As a college freshman moving into the heart of Phoenix, I thought ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus would precisely resemble the city’s large Hispanic population, and that culture would constantly surround me.
This couldn't be further from the truth.
For some students who come from neighboring towns around the state, a transition from home to Phoenix might seem small and even uneventful. The downtown campus may only be 40 minutes away from my home, but I have never felt farther away.
I blindly believed it wouldn’t be a major transition from my hometown, Casa Grande, but one day into the semester, I already felt thousands of miles away.
As I looked around campus, all I saw was white. The downtown campus felt nothing like my sweet Casa Grande.
I heard white noise and was constantly surrounded by aspects of a culture that was unfamiliar to me.
For days, I didn't hear an ounce of Spanish spoken, after a lifetime of hearing Spanish news played — it being the default background noise of my childhood. The vacant soundscape left me missing something.
The customs I was used to were now gone, and so was my sense of identity.
I felt lost.
I felt as if everything I was used to would be impossible to find in my new life in Phoenix. I had to adapt to this entirely different environment, leaving me confused, not knowing who or where to turn to. I could even feel my familiarity with Hispanic culture beginning to slip away.
After two weeks, I felt as if I were about to burst. From the absence of the Spanish language to a variety of tasteless pasta and meatloaf, I could not take it anymore.
So, I went to visit home.
And once I stepped over the threshold, I realized I forgot what it was like to have a home-cooked meal — the tastes, the smells, the — well, everything. It was like I had just been taken off of a new diet called “move away from your Mexican household and you’ll lose 20 pounds” due to my recent loss of appetite.
With each bite, I would feel more and more homesick. But it did not stop there. There was a lack of flavor in the Phoenix community, a community I thought would resemble the one I called my own. I was so accustomed to the spice, to the color, to the variety, that I rarely see now.
The smells that once constantly lingered in my nose have faded away. I constantly miss the gust of flavor filling the air and hitting me the second I would come home.
The fresh air of my dorm room only heightens the separation, as its simplicity reminds me of the differences between here and home. I would gladly appreciate any candle company that could produce a candle that smells like a Mexican kitchen.
For me, it would be a perfect gift.
And as my homesickness and lack of community has warped my senses, I now spend my days searching for a corner of Phoenix that resembles the community I grew up with.
Every time I hear a word in Spanish, I nearly break my neck with how fast I turn to look for who uttered it. But I have stopped having any expectations for that home-cooked meal taste on the downtown campus, because I know it is almost impossible to find.
Even when home may not be that far away in terms of distance, the difference in cultures from one city to the other can make home feel hours, if not days away.
Home to me is not just a physical place. It is smell, love, food, language and customs.
However cheesy it may be, home is where my heart is.
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