Creative Storytelling

What Is Home?

Most of us have been sheltering in place for months now, waiting for life to reopen and for a feeling of security, safety and comfort to return. Some of us are alone; others are at home with children, pets, a partner, a roommate, or perhaps are caregiving for a parent. We are all experiencing something together, something that unites us and yet we often are facing very different realities.

Back in March, when shelter-in-place orders began, we at USC Shoah Foundation started to think about the concept of home and what it meant at its core. It sounds so simple to say “just stay home,” but we know it’s not. At the Institute we house over 55,000 testimonies from survivors and witnesses of genocide who speak to this concept — the idea of home. For most of them, home was a place that they were forced to flee. Home became an idea and a place they hoped to recreate again. For many, it was a place one could never return to again. Their vulnerability and their storytelling inspired us to want to explore this idea with you.

So, in honor of April being genocide awareness month, we began the What is Home Project. We asked you to respond to the following prompt: What does home mean to you during this difficult time? Home doesn’t have to be four walls. Home is an idea, a concept, a place of being. Home can be a song, a person, a smell. It can be an action, a story, a dream for the future. Home isn’t always gentle. Sometimes it is challenging, maybe even frightening. Sometimes it is a place you want to run away from and sometimes it is a place from where you are forced to flee. Sometimes home moves with you and sometimes you never go back. Home may be the family you were born into, or it may be the one you create. Sometimes home is noisy or crowded, or it may be just you. Maybe you enjoy the solitude, or maybe you feel lonely.

We asked you to submit your stories to us. Each week in April, we offered a new theme: spaces/places, family, resilience and messages for the future, and we asked for your stories. The prompt was open-ended; submit photos, videos, drawings and poetry. We suggested spoken word and recorded sounds from home. We said it could be abstract or literal; it could be something created today or something from the past.

Your contributions were remarkable. We received dozens upon dozens of responses from around the world — from Morocco to Argentina to Switzerland, Israel, Canada, Poland and across the United States. Some of you shared that you even had family members in our archive. Individuals of all ages contributed — from as young as 14 years-old to college students to young professionals, to middle-age parents to grandparents. Artists sent in their drawings, writers sent in their words, and photographers sent in their pictures. There were old family photographs and new images created in quarantine. There were poems and essays, thoughts revisited from the perspective of COVID-19 and ideas that spoke to our collective and individual past, present and future.

We want to thank everyone who contributed to this project and helped us collect this extraordinary testimony of today. We have selected and curated more than 20 entries below as part of our What Is Home Project, each one providing an intimate glimpse into what it means for people around the world to be home.

To view all of our submissions, please visit sfi.usc.edu/whatishome

Rachael Cerrotti

Rachael Cerrotti is an award-winning photographer, writer, and educator. She is the creator and host of the We Share The Same Sky Podcast and has a forthcoming memoir by the same name set to be published in Fall 2021. You can reach her at: rachaelcerrotti@gmail.com.