“If we didn’t inherit a land-based home, then how do we create that in this lifetime?” Eliana on home.

the following is an interview with my partner eliana as part of my home project. eliana gave this interview at the very end of our three-month-long roadtrip. it was a year ago we set off on this trip, and two years ago this month when we became partners in adventure, love, and making home. eliana is an organizer, activist, doula, herbalist, among other things, and i’m not even a little bit sorry for loving on them in this public way! content note: the following conversation discusses ancestral trauma and colonization.


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Who are you and where are we?

My name is Eliana and we’re currently at Fancyland, a queer artist and activist retreat center in northern California.

Do you have a place you consider your home of origin?

Thinking about my home of origin brings up a lot of different things. Being on this roadtrip for the past few months and being in so many different places, I’ve had a felt sense that my home of origin is in California, in the Bay Area, as the place I grew up and have spent the majority of my life. Thinking about ancestry and where I come from in my actual origin stories feels really different. Both of my parents moved to California in their lifetime so it’s not like I have even one or two generations of history in California, let alone the historic and ongoing legacies of imperialism, colonization, and migration patterns that have really changed the landscape of this country.

It’s a loaded question and one that I’m thinking about a lot in terms of where do I really come from. When people ask me, ‘where are you from?’ I think it’s so much more complicated than where was I born or where did I grow up. For me it’s about a history in eastern Europe of Jews migrating because of being persecuted. Relatively speaking, that’s a recent history, and I don’t even know where my family of origin came from before that. It’s an ongoing search and discovery to uncover my own origin story and the origin stories of the people whose land I’m on and occupying.

In what ways do your origin stories and histories impact your current search for home?

I used to think about the connection between my ancestors’ patterns of migrations and my own lifetime of moving — the relationship between those two things was fascinating to me when I was starting to learn about my family history. I have this inclination to move a lot and never really feel at home. When I delve deeper into that realm I realize that it is so in my bones and in my blood that for so many generations, my family was constantly moving and searching for home and trying to feel safe. Even though that’s not an experience that I have lived in my life — a real physical threat to my safety being the motivating factor for moving — I feel like there’s something in me that is very nomadic. I feel a constant impulse towards moving.

At the same time, I don’t want to just live out of my ancestral trauma or current struggle for a sense of belonging. I want to heal and find ways of feeling safe and at home that are generative and accountable to the indigenous people and stories of the land I am on.

What do you think that looks like?

It looks like digging roots in deep and not giving up or letting go when things get hard. Trusting that even in moments of tension or struggle where my stability might feel threatened, that I’m at home in my body. It looks like community and political organizing that ensures we all have access to healing and home.

When you are at home in your body, how does that feel? What is that like?

Being at home in my body feels like my face is relaxed and my muscles are just sort of hanging off my bones. There’s a sense of the neurological response of ‘rest and digest.’ I’m not in fight or flight, I’m not clenched or defending myself or pushing out into the world. It’s very much a settling in and relaxation and also an openness and vulnerability. I feel very at home in my body when I’m naked, by myself, in the bathtub, or with loved ones. I feel very at home in my body when I can see my whole body and hold myself. The different ways I’m able to connect to the wholeness of who I am makes me feel at home. Feeling the length between my feet and my head, the width between my shoulders, and just filling out the different dimensions of my body is really grounding and makes me feel at home.

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What does it feel like to be at home in the space around you?

Being at home in the space around me has a lot to do with building history with the space around me. Going back to the question of my home of origin, that’s why the Bay Area feels that way and why I feel at home there. I have history there, and I have that connection to being in the place around me. I know how to get around, I run into people, I have a sense of community. I think that’s something that can be inherited when people have long histories of land-based community that are really grounded in a particular place. I also think it can be built for those of us who don’t have histories of being land-based. That ties into the question, what does it mean to be a Jew living in diaspora, or any kind of diasporic identity? If we didn’t inherit a land-based home, then how do we create that in this lifetime? That feels like a really exciting challenge to build that history and build that community wherever I am. To find and create home that doesn’t perpetuate cycles of ethnic cleansing and colonization but instead is part of creating anti-oppressive, regenerative cultures that honor our relationships to each other and to the land. To know that I can build off of my own traditions and legacies that are connected to a piece of land, that help me feel that sense of place and belonging and home.

Tell me about your tangible goals and intentions around building that.

