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Where is home when you can’t go back?

| Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Commonly known as “the Rainbow,” a mosaic of millions of red, blue, yellow and black tiles adorn the floor and walls of Simon Bolivar International Airport. The merging blocks of colors crafted by the renowned artist Carlos Cruz Diez are the only thing left in Venezuela with any structure or sense.

Walking through those tiles is an experience reminiscent of Dorothy Gale’s. During the first steps down the mosaic’s optical illusion, you can almost listen to her sing her ode to the weather phenomenon. You remember the devastation, desperation and grief you’re leaving behind and can only visualize reaching a place “where troubles melt like lemon drops.”

However, at the very end, where chromatic vibrancy turns into cinderblock, you desire nothing else but Dorothy’s dazzling red slippers — not for their beauty, but for their ability to conjure a spell to ground you to the land you’re about to abandon.

It is only at the end of the Rainbow that you discover the meaning of the phrase, “There’s no place like home.”

Like thousands of other people, I walked down those very blocks in January of this year. At the time, I thought it would be temporary, that I would return during the summer. However, when the pandemic ran rampant across the nation and Venezuela closed its borders, I realized that, even if I wanted to, I would not return for a long time.

It seems absurd to want to go back to a crisis-stricken land that millions have already fled from. Yet, Venezuela is and will always be my home. It’s the place where I grew up, where I first discovered the world, where my family remains. Despite its current chaos, it’s the place where my heart is.

Being unable to return to the place you call home is like being plucked from the ground where you deepened your roots. It evokes an uncanniness and uneasiness that is hard to put into words. It’s the deep longing and nostalgia that carried over Dorothy’s journey from the Land of Oz to Kansas.

Unlike Dorothy, tapping my shoes cannot counter the pain of circumstance. This realization haunted me throughout the pandemic and it occasionally still does. However, I’ve learned to cope with it thanks to a phrase my parents told me: “Home is us five.”

The truth is that home is not merely physical — it’s also a state of mind. My country is tarnished and will continue to decay under the current dictatorship, but my home is constant and never changing.

Even if I’m 2,178 miles away from my Caribbean paradise, my home manifests itself whenever I FaceTime family members. It’s present in the care packages filled with Venezuelan food that my parents send me. It’s demonstrated in the unconditional support I have received from my friends and professors. It showcased itself in Minnesota, when a loving and caring family took me in when classes turned virtual.

Though I’m risking sounding like a cliché doormat, home is truly where the heart is. My home is not the building that housed me, but the unconditional love from the people within it, and that’s where I can always turn to even when I can’t physically go back home.

You can contact Maria at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Maria Luisa Paul

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