A woman standing by a banister with a city scene behind her

“Where I Come From” is a Darling series that pays homage to the cities, towns and countries that we call home. Although we are not defined by where we come from, these places are a defining part of our stories. 

Where I come from
isn’t just one simple point on a map.
Just like me, where I come from is complex.
My identity consists of two lives melted together, two cultures.
I am not one, but two.

As the daughter of an American mother and a Spanish father,
I have often found myself feeling what my mom calls
“la vida partida,” the divided life.

She says my father laughs more easily in Spain.
Although we spend most of our time in the United States,
our lives are divided.
We’re never fully complete in one place or the other.

We’ve traveled to Spain almost every summer since I was 3 months old,
and now, I take my own children.
I’ve found that my memories have become intertwined with my father’s.
Although our time there is limited,
those memories are stronger, more rooted and more repeated.

I wonder, what makes a place feel like home?
Is it the memories made there?
The heritage of the land?
What roots a place in your heart?

When my husband and I first fell in love,
I thought a mark on his hand was on my own.
He laughed about it.
We had held hands so often, and I had looked down at his hand so regularly
that I began to get my hand and his hand mixed up.
When you hold something so dearly, so often, it becomes a part of you.

The same feels true for my Spanish roots.
I was not born there, but I am so much of what I experienced there.
I feel a pull and a longing to return whenever I’m not there.

My memories intertwine with my father’s now.
I spent my childhood summers tripping down
the same small town roads that he ran down as a child.
My kids now run ahead of me down the same sidewalks
that I ran down as a child.

I picture a story my dad tells about walking home with his father, my abuelo,
in the snow back to their walk-up apartment.
The same apartment I slept in for years every visit,
with the wooden shutters pulled open to let in the summer air and small town noise.
I feel as though I can see that snowy walk home.
I can feel the memory passed down through me.

The ocean is near there, in the tiny seaside town in Spain.
There’s a boardwalk along the beach connecting two towns.
Early in the morning, local women dig for clams in their small, family plots in the surf.
Seagulls announce themselves overhead.
Elderly couples hold hands and walk as young joggers pass them.

I would walk there as a child to the beautiful glass cafe
that my abuela liked to go for family outings after meals.
I would run to the adjacent park as the grownups talked for hours.

Years later, I would run down the boardwalk as a college student
when I stayed with my cousins in the loft of their apartment,
as I passed the elderly couples on their morning walks.

The beautiful cafe my abuela loved is boarded up now,
but I still picture her there every time I pass.
Now, my kids walk the boardwalk and get an ice cream on sunny afternoons,
and I watch them run ahead of me,
telling them not to run into the elderly couples walking.

What does it mean to come from somewhere?
Does it mean all of your upbringing was there?
Or does it mean, just like holding the hand of someone you love, dearly and often,
You can easily mistake their hand for yours,
That two hands can easily feel like one.

Image via Raisa Zwart Photography ft. Mersea

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