I’ve had a vision for a long time of co-creating a land-based community and having some sort of queer land project or farm or collective. I’ve used different words to describe it over the years. I’m getting to a point in my life where I’m really ready to make that happen. I’m looking into all of the different components that are important to me in making that happen. The people who are involved is obviously a huge component, like building and creating and sustaining family, including my family of origin, my chosen family, and my community. I want to bring those people into my visions in in an intentional way, and more importantly create a collective vision together. I have my own vision of queer sanctuary and a space for healing and fueling social justice movements, and also, so much of my vision will be shaped by whoever is involved in making that collective vision together. I don’t know. I’m feeling like it’s hard to get into tangible things from big ideas.

What are your next steps into turning big ideas into tangible things?

On this roadtrip, visiting different land projects and collectives was a powerful next step. I’ve been reflecting and seeing that a lot of the intentions I set and a lot of what I needed to do has happened on this trip and will continue to happen as I process and digest all of the information I’ve gathered from people and places I’ve visited. Following this trip, I’m looking forward to moving onto my friends’ farm that they just bought in Oroville, California. It’s already a working farm and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There’s potential for collectivizing. I feel a sense of hope and possibility. I’ll learn so much just from living there, and whatever form it might take, that feels like a good next step. The potential of that physical place being one that I could begin a collective process of visioning and strategizing and developing a structure is really exciting to me.

When I have a deep and intimate relationship to the people and plants and animals around me and am building history over time in that place, that’s when I’ll feel at home.

Tell me about how being on the road has impacted your sense of home — everything from moving around so much and not having a literal, physical space to call home, and also visiting different homes and talking to a lot of different people about the visions they’re in the process of creating?

Being on the road for three months definitely challenged my ideas of what being at home really means. It was hard in a lot of ways to not have a physical space that was mine, that was home. In some ways I do feel like the car became that. Collecting little trinkets and stones from places we went and having those things in the car and seeing that altar be built gave me a sense of home. And realizing, yeah, I really can make home in so many ways with pretty limited resources. Finding the things that make me feel comfortable and building those in more really supported me being able to sustain myself on this trip. Getting to places and having a door to close made a big difference.

On the flip side, constantly being in motion was challenging. Some years ago, I was traveling for the same amount of time but only stayed in two or three different places in the course of three months. I was able to make home in each place I was and have a little altar next to my bed and things like that. On this trip, moving on anywhere from every day to once a week at the most, was a lot of uprooting. It was really exhausting. I can’t imagine living a whole life like that. I always knew how important it was to me to have a stable home to come back to. Not having it on this trip was hard. There’s no ways for me to touch base with myself. It’s so much harder to settle in and just get into the rhythm of, ‘I’m in my space, I’m safe, no one’s coming in, no one needs anything from me right now, I’m not on my way somewhere or arriving from somewhere, I’m just here.’ That feeling of being in my room and being at home is so deeply restorative. It feels like not that much to ask. It feels really basic to want to be in a space, not be bothered, not have to go anywhere, and just be present with myself. That feels like a human need and a human right, to safe and secure housing and to care for ourselves and each other in that way. This trip has worn on me in not having that and I’m really looking forward to settling in and having more downtime.

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me and eliana’s last day at the farm in the sierra foothills

In what ways are you seeking home, and in what ways have you found home?

Even though home is tied to a physical space for me so much of the time, I do feel like the physicality of home has and will change. The seeking and finding home has less to do with seeking and finding a physical home and more about opening my eyes to all of the ways that I do have home, particularly in relationship to other people.

I have a deep knowing that I’ll never be without a home, and that there’s so many people who would hold me and host me and show up for me in that way. I mean, whatever, maybe not. Maybe I can’t say I’ll never be without a home. The apocalypse could happen, you know. things happen. (laughs) I just feel like I have such a loving family and community, and my relationship to you — my partner, Freddie — is a huge way that I’m both seeking home and feel like I’ve found home. That was also really clear on the road. There’s so much more work to be done in building this relationship that we have and making it be one that is a source of grounding and home. And in times where I was struggling or felt homesick or felt unsafe in any varying degrees, I could really call on that relationship and just feel held in it, and loved, and that made all the difference to feel at home in my heart and in my body.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, the smoke’s still gonna rise.” Connie on home.

the following is an interview with my friend connie as part of my home project. i met connie through a friend when she moved to boston several years ago, though she has moved back to her home state of north carolina since giving this interview. connie is an amazing artist among other things, and you can view and purchase her work on etsy. content note: the following conversation discusses trauma around sexual abuse.

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What’s your name and where in the world are we?

My name is Connie and we’re at the pond in Jamaica Plain in Boston, Massachusetts.

