This past week I was at an intense academic event and by the end I just wanted to go home. And then come back in about a week with a whole bunch of new questions. That being outside of the realm of possibility, I said to myself, I want to go home. But where is my home?
I have a lovely apartment in Bluffton, a place where I have lived longer than any other specific space since Grebel (if an on-campus apartment that was by chance the same for two years counts) or high school. But is this my home? How can I be at home in a culture where I do not fit but where others perceive that I do. Case in point: once I was crossing the border with my Nexus, otherwise known as the I paid money in exchange for the “Hemispheric Security” knowing way too much about me lane, and the US customs official said welcome home. I was, how shall we say, shocked, appalled, emotional and I started crying. Second anecdote: I was evangelizing my students about immigration – sharing with them facts such as immigrants are human, and Romney’s father was born in Mexico – and one of them said, and I paraphrase, “we want immigrants like you.”
In spite of others ascribing a Midwestern fit to my life, I feel more at home in Mexico City, a place where I do not fit. One of the happiest moments of my life in Mexico City was when someone was trying to sell me kosher goods because they thought I would use them. Because I belonged here. I then decided to explain that I had family in the Mennonite colonies, which just confused the woman. So then I bought something and left the store.
Perhaps home is that space where I can move through time and everyone else stays frozen until I can attend to them again.
Sometimes people ask me how I learned Spanish. I am not sure why I decided to learn Spanish or why I decided to study Mexico. As I have said before on my blog, or on facebook, Mexico City is like the boyfriend that is not so bad you can’t introduce him to your friends, but not so good you introduce him to your parents. But how did a class I took upon the encouragement of my mom in grade nine become the driving force in my life? And how, then, did it lead me to my first project (the book you should all be ordering for your libraries http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/the-national-body-in-mexican-literature-rebecca-janzen/?sf1=barcode&st1=9781137546272) and now, my second.
When I started studying Spanish I noticed that many of my classmates were there to connect with their families and their cultures. Although my professional work does not deal with identity, and, in fact, contests identity as the basis of academic inquiry, I believe it is important to connect oneself with one’s work, and thus, to connect myself to my work.
My new project looks at Mennonites who have immigrated to Mexico through the lens of popular culture. Given the confusion between Mennonites and Mormons, and historical events, it will also looks at Mormons in popular culture and ejido [land claim] conflicts. People have told their stories before, but they have told them from the perspective of the Mormon or Mennonite communities and within those fields of study. Of course, I am Mennonite, so this project necessarily involves a bias, but, I am also well versed in Mexican culture, history and politics, so, my work will be more interesting. I also think that I am seeking to legitimize myself within my field – by studying something to which I almost belong, I become, somehow, a more legitimate scholar. Someone who has more of a claim on Mexico because if my grandparents had decided to stay in Mexico after their visit in 1949, my life would have been different, had I ever even existed.