‘Let your HOME be your mast and not your anchor’, Khalil Gibran famously wrote. As an immigrant himself, he understood the enduring puzzle of the Lebanese diaspora: how to be both at HOME in the world and in Lebanon?
Some immigrants argue that HOME can only be found in their country of origin, while others find it in their country of settlement. Still others feel caught “in between”, or that HOME cannot be found anywhere, they are HOMEless. For the writer, Hermann Hesse, The Journey to the East was an allegory for the interior journey in search of the “HOME of light”, leading to the question, is HOME a physical place that can be found, or is it a spiritual destination?
When writing the book, My Mother’s Table, I combined these approaches to find a new answer to the question, where is HOME? I was born in America, grew up in Australia, with Lebanese roots and yet I felt I was not quite American, Australian or Lebanese.
Something was missing. Having a great-grandfather from the village of Hadchit, who immigrated to the USA in the 1890s, I was always interested in the migration puzzle. After meeting relatives from Lebanon, who migrated to Sydney in the late 1960s, I began a doctoral study on migration and HOME, which involved ethnographic field research, interviews and a household survey with immigrants from Hadchit living in Australia and the USA. The study, My Mother’s Table, found an unexpected answer. Where is HOME for immigrants from Hadchit? A common reply was:
“Mom’s cooking is one thing that you become accustomed to and you never enjoy anything other than your mom’s food at her table, with her tablecloth. It doesn’t matter where you go, even in Hadchit it is not the same as your mum’s table”.
In this view, HOME is defined, not by geography, but by sitting at “mom’s table.” It is here that the migrant can “be at HOME”. Eating the food of one’s mother at her table provides the ultimate feeling of nurturance that forms the core of HOME, identity and belonging. It is women who resolve the contradictions of migration through a “spiritual division of labor” and construct the core of HOME at the “kitchen table”. Lebanon, meanwhile, is a spiritual HOME, as this immigrant explains:
“I love Australia, this is where I belong, this is where I am connected, and this is my base. Lebanon is my spiritual HOME, Australia is my other HOME”.
The concept of two HOMEs, one which is mobile and socially constructed by women and the other, a spiritual HOMEland, resolves the migration puzzle. It allows migrants to take HOME with them, while they remain spiritually connected to Lebanon.
“Eating the food of one’s mother at her table provides the ultimate feeling of nurturance that forms the core of HOME, identity and belonging.”