By: Asher Díaz
“(Re)Imagining Home” is the first of a series that also bears its name. It will document, preserve, and honor the often untold family and community stories in the Puerto Rican Diaspora.
I grew up in a family and a Cleveland neighborhood of eccentric storytellers. Depending on the time of day, age or a shaky memory, a story in my family could change from year to year and relative to relative. Sometimes small facts would change – whether or not Papa Juan was actually born on Christmas Day is still uncertain – and other times larger facts changed that shifted the whole narrative. Some stories were funny, some sad and others both funny and sad. Despite the quirks and inconsistencies, storytelling provided a space for us to make sense of our realities that were often ignored and marginalized by greater society, rendering us invisible to the outside world. My current work has become a labor of love to place these stories into a larger historical context while also exploring themes of home, belonging and legacy. I offer this short story of family history, “(Re)Imagining Home,” as a site to begin reimagining the possibilities of what it means to exist, survive and belong in the Puerto Rican Diaspora.
Part I. When I think of home, I think of people, smells, I think of food and then, I think of place.
Part II. My grandfather points to a photo on the wall, it’s 1949, he says, and he’s homeless in Lorain, Oh. Later that year the Chevrolet division of General Motors would open up a factory in Cleveland, Oh., where he would wait outside until finally landing a job on the assembly line. He tells me that the plant bosses wanted men who were illiterate. Two of his co-workers, transplants from West Virginia, tell him that their father didn’t know how to read or write, but knew several letters of the alphabet. One is named CD and the other, AB.
Part III. My grandmother arrived in Ohio in the 1950s at a time when the population in Cleveland was at its highest – almost one million. She didn’t know much English, if any, and along with my grandfather had no more education than elementary school. But she would go on to be the backbone of the family, keeping the house together and raising seven children – six of her own and me, a grandchild. As I listen to my aunt Elaine tell stories today of our family history, she wonders how my grandmother must have felt – a young Puerto Rican woman with six children in a place where she hardly knew anyone and my grandfather worked long hours at the GM factory. When I think of home, I think of my grandmother – first and foremost. Her food, the smells of cheap perfumes, the way she cooked my eggs perfectly every morning. She also told the best stories.
Part IV. I was born on an earthquake 17 km south of Perry Nuclear Plant in Cleveland, Oh., on January 31, 1986. And my mom – her friend saved the newspaper clippings and my horoscope from that day, which I always find to be kind of haunting: “What you make of your life is largely up to you.”
Asher is a Chicago-based writer and photographer, born in the rust belt of Cleveland, Oh., to an eccentric Puerto Rican family. His current work explores themes of belonging, family legacy and shifting concepts of home and community. He received his B.A. in English from Ohio University and M.A. in gender studies from DePaul University, where he completed his visual storytelling project, “Love, Family, & Belonging in the Borderlands.” He has previously produced written and photographic work for the U.S. National Archives, several academic institutions and local community organizations. Prior to migrating to Chicago, Asher spent his youth as a guitarist for a local punk rock band and served as a community organizer in Cleveland where he worked with residents to develop campaigns on housing issues, public transit and food deserts. He currently works for a local Chicago university.