It all started with the sight. Before the plane landed, I saw the soaring skyscrapers and the golden rivers of traffic lights flowing in the distance. Then, the sound followed. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Mexico City.” As I got off the plane, Spanish words began to flood my ears: “Buenas noches,” “Bienvenidos,” “¿Cómo estás?” By the time I walked out of the airport, the scent arrived. It may have been the taco stands or the street mist. I have never known exactly; it just smelled like home. I could not resist buying a treat from the street vendors roaming every corner: a bag of spicy chips, a tamal with a cup of chocolate atole or some warm tacos de canasta from the trunk of a vendor’s bike. The taste brought me back. I drove straight from the airport to my best friend’s house. She was waiting for me and, as I stepped out to hug her, our embrace made me remember the touch. In that moment, I knew I was home. It felt as if I was suddenly remembering the words to a song I had not heard in years, riding a bike again after months of walking or touching the crests of my hands after wearing gloves for hours. It is something as familiar as myself, no matter how long it has been.
Home is a complicated concept. It is difficult to explain it to others, simply because of how innate and abstract it feels. Home exists through the senses. Mexico City is my sight, hearing, scent, taste and touch. It is how I perceive and understand the world around me. It was the first place I ever knew, the model by which I recognize all other parts of the globe. For over 19 years, it was the only place I could call home.
However, the last few years have complicated an already confusing idea. I have been living in Washington, D.C., for two years now, and, after a week in Mexico City, as I boarded the plane back to the United States, I was unsure if I was coming home or returning from it. A very strange sensation came over me and, suddenly, I did not know where or what home was. Was it a specific place or a familiar feeling? Was my hometown or even my home country the only real home I would ever have, or had I built another in Washington, D.C.?
On the plane ride back to the United States, I began to think about what Mexico City meant to me, and I might have come up with a conclusion about where and what home is. Mexico City is my bits and pieces, my blurry edges and layers. This crazy, overwhelming city soothes me with a warm feeling. All the voices, the traffic, the lights and the rushing crowds bring me a deep sense of ease. It has made me into who I am, into who I always think of myself to be. Home means the beginning, the origin of my life. But, as I thought about Mexico, I wondered: where did Washington, D.C., now fit into my life? Was the United States a temporary base and transitory feeling, or a second home and permanent sensation?
The answer came unexpectedly. It all started with the sight. Before the plane landed, I saw the marbled monuments and the symmetric greens. Then, the sound followed. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Washington, D.C.” As I got off the plane, English words began to flood my ears: “Good morning,” “Welcome,” “How are you?” By the time I walked out of the airport, the scent arrived. It may have been the trees’ smell or the tempered air. I have never known exactly why, but it just smelled like home. I could not resist heading to my favorite pizza place, 2Amys, and buying my traditional margherita with extra cheese. The taste brought me back. I drove to my parents’ house, where I have been living for the past two years with my family. My little brother was waiting for me, and, as I stepped out to hug him, our embrace made me remember the touch. In that moment, I knew I was home.
I realized home could be a place, a beginning and a familiar sensation. But mostly, it is the people, the life you create somewhere in the world, the experience you have with everything surrounding you. Without conflict, today I can say that, although Mexico City will always be home, Washington, D.C., has become home, too. They belong neither to the past or the present but to my senses. Sitting on an airplane flying between Mexico and the United States, I realized I was coming from one home to another.
DANI GUERRERO is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.