his quote “the whole village shook with song on its foundation of water.” However, he is also able to highlight the fervor and strength found within the people that make up the community – his home. In the last page of the novel, the narrator is bidding farewell to the landlord that made up part of the community, Mr. Slime. He reflects on the moment nine years later: “The village/my mother/ a boy among the boys/ a man who knew his people won’t feel alone/ to be a different kind of creature. Words and voices falling like a full shower and the old man returning with the pebble under the grape leaf on the sand: You won’t see me again, my son” In this quotation, water is used as a metaphor for overwhelming abundance, “voices falling like a full shower”, he is covered by the voices that make up his community and his home is found within that abundance.

Within both novels, the notion of home and identity are interwoven to the extent of unwavering correspondence with one another. What is explored throughout the coming-of-age story, but also the focused multicultural narrative is a search for a sense of belonging. Who am I and where is home? These questions are unavoidable to anyone, as humans are social beings that rely on one another to form communities in the name of security and survival. The notion that one is exclusively part of one community or place was coined and has been perpetuated by systems of power that strive for a unified people that share unconditional nationalism for said place. There is multiplicity in spaces we can find belonging because we are able belong to many spaces and communities simultaneously, and continually. This is allowed through our ability of multifaceted identities that have been and can be built up through the progression of our livelihoods, so as not to speak of the influence generational past. Home is found where we feel belong – where there is comfort, inclusivity, understanding and care. Essentially, home is where the heart is. I guess the corny household signs where right when they coined that one.