What Does Home Mean to You?

(Featured image: Unbothered by the rainstorm outside, my cat Dexter sleeps on the radiator in my childhood home.)

For this blog, I asked some This Place/Displaced actors and production team members to answer a simple, open-ended question: What does home mean to you? I worried that perhaps the question was too broad or would inspire only a litany of addresses, but the responses are as lyrical as they are diverse. Without further ado:

Dominic Carter, Actor: What Home means to me? Whenever I’m with my best friends I think Home! It’s the safest place for me. We have been friends for over 15 years, been through ups and downs, and we trust each other no matter what. Being around people who build you up and never break you down. My friends are the ultimate meaning of Home.

Stephanie K. Brownell, Playwright and Costume Designer: I’m a nester. Like… I’m not waiting around for kids or a family. I’m a nester for myself. Having a comforting home environment is hugely important to me and the fact that I’ve nearly always been able to achieve that in my life is a true privilege. I wish I could say my space didn’t matter to me so much, but as an introvert, home is a place to recharge.

When I’m sad, when I’ve had a hard day, I crave the arms of the people I love, but since the vast majority of my loved ones live far far away, my cozy blanket and the pillows that my mother made for me when I went off to college often have to do.  There’s one story in This Place/Displaced where a teen is facing the prospect of leaving her neighborhood, her job, and all her friends. I moved away from my family and hometown voluntarily and it’s still hard. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be forced to leave. That separation would be much rougher if I couldn’t surround myself with meaningful objects, or–you know–feel secure in my house. I do believe we can make our own homes, but I don’t believe we do it alone.

Adrian Peguero, Actor: When I think of home I think of a place where one is constantly grounded and not afraid to live their truth. Home to me is the people I choose to surround myself around; my chosen family.

Tom King, Connectivity: As a queer person, I’ve found home to be a complicated concept. While for many folks, “home” implies continuity of family, preservation of cultural memory, community resilience, and a recognizable shared set of cultural values, for queers these important and necessary goals can sometimes be complicated by exclusion from birth families and communities and an understanding that our desires don’t necessarily conform to the community norms that anti-displacement activists seek to preserve.

Home, for me, then has to name the capacity to make place, to foster both continuity and transformation, recognition and difference, heritage and new entanglements. It’s not always what we have now, or even what we may be in danger of losing. It’s what we constantly have to create.

Katie McGoff, Stage Manager: Home is the feeling of safety and familiarity you feel when you enter somewhere and the strength that feeling gives you. Whether it is a house or someone’s arms, home is knowing what you are walking into. It may have surprises but your feet are on solid ground.

Blair Nodelman, Actor: Home is waking in the morning to birds chirping outside your window. It’s the sunlight pouring onto your skin in the mid afternoon with children playing in a nearby fountain. It’s the feeling of the water swirling around your ankles when you first step into the ocean. It’s the sound of laughter from the people you love. It’s the warm tears on your cheeks when you look at the sky and are amazed by the stars. You feel it as you walk into your favorite bakery or call a friend or touch a brick wall on the street. You hold onto it when you’re up in a plane and finally breathe it in when you land. It’s your favorite song in your headphones and on your lips. It’s the people that make your heart swell until it nearly bursts. It’s arguing with those people, but then falling in love all over again. It’s a feeling. It’s a person. It’s a location. It’s a familiar sense of belonging. Home is where you feel everything.

Maurice Palmer, Associate Producer: Home for me is wherever I feel at peace. An environment where I can recharge, take care of myself, and relax. Home is also where my family lies, whether that family be chosen or my relatives. I think another identifier for my personal home is that it is a place where I WANT to be.

After taking a two and a half week vacation, I found myself calling Boston home. Before the vacation it was the exact opposite; I was calling Las Vegas home. But I have now realized that Boston feels more like home, because it is where I have placed my roots, I have formed relationships and made investments in the life that I have here in Boston. The trajectory of my future will lie within the choices that I make here in Boston. My new proclaimed Home.

Tenneh Sillah, Actor: Home means freedom, calm, quiet and lonely; it feels safe no matter what.

And me? (Julia Davidovitz, Blog) My image of home is a collection of specific memories; people, places, pieces of furniture. I have felt at home in my bed in the Boston ‘burbs and on my brother’s couch in San Francisco. I felt home in Hawaii, hearing my friends cackle at me for sleeping in the sand (because the biggest fluorescent green bug was in our tent and I could not hang).

I’m sorry to say that in some of the places I’ve felt most at home, like the Big Island of Hawai’i and the Mission District of San Francisco, I embody the white colonizer. I don’t say this for absolution or to role-play an enlightened progressive. It’s a fact: my presence, and that of people who look like me and come from my socioeconomic background, changes the landscape of a city. White people throughout history, unsatisfied with their cold native lands, have sought to ‘discover’ new places they love…and have made those places uninhabitable for their indigenous residents. Christopher Columbus’ bloody colonization of Native American land gave way to the quieter violence of modern-day gentrification. But the culture that canonized (and still celebrates!) Columbus unmistakably continues to practice settler colonialism.

But um…I digress, kind of. My definition of home, like the place I lay my head at night, is subject to change. Participating in the production of This Place/Displaced has expanded my knowledge of gentrification, displacement, and housing inequity; it’s forced me to confront systems of gentrification in Boston and beyond, some of which I have unwittingly participated in.

Like all art, theater is inherently political, especially grappling with the politics of identity. And our homes are a foundational part of our identities. It’s not surprising to me that so many of these answers from This Place/Displaced team members emphasize safety, grounding, and regeneration. This Place/Displaced isn’t solely a creative rendering of the insidious effects of gentrification. It also investigates the parts of ourselves that are so small, so personal, yet so fundamental: Where is your home? With whom do you share your home? What would you do to defend it?

An Interview with Playwright Manuel Aquiles Lopez Torres

Engaging with Matthew Desmond’s ‘Evicted: Poverty and Profit in an American City’