“Where are you from?”
There’s nothing that used to make me cringe more than that question. How could I answer something I did not even know myself? The possible answer triggered a rush of mixed feelings: nostalgia, confusion, happiness, longing. My answer was a string of cities—some of which I enjoyed, some of which I hardly knew—that just left the brave inquisitor confused. Eventually, I would give up.
“Home” felt like a shallow concept, constantly changing. My story was always different. But now, after years of reflection, I finally get it. I finally get that—even though I never resided there for more than a few years—there’s one place I will always call home. That home is Salto, Uruguay. More specifically, home is where my family gathers for everyday meals and our most beloved celebrations: my abuela’s kitchen farm table.
I am an immigrant.
Salto is a typical town in the tiny country of Uruguay: quiet, routine-oriented, worn-down, and understatedly beautiful. It’s located in the north of the country, surrounded by endless hills of cattle farms. It’s one of those places where everyone is familiar. In el centro—where you go to do a bit of shopping—you’ll most likely run into old colleagues, family friends, and a few aunts and uncles. The church where your parents got married is where you and all your siblings got baptized, where your cousins will wed, and where you’ll go to mourn the death of loved ones. Every street and building holds hundreds of memories, each told to you over and over, passed down for years. This is where my family has existed for generations.
On October 12th, 1993, when I was four years old, my young parents, my sister and I moved—indefinitely, we would later learn—to the United States. My father, a doctor, had an insatiable thirst for higher education in his medical profession; this urge impelled us to make the big move, and later, each residency, specialization, and position would take our growing family to new cities and states. And from a town where hardly anyone ventured farther than the capital city five hours away, leaving was a quite a feat in itself.
Then there was the challenge of living in a new, big country with no familiar faces, and, just as we settled down in one place, moving cross-country to another city every few years. My sister and I were clueless, at least for the first few years, but my parents were terrified of this unexplored territory, praying every night that they were making the right decisions for their growing family.
As the years went by, we would return to Salto to spend summer and Christmas vacations with our dynamic family—cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, second cousins, second uncles, and more. All together, we were more than 50 people. I remember a peculiar feeling of giddiness, joy, and relief—one I understand now only occurs when reunited with loved ones. It felt as if we could all breathe again.
And as many of us as possible would gather around that beloved kitchen table in my abuela’s house. It’s the table where my father and his five siblings elbowed each other over freshly made pie, the same table my grandmother had in her ranch house as a young girl, the same table my great-great-grandfather had delivered from his native Italy in the late 1800s.
Now, as often happens over time, the table has become both precious and utilitarian. It gets beaten up by the old and the young; it’s where everyone gathers around to eat snacks, play games, tell stories, blow out birthday cakes, sing songs. Here we all have the afternoon merienda while the small kitchen fills up with the steam for the traditional mate drink and the smell of vanilla cake baking in the oven. At this table, I find everything I missed about my family and country. At this table, I reclaimed my definition of “home.”
I remember feeling so full of life, having everything I ever wanted right at that table. Even though we were growing up in a new world, that table proved we would never forget our past. We could always return to that table, to our family, to our roots. “Home” is not a permanent residence, but a place where you always come back to, where you’ll always have a seat at the table.