Art by Jia Sung, for Guernica Magazine
The other day, I was listening to Anna Flores, a child of undocumented immigrants who calls herself lucky to be from the “right” side of the border, the side that bestows automatic citizenship upon those who are born there — here — in these United States. Anna is a poet and we were both speakers at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference at the Virginia C. Piper Center for Creative Writing in Tempe, Arizona. Anna told me that she has three brothers who were born on the other side of the border, the “wrong” side, and that they walked across the desert to get to Arizona, but then they were deported, returned to where they’d come from even though it is here that they believe they belong.
Belonging is a human necessity. I watch my 9-year-old daughter navigate the complicated relationships with other kids at school and exhale. She has good friends. She is accepted. She belongs.
My daughter was born in the United States, which is not where I was born, but it is where I am and where, for 20 years, I have tried to belong. It is the country that has welcomed me as a citizen, giving me a shield that Anna’s brothers don’t have. Not even her citizenship could protect them.
I’m still searching for the meaning of belonging, but the meaning of citizenship, I’ve learned. I’ve learned it from noncitizens like Anna’s brothers, undocumented immigrants who are among the best citizens I know because their lives are grounded in the duty of serving others and the civic responsibilities they embrace. I wrote about these lessons for Guernica Magazine, and about my efforts at reorienting my compass since Mike died. Because he was my country, the person who made me feel welcome, the reason I felt that I belonged here. He was my home.
What does “home” mean to you? I am rediscovering and redefining what it means to me, with love and purpose, always.
WHY – AND HOW – I WRITE
The key to writing a good story is knowing what you don’t know and finding the right people and documents to help you learn it. You have a fundamental question that leads to a bunch of other questions that need to be answered so that your fundamental question makes sense. This is how I write.
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