Introductionby Patricia Justine Tumang and Jenesha de Rivera
YOU REMEMBER THE AERIAL VIEW of the tarmac floating away into a grainy distance, patches of Earth so vivid—land that once held you in its vast expanse—appearing miniscule like puzzle pieces on a lost landscape. The scalloped edges of an old photograph, an image of a field “back home” that was taken in a place you’ve never been to, during a time before you were born. The photo is stamped with the name of a country that no longer exists. Its image is imprinted in your mind along with the sounds of your native language, words that your tongue has been forced to abandon. You recall the fire in your gut the first time someone pointed out your difference and used it as an insult. You remember the rapid fluttering of your heart the first time you met someone whose experience mirrored yours.
The twenty-eight women in this anthology talk to each other about their journeys “home.” The essays describe homelands that are rooted in traces of images, odors, sensations, and sounds mingling in harmonious melody and clashing in discordant rupture. Their experiences are simultaneously whole and fragmented, comforting and harrowing. Their homelands are either widely disputed or under threat of erasure. War is branded on their skins, waged on their bodies and mother tongues—the battlefields both internal and external. They keep one foot precariously in the past while the other vacillates in the present, finding neither to be a strong foothold. As they realize that the ground that they stand on is illusive, they become “citizen[s] of the country of longing.”
When we began editing this anthology, we were drawn to experiences of longing and the desire to redefine homeland. As first-generation children of Filipino immigrants, we grew up immersed in our parents’ myth of return, in the belief that the United States was a temporary home. Far removed from their homeland, our parents recreated the Philippines in our households. Our homes transformed into a country of the past as we lived and breathed in our parents’ nostalgia: long-distance phone calls to relatives on static-filled lines, sepia-toned pictures in albums falling apart at the seams, the rich aromas of our families’ home-cooked Filipino meals, all of which saturated our American existence. As belief resigned itself to diminished hope, our parents gave in to the reality that they would never return home “for good.” The worlds they had created in the U.S.—with professional careers, American children, and decades of displacement—were permanent reminders of the futility of return.
As we compiled and edited the essays, we entered a process of investigation—of our own complex relationship to our homelands and of the women’s in this anthology. The contributors write in English; most had immigrated to or had been born in the United States. Yet for many, the concept of homeland remains an illusive one—like a dream that escapes the grip of consciousness, existing more willingly in the realm of sensation, memory, and imagination. Although “homeland” is much more than the physical place they’ve acquired through birth, ancestry, or citizenship, many of the contributors longed to name it. Through this investigation, we discovered that the very nature of this longing captured the overall essence of this anthology; essays that examined the nuances of this hunger intrigued us.
This anthology is a testament to the act of reclaiming and reshaping our realities and making sense of the longing that claims our spirits. As women with third-world or first-world roots; white and of color; queer, straight, femme, butch, or trans; warriors and survivors—of violence, exile, poverty, addiction, abuse, and colonization—the contributors live on the inside as well as the outside of “home,” creating new definitions of homeland and reality.
These women conjure a new boundless landscape, one that pieces together the fragmentation of memory. They journey across race, place, and time, leaving one homeland in order to reclaim another. They inhabit multiple homelands—some defined by geography and temporal spheres; cultural and familial inheritances; linguistic legacies; stories and songs of resistance; crossing borders in identity, body, and landscape; spiritual homelands; transience and relocation; displacement and exile; poverty and homelessness. They lose homes, regain them, or reject and replace them wholeheartedly. They reconstruct a new reality from memory’s broken remains. They examine this collage and see themselves reflected in a homeland they call their own.
Our vision for Homelands is grounded in the belief that writing is a form of resistance and activism, that the personal is political. We ourselves are activists and writers; our desire to merge these two key aspects of our lives inspired and informed our process. According to Gloria Anzaldúa, “Making anthologies is also activism. In the process of creating the composition, the work of art . . . you’re creating the culture. You’re rewriting the culture, which is very much an activist kind of thing.” With mainstream media and those in power misconstruing and diminishing real stories of what is happening in the world, we are, as women, engaged in a war over the nature of reality. Through this anthology, we hope to provide a forum for women’s voices and stories so that they can divulge their own truths in a world that distorts them.
In the United States and the rest of the world, the shifting borders of “homeland” have become blurred, and new meanings of home are continually being traversed upon, reconstructed, and re-imagined. War, natural disasters, occupation, genocide, militarism, political struggles, and colonization affect these women’s relationships to their homelands and impacts whether they are able to return home. “Homeland” invokes contradictory feelings and ideas: rootedness and departure, stability and insecurity, reality and imagination. Whether national or international, domestic or foreign, “at home” or “abroad,” the idea of homeland has been etched on our psyches.
For our contributors who have immigrated to new lands or who have been exiled to foreign countries, “homeland” often stirs up feelings of nostalgia, sentimentality, and longing, and for some, displacement and utter loss. Contributors who hail from immigrant families harbor dual allegiances. They long for the homeland of their parents’ past, while creating new homes for themselves in their adopted countries.
The essays in this collection sketch the concept of “homeland” suggestively, not definitively. Like a photograph, we see the art of narrative as a medium for piecing together the past and placing it in the present. Rather than speak for each essay, we invite you to journey with these women as they reveal their truths. Our hope with this anthology is to do what activism and creativity do best: defy boundaries and borders, allowing memory and imagination to traverse a new geography of homeland.
1. Suketu Mehta, Maximum City: Bombay Lost And Found (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), 31.2.
2. Andrea A. Lunsford, “Toward a Mestiza Rhetoric: Gloria Anzaldúa on Composition and Postcoloniality,” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 18, no. 1 (1998): 1–27.