What’s in a Home?

Home.  For me, it lies in a yellow house tucked against the woods, smoke curling out of a chimney and yellow lab lolling lazily (she’s a little chunky) in the front yard.  I can draw up the image in a moment, the high wooden ceilings, the dark, scratched floors covered with sun-bleached rugs, the sun (or lack thereof) pouring through enormous windows; my mother dances through the kitchen, the feral cat that lives in the backyard curls up on a deck chair, my dad’s glasses are found (found as they are often lost to him)  somehow buried under a slightly disheveled copy of the Times on the counter.  Yet, home, for me, is not simply this one place — home is  also my apartment on Main Street, with the tiny (no, seriously, it’s tiny) kitchen with the yellow kettle on an old stove top, with a small room with disposable camera photos pasted on paneled walls and books piled on every surface; home is my dorm in the Netherlands, with a wall-to-wall window big enough to climb out of, with orange bikes strewn throughout the garage, with an Italian roommate slicing peppers and listening to rap in the kitchen, with friends three floors up and a park five minutes away.  To have had so many different places to call home is a privilege, the marker of not only a peaceful, healthy, wealthy, lucky life, but of a rooted life — rooted in a loving family, in a wealthy hometown (in wealthy whiteness), in a good education,  in consistent stability in almost every direction.  Acknowledging and recognizing the privilege of my idea of home is difficult, given how inherent this concept is to my identity, to my life — home is, in the most basic sense, your setting, your background, in life; the context wherein the rest of your life takes place. Of course, the idea of home is evolutionary: changing as you change, changing as you move, as you go to college, as you leave college, as you get married (get divorced), move back in with your parents, as you rent from a landlord forever because you’re a millenial or Gen Z child who is likely to be worse off than your parents, as you retire and move to Florida.  And, given its dependence upon the environment around you and your own life choices, home is also relative.  For example, even between myself and my brother the idea of home is different, especially given that my brother lives on the road.  If there is as much difference between my brother’s concept of home and my own, how much difference is there between my idea of home and those of people with lives so different from my own?

In considering the privilege rooted within my own idea of home, I’ve been interested in the seeming lack of a home for any of the protagonists in The Broken Earth trilogy.  The majority of the narratives (basically all protagonist narratives, except for that of Houwha in Syl Anagist) threaded throughout Hoa’s tale are set on the road; the narrative is, in other words, set within the context of a life of movement.  Can it be said that any of the characters truly have a home? Damaya’s Fulcrum is not a home, it is a pretty prison (As Syenite discovers, “The security and sense of self-worth the Fulcrum offers is wrapped in the chain of her right to live, and even the right to control her own body” [Fifth Season 348]).  Certainly, Syenite may have had stability in Meov, but was it ever home (her unrest can be found in a conversation with Alabaster:”‘I do like it here, you know.  I just get… restless.’ ‘You’re always restless.  What are you looking for?’ [Syenite] shakes her head.  ‘I don’t know.’ But she thinks, almost but not quite subconsciously: A way to change things.  Because this is not right’” [Fifth Season 371].). Essun had stability in Tirimo, she had a family, had safety, had the closest thing she perhaps had ever had to a home, and, yet, it is a lie.  Can it then be considered home? Even if it is, by the time we are introduced to Essun, it is simply unsafe, a risk.  Even Castrima, though perhaps the closest to a home we ever see for Essun, is not entirely home for her.  Not when she knows that Nassun is alive somewhere else.  Nassun too is without a home, on the road with Jija, on the road with Schaffa, on the run in Found Moon, as a redeemer (or an apocalypse) in Corepoint.  Nassun, like Damaya, like Essun in Tirimo, had a home once, but we do not see much of Nassun-at-home.   These characters may have once been exposed to the idea of home, but due to persecution, fear, violence, catastrophe, they have sacrificed or lost it. And what about Hoa? Does he have a home? In the Syl Anagist narrative he comments of his chambers, “I have never thought before that the chamber I live in is a prison cell, but now for the first time, I do” (Stone Sky 202).

What does it meant that within the context of these novels, no one character truly knows a home? Everyone is constantly fleeing something; constantly in the midst of a crisis (of course, part of this is due to the fact that a plot is not necessarily moved along by stability — as Hoa states in an Interlude in The Fifth Season, “‘It was not all terrible. There was peace in long stretches, between each crisis. A chance to cool and solidify before the grind resumed.'”). None of these characters exist in an environment stable enough to offer them the safety and comfort, really the right, of a home.

