Searching for this idea of ''Home''

Published on:

April 13, 2022

Stories from the IFSI ''Immigrant Navigator''

When does a home become no longer habitable? What do you do then?


It can be said that the idea and the pursuit of “home” is a most powerful motivator. One that causes people to center their lives around work and career so as to afford a life of substance - a life that allows one to put down roots. That is to create something worthy of all that time and effort required for earning a home. This pursuit was as true and as meaningful for Darlene and her husband as anyone. They migrated from Haiti after the home they had created there over the course of many years was no longer suitable (livable?).

Whether your idea of home centers on a place, a person, a group, or a culture, when unfulfilled it is a force that drives so many to relocate. They migrate, often to other countries, seeking the sense of belonging, community, and safety a real home provides. In many instances Haitian migrants, like Darlene and her husband, are obliged to flee their home and homeland to recover or discover these comforting feelings. Like so many who find their way to the US and enter a welcoming door of immigrant support organizations like IFSI, this couple left behind so much of their former lives to search for this idea of ‘home’.

 “I was comfortable for a while in Haiti’, recounts Darlene, ‘I enrolled in Cosmetology school, graduated, and started making money. Then, I didn’t feel a need to continue my education any further  because I saw more money in the skills I already gained. So I started a business, set up a shop and a studio, and made money. I was even able to travel, going to the Dominican Republic every month. I felt beautiful and great’. Darlene had a prosperous life in Haiti at this time but her success attracted unwanted attention. ‘I had a business at Tabarre 35’, she explains, ‘but then thieves started to assault me. They would beat me, mistreat me, and I have several scars now -- big scars to show for it. This began to happen every week and, well, I finally came to a point where I didn’t have any more money’.

What should one do when the life they created with welcoming home suddenly becomes uninhabitable? In this instance, the thieves forced Darlene and her husband’s hand. They could no longer stay in Haiti living a life ridden with threats and fear, so they moved to Chile.

An over-crowded kitchen in Chili among fellow Haitian migrants is not the ideal of home Darlene and family are seeking!

While in Chile, Darlene and her husband’s lives were nothing of ease. They worked for little pay, about $50 US Dollars per week and these wages barely covered basic necessities like food and rent. For much of their time in the country they endured extremely long work hours, and their living accommodations were no better. Often the house was overcrowded. “There were too many people for just one stove’, says Darlene, ‘meaning there may be two people cooking over a little four-burner at once. So that meant that, you know, Haitians like to work together, but there were times when someone pretends they’re friends not here and might not be back by the time that earlier person has finished cooking,. Then he’ll take his friend’s pot and put it on the stove but with his own meal!’ Darlene was frustrated by how much of her time in Chile was spent in competition with her fellow workers. All who lived in the house wanted to survive which often meant putting their own needs above others. If someone was not paying attention to their turn with the stove, others would simply take their spot. Such a life was not sustainable and pushed many in this vulnerable position to move on.

“Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala,” recounts Darlene when asked how many countries they had to cross to end up in Mexico. What was striking was that her original goal was not making it to the United States, rather finding stability. Darlene and her husband’s goal was simple: to create a life not dictated by a pay-check to pay-check life with constant worry about making monthly rent payments and enduring strenuous living conditions. This situation only grew more acrid when Darlene became pregnant and they would have to provide for another being. Becoming Mexican citizens was out of the question for the pair, even with their child having been born a Mexican citizen. The problem was that just finding work in Mexico was a daily struggle. This motivated the couple to make another risky decision - to migrate to the United States. After coordinating with two other families, Darlene, her husband, and her child found their way across the border.

‘Every family paid to go’, Darlene explains, ‘ … and when I noticed one family didn’t have any money, and I still had 20 pesos, I went back to bring them the 20 pesos so they would be permitted  entry’. This was an example of how Darlene places the needs of others as a top priority. Yet this momentary brush with humanity and hope was short-lived as the group was immediately apprehended by immigration police in the United States.

This account is similar to countless others who cross the border seeking a better life-- they go from one deteriorating government to another that denies their existence and right to seek a new home. Darlene with her family and the others were immediately booked and processed by customs officials, yet eventually released pending a hearing or trial. Ultimately, the group found themselves in Boston, staying with a friend who had helped to the best of their ability.

In a Boston apartment awaiting work authorization Darlene feels she can finally start to envision a new home in the US and all that implies.

Yet, in Boston Darlene was still limited in her ability to provide for herself and her family as she once had in Haiti. It was not until the group discovered IFSI that they started to feel some sense of stability again. For many newly arrived migrants, this search for a home lands them within a community who understands and supports their hopes and desires. Many even speak their language and had a similar experience so are better able to help them transition - and for some to eventually integrate making a home in this new and unfamiliar country.

By The IFSI Immigrant Navigator Team: Dr. Mario Malivert, Makendi H. Alce, Larry Childs, Angie Gabeau, Hidalgo Delbeau, Nick Carstensen, Giulia Campos and Guerlince Semerzier

Cartoon illustrations: Teddy K. Mombrun

Lead journalists for this story: Nick Carstensen and Dr. Mario Malivert


TheIFSI ‘Immigrant Navigator’ is a multi-lingual web portal with associatedin-person services that ease and accelerate the settlement and socialintegration of vulnerable, often undocumented immigrants. A key feature are thestories these immigrants share with IFSI staff through interviews and fromwhich other immigrants gain inspiration, lessons and tips about how to navigatethe perilous journey and US integration process. These stories also educate abroader US public including policy makers and service providers. Every 2 weeksa new story is published on the IFSI Blog. Our fifth story, “Haitian MigrationCrisis'' captures the challenges of one woman and how an IFSI set of integratedservices help meet her needs. Thank you for reading — and for welcoming thesenewcomers to our communities!” - Dr.Geralde Gabeau, Founder & Executive Director

Navigator lessons:

1.     The desire to be secured and grounded by the ‘idea of home’ as presented in this story is universal and widely accepted as a basic human right.

2.     The decision to migrate to another country is caused by the absence of that idea of home often despite repeated efforts to create, protect or recover it in one's country of origin.

3.     Since this notion of home reflects a common human desire, exploring it may help those opposed to or frustrated by immigrants to better understand the nature of their plight and their basic peaceful ambitions.

4.  Immigrant services organizations can provide a sort of bridge that helps immigrants arrive, settle and eventually integrate so as to re-establish the idea of home in a new land.