Do you have a place you consider a home of origin?

I was born and raised in North Carolina.

What do you think and feel when you think about that home?

I’m from a really small town of 3,000 people. If you look at the census data for my town there’s only 50 Asian people there and I’m related to or know all of them. When I think of the place where I grew up I think of being in the woods and wandering around outside by myself and feeling uncomfortable and different everywhere I went. That can be a really othering feeling, especially when you’re young.

When I think of my home of origin I don’t really think about where I grew up. I think about where I went to college in Greensboro, because that’s where I felt comfortable for the first time in my life. It was where I first met other people who I could really connect with.

Can you describe what you found when you got to college, if that’s what you think of as your home of origin?

I think the biggest thing for me was being able to sleep and feel safe when I was sleeping which was completely different for me, and made it really hard for me to return back to where I grew up. I think everything about me feeling comfortable and at home and everything that made me like North Carolina stemmed from me being able to sleep at night.

Tell me about your search for home since then — what have you sought to create in the spaces you’ve been?

Finding places that I feel comfortable has been hard for me. Home for me is anywhere where I can just be authentically myself. A house or where I’m staying is isn’t the biggest part. The biggest part of what makes a home to me is a place where I can feel safe. Where I don’t feel scared or feel like I can’t be authentically myself.

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richard, vincent, & connie in boston

My partner Richard is one of the first people who I can be around and feel like I’m by myself (laughs). I’m an only child, I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, I was and am a big geek, I played World of Warcraft and online roleplaying games, and I have always felt most comfortable when I’m completely by myself. It’s been interesting for me to find a partner who I can feel like I’m by myself when I’m around him. I don’t feel anxiety about being around another person, I feel fine. I feel okay still. I’m so grateful to have Vincent, my dog, in my life. There have been moments where I’m going through dark times or depression, and I wouldn’t even go outside if it hadn’t been for walking Vincent. That feeling of needing somebody who also needs me. A reason to go outside and walk and get out of my mind has been helpful for me in feeling at home wherever I am.

I’m hearing you talk a lot about safety, comfort, and being authentic. What does a space look like that makes you feel those ways?

I can tell you what it doesn’t look like. When I was growing up, I went through years of sexual abuse. Sleeping has been the biggest thing for me. The older I get the worse it is. You’d think I would be getting better, but I’m not. This past winter my partner and I were staying at my parents house, and their house is really small, so we were staying in the shed on a mattress. I couldn’t fucking sleep. I was shaking and crying and I couldn’t sleep. That’s the opposite of what a home is. It’s where I grew up, it’s where my family is, but it’s not a home for me because I don’t feel safe there.

Part of me feeling at home with Richard is is him not making me talk about what I’m feeling, but instead being like, hey do you want to go for a walk? I can know logically in my brain that I’m safe, I’m an adult now, I’m not an eight year old kid. I can know that but still feel scared and vulnerable. When I’m put back into a shitty situation, it makes me feel that same way again. Not being able to sleep was something I dealt with all through middle school and high school, every night. Crying and shaking, feeling scared, and feeling like I couldn’t tell anyone about it.

13062108_3110190079031_6905288917414313416_n.jpgWhen I’m somewhere I feel safe, it’s so easy for me to fall asleep. Anybody who hasn’t gone through that might not think about what a beautiful thing it is to be able to fall asleep and not feel like something horrible is going to happen to you. For me personally that’s like one of the biggest thing about what home looks like. I can fall asleep and be vulnerable and it’s gonna be okay.

Sounds like a lot of what you’re seeking in home is sanctuary and healing from trauma. I’m really glad you have Richard and Vincent wherever you go.

I mean Vincent’s basically useless as a protection dog (laughs) but the healing part is real.

I know you’re in a transition of moving back to your home state of North Carolina after several years in Boston. It sounds like the place is secondary to the other things that make up home for you. When you picture your life either in the near or distant future, what is your home like?

In some ways my home’s gonna stay the same because my home is wherever I am, and where I feel safe. Now it’s wherever my partner is and wherever Vincent is too. Richard and I want to buy a house in North Carolina. I’m gonna finally have a place where I don’t have to worry about stuff anymore. I don’t have to worry about strangers walking into my house because I don’t own it, I don’t have to worry about where I’m gonna live the next month or the next year, I’m not gonna have to worry about getting kicked out of where I’ve made my home. That’s the next level of feeling safe and having even less anxiety about being at home because it’ll be a place that I own.

The one question I’m asking everyone is, in what ways are you making and seeking home and in what ways have you found home?

