A Place to Call Home: Migration and Housing

Home is where we are safe. Home is where our loved ones are. When that home becomes unsafe, is it still home? If we move away from our loved ones, where is home then? How long does it take create a new home when you move away from your roots? Is anywhere else really ever home? Or is home wherever you lay your hat?

For people migrating to new countries, home is something that is often negotiated on a daily basis.  Below, we hear some of the thoughts about home collected throughout our Europeana Migration collection days.

When moving to a new land, many people who are migrating – whether through choice or circumstance – often begin their lives in their new countries in temporary accommodation. Once the journey is made, the next step is to find somewhere to live, to search for a new home.

The place we call home is a very important theme which recurs throughout many of the stories we’ve heard at our Europeana Migration collection days.

This blog looks at how and why people have chosen or had restrictions on where they could live, and how people make themselves feel at home when in a new country. Where we live is something many of us take for granted, but for people migrating to new countries, it’s something to negotiate on a daily basis.

It’s a topic that comes up in stories from the present day as well as the past.

Bricks and mortar – building a new home

Some migrant communities find ways to build their own new homes. In the stories of the Geelongskis (a Ukrainian community in Geelong, Australia) gathered by Dr Natalie Senjov-Makohon, we hear from several families who built their own wooden homes when settling in the city.

Building materials like cement, wood and nails were not readily available at the time. As many of the community were employed by a Ford Australia factory, they were able to bring wood from the car packaging crates which they broke up and used to build houses.

sepia image of a house

Peter and Katerina Senjov’s first home in Geelong, Australia, 1956. Image source -Senjov, 2016 CC BY-SA

This photograph of Peter and Katerina Senjov’s first home is one such house. Although basic, they had a roof over their heads with walls, albeit with no plaster on the walls. However, as Katerina recalls, ‘[we] didn’t care; this was [ours] and [we] had [our] own freedom.

Finding a place to lay your head

In Dublin, at our collection day at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, Ann told us about moving from Ireland to London in the 1950s. Moving to the UK in search of work, she arrived there and found it hard to find a place to live.

My father had a friend who was supposed to put us up, but that didn’t work out and so we got a room. It was a tiny little room with no cooking facilities, a small fireplace, and we had to share a bed. It was hard to get a room in London – ‘No Blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ was the sign in the windows.

bedroom with 4 bunk beds

Photograph of my bedroom with 4 beds, Robson, CC BY-SA

Similar housing problems abound in Dublin today. Robson, living in Dublin, is part of the growing Brazilian community in Ireland. He tells us about his bedroom, which he, due to high rent prices, must share with three other people.

Sharing a room with 4 people is not so good. It’s not a big house, we don’t have privacy. We want our space and it’s really bad. Everyone works and studies at different times, so it’s complicated.

This story, Robson says, is very common for non-European foreigners living in Ireland.

Making a house a home

A home is more than four walls and a roof – what do people do to remind them of home, to feel at home?

Grandmother’s Macrame, Simina, CC BY-SA

Simina tells us that she moved from Romania to Brussels, and how a traditional home decoration from Romania made her feel at home.

I remember walking around my new big, already furnished house in Brussels, trying to make it feel like home. I was failing. And then I put the macrame on a cupboard and there it was: HOME!

Michel escaped from the recent conflict in Syria in 2014 and undertook a treacherous journey, eventually living in the Netherlands. He told us that once he was more settled in Amsterdam, he asked his mother to send him some objects from home, to remind him of his good memories.

Shisha, Michel Youseff, CC BY-SA

Shisha for us is about time spent with family and friends. We invite them, the shisha brings us all together. We connect shisha with talking, fun, love, being gezellig, as the Dutch say. If there is no shisha, we feel bored.

I still miss a lot from Syria … sometimes it’s very small things I miss: the steps I used to sit on with friends, shisha, cafes I used to visit, the jasmine trees in the garden that I sat under every morning.

Regalo de despedida, Fernando Berraquero, CC BY-SA

Fernando spoke about a large collage of photographs his friends made when he and his wife were moving from Spain to the Netherlands. The photographs show parties, holidays, celebrations with messages and dedications written on the back. It’s now proudly displayed in Fernando’s home in the Netherlands, a reminder of another home, of friendship, of good times.

In Fernando’s story, we can see how our homes connect us with our communities and remind us of the people that mean the most to us. In that way, for some people, home is a relative concept. Home is where the heart is, as the well-known saying goes.

Taking your home wherever you go

As Chris tells us in his story, for him, home moves with him.

Wherever I live, I tend to put my roots down … I’m a homebody. Because I’m an air-force brat, moving around when I was young, I have no strong feeling of a home. Home is where I am at the moment. For me, home isn’t a place to go. It’s being surrounded by the ones you love. Home is family. Your true family. Even if they don’t share the same blood. My home is where people I care about are; wherever those people are.

Have you moved to another country? What did you do there to feel at home? Share your story and memories with Europeana Migration.

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