It has taken almost a year, but it’s official. Los Angeles feels like home. While I’m not about to turn in my NYRican identity card and I sure as hell am not about to claim Angelena status (I’ll save that for those who were born and raised here), it took me returning to Queens and a little teen rebellion to realize my place is now this sprawl that dresses itself like a city.
When I returned to Queens last week, the trip had a clear mission beyond seeing my mother, sister and some friends. I was dropping off my younger daughter, Poroto, so that she could spend summer vacation with her father. I had to fill out some papers for summer camp and give her dad the 6-year-old’s prescription eczema cream. Once I reunited papi and hija there was very little else I needed to do -- and to be honest there was very little I wanted to do.
Back in Los Angeles, my oldest daughter had other plans. She couldn’t wait for me to even land into LaGuardia Airport before testing some boundaries and breaking some rules, including inviting her boyfriend into the house when no adults were around. This left my partner having to step into a stepparent role he wasn’t quite expecting to assume and left me trying to coordinate discipline and consequences from across the country. Even before I arrived in New York, I was ready to return to Los Angeles.
That’s not to say that the city that bore and raised me didn’t seem beautiful. In fact, as the plane hovered over the Manhattan night skyline, I pressed my face against the window with a tourist’’ sense of awe. For the first time I saw the Freedom Tower on the tip of lower Manhattan attempting to fill the cavity left by the 2001 destruction of the Twin Towers. I named the buildings for my daughter: “Look there is the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Citicorp Building,” I told her. My daily view over Downtown Los Angeles and it’s unimpressive office buildings have nothing on New York City. I felt a sense of pride and ownership over glowing Manhattan landscape. I had been inside each and everyone of those buildings. I walked past them countless times, never once to take a picture or even marvel. That night though, looking down, returning, I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed and a lot like a first time visitor.
But I didn’t rush to catch the subway into Manhattan. I honestly didn’t feel much of an urge to move beyond Rego Park and I didn’t need to. It had been months since I had seen my mom and I worried about her health and well being. I looked for signs of accelerating age on her 66-year-old face and inquired almost invasively about her health and financial situation. But she looked healthy and relaxed. We sat drinking coffee and sharing what cousin had done what and how so-and-so looked. We ate my New York comfort foods like pizza, bagels, and baked ziti. I reveled in the accessibility of my mom’s hood, stocking up on shoes and clothes for myself, my pareja and my daughters. I took advantage of everything I don’t have in Los Angeles.
Another thing that made my trip to New York feel like a visit and not a homecoming was the absence of personal space. My uncle moved in with my mother shortly after I left last year, taking over my childhood bedroom. Without a room and shared a bed with my mother. This wasn’t a huge deal, since I often did this as a child and shared my own bed with my children when all three of us lived in a one-bedroom in Corona. But still. As a 36-year-old woman with her bedroom in a house back in East Los, it wasn’t the most appealing option. Most nights I would stay up late in the living room with the television tuned to reality shows until I felt myself nodding off. No bedroom retreat also meant no privacy. Checking in with my paraja and my suddenly defiant teen and the crew of amazing friends who stepped in to mind her, involved moving between rooms constantly for pockets of privacy. The bathroom became the best approximation to a telephone booth. This meant it was also hard to focus on work tasks I still had to handle like prepping and conducting a social media workshop and writing. Bless my uncle, but he is a talker and no silence went uninterrupted.
I wasn’t sad to leave New York. I was anxious to. As soon as I could check in for my flight online, 24 hours before it was scheduled, I called to catch an earlier flight. I happily paid the $75 change flight fee. I kissed my younger daughter, my mom, my sister, my cousin and my uncle goodbye and I headed home.
When the wheels touched down at LAX, a woman across the aisle from me began clapping. I smiled, holding back my own urge to clap.
“People don’t clap when the plane lands anymore, well except when you land in Puerto Rico,” I told her.
“They clap when you land in Honduras too, “ she told me.
I guess you clap whenever you arrive at what feels like home and when I opened the door to my casita on a hill, and saw my teenager and boyfriend I wanted to give Los Angeles a standing ovation.