Diasporic Homesick

“Play at Your Own Risk”, 2007, Yasmin Hernandez Art, Self-portrait in collaboration with my brother Joseph, commissioned for the book On My Block by Dana Goldberg, Children’s Book Press.

It happens at random, unexpected, un-welcomed times. It happens with flashes of images, of sites, of memories imprinted in your mind. Flash of a desolate Atlantic Avenue heading into Jamaica, Queens. Flash of bunnies hopping over ancestral graves in Cypress Hills cemetery where Schomburg, Houdini and your whole departed family are buried. Flash of the Met’s Temple of Dendur glowing at night with the surreal backdrop of a snowy, icy Central Park landscape. Flashes of spit vanishing before your eyes into the purple night as it leaves your mouth over a blanket of snow, and you keep doing it because it is intriguing to child-like eyes. Memories of how momma said the city sky turned lavender at night before the snow. Flashes of the Brooklyn bridge. Flashes of Jamaica Bay and its marshes. Cross bay Bridge and those waters. Bridges and boroughs and how you realized you were an island girl long before you repatriated to Borikén.

Shedding almond trees, blanket this part of the island with stiff red dry fallen leaves. Healing, protective, cleansing tártago trees on our lawn drop their leaves, baring their branches. Cool breeze blowing past this hill psyches my body into believing there is a fall approaching and I crave chocolate and marshmallows. Instead my diasporic self prepares chocolate de barro, with military-rationed evaporated milk from a colonial can and a Mexican twist of cinnamon. It happens when you want your mac and cheese not from a box but stained orange from the spiced syrup of candied yams that has seeped into it, and speckled green by collards that mixed in from your plate. It happens when streaming Philly old school stations and hearing the music of your childhood fill this tropical hill. Most people may not understand that I was raised Puerto Rican in Brooklyn and nurtured, defined and refined by African American culture.

You consider the cultural enclaves of exile that nurtured your identity consciousness when traditional school robbed you of your self. You discovered your indigenous ancestors somewhere between the passenger’s seat of your father’s car, North Philly and El Barrio/East Harlem, like urban guerrillas lurking in bushes waiting to unconquer/ uncolonize you and send you back free. You realize you were called back to bring back something that was taken from here and that this island is now trying to get back.

She called me back and hasn’t released me. Two and a half years and counting, I have not been given a repatriation furlough– a quick visit back to see my pops, my moms, my sister, my nieces, my extended family, my Brooklyn. No club to dance house, reggae, dancehall, soca, salsa, merengue, hip hop & R&B in one night.   No furlough to eat a masala dosa at Dosa Diner in Jackson Heights. No saag aloo from Tandori Hut in Richmond Hill. No cholado on Northern Blvd. No gyro on Willoughby Ave with brown sauce instead of tzatziki. No NY slice of pizza. No cantaloupe flavor from Corona’s Lemon Ice King. No Salvadoran pupusas. No Argentinean parrillada. No bandeja paisa. No enchildadas de mole with sliced raw onions, queso y crema. None of my titi’s fried chicken and collard greens with ham hocks. Nor my momma’s corned beef and cabbage. Nor papi’s cocolías en salsa. No linguine al vongole. No manicotti. No cannolis. No towering pastrami sandwich from Carnegie Deli before it closes. No bodega heroes with real cold cuts, shredded lettuce, paper thin tomato slices, oil, vinegar, oregano.  No Gray’s Papaya on my plate, but the big, dookie, superfood papayas that fall from our tree. Papayas so big, make my head look small! Repatriation purification still has me on a diet of papaya, pana and platanos from this land.

Dare I say that I am homesick… when I am not sure where home is. Is home here? Is home over there? Is home deep in the bed of these surrounding seas where my ancestors remains grow as coral ecosystems for rainbows of fish? My mind and spirit often dance a quick two-step back and forth between both sides. It is a constant, quick dance that leaves me unable to sit still for too long. I liken its tempo and rhythm to the Jungle Brothers’ “Girl I’ll House You” as I search endlessly for my house, my home and which patch of land on this island I will sink massive ceiba roots into.

Journal entry: April 23rd, 2016

The occasional flashback kicks in
As a moving picture
One or many frames per second
Today’s was of concrete
Of tenements
Of abandoned factories
Waterfront warehouses
Williamsburg to Red Hook
Crumbling concrete
Sinister stairwells
Rooftop views
Of sky and steel
Of buildings and bridges
Of waterways wandering
Between these islands
Where the same sun
Rises and falls
The same sun that taunted
Dared me to leave
And watch it set from this other island
Same star shining
Comforting and chastising
On both sides of el charco
Crossed and uncrossed
Dissected and Rejected
Broken down
Till you flow as fluid
Figuring out
How to touch
All Diasporic shores
like the sea

3 thoughts on “Diasporic Homesick

Add yours

  1. Thank you for taking me on a very brief yet informative odyssey into your creative mind.
    I have never (seriously) read something so genuine, so unpretentious, in a couple of days.

    You have this uncanny ability to literarily crawl into your own mind and speak your experiences, aspirations, dreams and yearnings from within. Taking your inner self far, far away.

    And that is so rich, so powerful, so undollarable (is that even real word?).

    Thank you.


    1. I’m not sure how I missed this comment. Days, weeks after the fact, it is a lovely surprise to come on here and read your message, your words. I am truly honored and touch. Thanks immensely for taking the time to read to sensitively, so profoundly and to write me with your thoughts. I consider it a gift and accept your generous comments happily and humbly. Many, many blessings

      Liked by 1 person

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