This concept of movement, the setting of life on the road, on the run, is especially relevant within the present political context, with our enormous focus on migration — this is true not just in the context of American politics, but in the context of European, and in fact, global politics.  In America we tend to focus on migration in and refugees from Central America, but many European countries are feeling the effects of migration from the Middle East, with crises in Syria and Yemen (the situation in Yemen is stated to be “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”) creating enormous numbers of refugees.  People are fleeing their homes, their true homes, their lands, their ancestry, due to humanitarian crises, due to violence and persecution; their homes have become too dangerous for them to feel safe.  Can you imagine this? I’m actually asking… take a moment, imagine it.  Imagine being so afraid of your home that you pick up your family, pick up your entire life and you leave.  It’s not a road trip, it’s not moving to another house, to another town — refugees often leave their countries with no idea of whether or not they will find another home, of whether they will return, of whether their chosen sanctuary, or any sanctuary will accept them — they leave their home for the unknown, indeed for no home at all.  Thus, my own idea of home, that place rooted in stability and wealth, is unobtainable for millions of people fleeing from their own homes.  To have a home is a seeming necessity, yet it is something at risk for millions (not only due to violence and persecution, but due to natural disaster, climate change, economic issues, etc.; this is not to even get into the concept of homelessness within countries).

You only need to take a look at the headlines from the past few days to begin to get an idea of the prevalence of this political focus:

Faced with months-long wait in Mexico, some caravan migrants decide to go home

Lawmakers call for greater protections for migrant teens in U.S. detention camp

Tech execs tell Germany to scrap ‘hate-filled’ migrant campaign

U.S. Border Agents Fire Tear Gas at Migrants and Close Border

We’ve discussed the leading aspects of the phrasing “migrant caravan” in terms of the word “caravan,” but in referencing to those who seek asylum in our country as “migrants” we fall into another pit of politicization (is politicization the right term do you think?).  The term “migrant” serves to obscure the truth of the situation for many people coming to not only America’s borders, but to borders of asylum-granting countries throughout the world.  An article in Quartz states, “Media coverage is essential in shaping public perceptions of refugees and immigrants, and in giving people an understanding of the situations they are fleeing.” Thus, we have a responsibility to investigate and recognize the connotations of those words which we use as a lens through which to view current events.  The article gives an example of the immediate change in tone as a result of changing the word “migrant” to “asylum seeker.”

New York Times: Migrants Asylum Seekers Rush US Border in Tijuana, but Fall Back in Face of Tear Gas

Washington Post: U.S. closes major crossing as caravan migrants asylum seekers mass at border in Mexico

CNN: US authorities fire tear gas to disperse migrants asylum seekers at border

The entire concept of asylum, especially in America, itself has always been extremely politicized.  America denied Jews seeking sanctuary during World War II — perhaps more aptly, during the Holocaust — and many of those denied were forced back into Germany, where they were killed. After World War II and the publicizing of the humanitarian crises that took place, many countries began enacting the idea of asylum, wherein those fleeing persecution and violence (very generally stated) could request asylum in a country and the country’s government would grant them protection until it was deemed safe for them to return.  However, those who were accepted into America upon the creation of asylum were accepted as much on the basis of who would be advantageous to the administration as on the basis of their need for aid.  Initial acceptance of asylum seekers (which included successful scientists and artists, the most famous example, of course, being Albert Einstein) was based upon shaping America’s global identity as a leading, successful country that was the haven of freedom and progress.  As the country became involved in the Cold War, the acceptance of Vietnamese and Cuban refugees and asylum seekers was meant to further the image of America as a refuge for those seeking freedom from tyrannies and communism.  However, acceptance of refugees and asylum seekers from other, less-relevant or less-politicized countries was less politically useful and thus less guaranteed.  Under the Obama administration, the grounds for what situations qualified for political asylum were changed to be a bit more broad — to include those victimized by gang violence, domestic violence, and so on.  However, the recent changes in rhetoric under the Trump administration reflect the increasing dominance of an isolationist rhetoric: the administration wishes for America not to be seen as a harbinger of progress but as independent of other countries (America First; much of this information is from this episode of The Daily).  This politicization of acceptance, of who is allowed safety and who is allowed to belong, to begin a new home, is actually present in The Broken Earth trilogy in who is allowed into a comm (based upon their need for Strongbacks, Breeders, Knappers, Innovators, etc.).  It is especially seen in Steel and Rennanis’ offer of protection to those who join Rennanis, an offer that very vocally excludes orogenes, thus promoting a certain view of who is allowed a home and who is allowed safety.  

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