I think you can live in a place without it necessarily being your home. Part of finding home is finding a space where you can be yourself, and finding people you can be yourself around. When we stayed at my parents’ house in North Carolina last winter, I remember thinking, I can’t wait to go home. Part of finding a home is finding other places where you can feel safe and supported and feel like you can be authentically yourself without having anxiety about it. When we first moved here, part of making this into a home was trying to find other people that we could really connect with.

One of the first ways I did that was going out by myself when you were playing at Queeraoke. You invited me to a party at your house, and so the first thing Richard and I did socially was go to that party. And there we met Rachel and Guillermo, another queer-woman/straight-guy couple who have a dog (laughs). It was through this series of coincidences we made this place a little more of a home.

I’m so touched to have just been a conduit in that. That’s really sweet. Thanks for sharing so much with me in this interview. Is there more you’d like to share?

When we first moved to Boston we moved to East Boston, which is mostly Latinx. The first day Richard, who is white, went to work, he came home and said, I was the only white person on the train and and it felt kind of weird. And I said, okay imagine having that feeling all the time, no matter where you are. That’s how I’ve felt as a mixed race person. I grew up in a a predominantly white area so I felt different because I’m not white and I didn’t look like everybody else. Then in college, I went to study in China and felt the exact same way.

My mom’s family were refugees in the late 40’s, so my mom was the first person in our family to be born in Taiwan instead of China. Before my mom was centuries of people who were all born in China and all had these cultural similarities in their lives. Then there’s this complete disconnect. I’m the first person in this long line of women whose first language is not Chinese. Culture wise, I’ve always felt like an outsider no matter where I am. It’s just something I’m hyper aware of. I’m not sure if other people experience this too — other children of immigrants born in the united states or who immigrated to the united states at a young age — a feeling like no matter where I go I’m never in my ancestral home because I don’t really have one that’s one isolated place.

Do you feel like your ancestry informs what you seek out in home?

It was recently Tomb Sweeping day, Qingming Jie ( 清明节 ), the day Chinese people go to pay respects to their ancestors and take care of graves and leave flowers and burn hell money. Taiwan celebrates that April 5th and I called my mom that day. It’s heavy thinking about how there are people in my family who are doing that for me, and I don’t have the means to go to their graves and talk to them. For me it’s been a constant search of where I fit in, of what things am I allowed to claim as my own, and what can I not claim?

Not very simple questions that have beginnings or ends, I imagine.

Yeah. Like when Richard and I get married, I want to wear a traditional Chinese dress and headdress, and then it’s like, is that okay? I didn’t grow up in China, my mother didn’t grow up in China, she grew up in Taiwan. But everyone before her and me in this long line of women would have had that. Does it just stop at me? It’s a lot of heavy questions that are hard to answer.

I hope you end up feeling you can do whatever feels right in your gut.

Yeah. That’s kind of where I’ve gotten recently. Like, whatever, I’m just gonna do what feels right for me. I was talking to my mom on Tomb Sweeping Day and I said, what should I do? She said, you could write a letter to your grandparents and burn it. It doesn’t matter where you are, the smoke’s still gonna rise. It doesn’t matter that I’m not there.

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connie & her mom, chi-ying

How do you feel like your relationship with your mom impacts the way you think of your ancestral home and your relationship to that kind of spiritual home?

I think my relationship with my mom has a huge impact on how I feel about my ancestors and the Chinese part of my heritage. When I was younger, I wasn’t very close with my mom, and I wasn’t very close with my Chinese heritage because I wanted to be like everybody else. Probably a lot of little kids sit in front of a mirror and cry, ‘why can’t I be like everybody else! Why do I have to look different? Why do I have to dress different? Why am I like this?’

My mom is someone who doesn’t talk about herself at all unless you ask her the right questions. There were a lot of things I never knew about my mom or my family until my twenties. I had no idea how my family came to the united states, I just knew that we’re here now. I didn’t know the stories of how my family ended up in Taiwan, how they had to take a boat from China because my grandfather was in the Nationalist Army and they lost the war. As I grew closer to my mom I grew closer to my roots. I started realizing that everything that has happened has led to me being here, and if anything had been different, I might not be here, or I might be a different person. I think of it like we carry all of our ancestors inside of us in a physical, literal way, and also in a way you can’t really see. All of these traditions have led up to me being the way that I am because the way that you’re raised as a child affects way you raise your kids. All of these different personalities and cultural traditions have culminated in my mother and then culminated in myself.

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a punny home-themed watercolor by connie