Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

I'm in my hometown in Mexico, but I can't get home to St. John's, where I belong

Santiago Guzmán is currently in his hometown of Metepec, Mexico, visiting family. He was supposed to take a short break after a trip to Toronto, to then come back to St. John's. Due to COVID-19, he will be in Mexico indefinitely.
Santiago Guzmán and his mother, Lucero Nájera, in La Marquesa, Estado de México to visit friends. (Submitted by Santiago Guzmán)

First it was Snowmageddon — I still have to look up how to spell it, because I feel so distant from the word itself — and the experience around it. 

I was working in Toronto when one of the most horrendous snowstorms I have ever heard of hit home. That would be St. John's. My home.

On Jan. 17, 2020, a state of emergency was put in place by the City of St. John's, in which people were urged to stay in their homes, driving was prohibited, and businesses and shops were closed.

It sounded scary.

A colleague who had just moved to St. John's from Toronto shared his stress with me. We were both out of the province, while our family and friends were stuck. 

I started seeing on my social media feed pictures and videos of so much of that white, fluffy cold stuff covering people's doors, stopping them from leaving their houses. Despite the lack of freedom, and what could have been an atmosphere of panic, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians knew how to deal with crisis. 

People kept finding entertaining ways to move past a moment of stress and loneliness. Immediately, people started dusting their pantries and turned their kitchens into their own Newfoundland and Labrador version of MasterChef. Cookies, toutons, brunch ... I was salivating!

This time, Mexico did not feel like home, but rather a holiday destination. I felt as though I was a tourist in my own home country.

Of course, the sense of community became palpable when they started clearing out the colourful Jelly Bean streets.

Neighbours, friends and acquaintances were seen helping each other. It did not matter if you knew each other, they were all out there giving each other a hand, especially to folks in need. Although I was relieved about not being there (I am sorry, but I still have a love-hate relationship with cold and snowy winters), I longed to be in St. John's to help others, to keep my friends company, to cook, to have a yarn. I missed that.

We had a very mild winter in Toronto, and whenever I saw a snowflake fall in front of me, I would run to the grocery store to buy my own storm snacks. Just in case. I didn't actually wait to eat them until we actually had a snowstorm. I ate them right away. I was being solitary after all.

I was homesick then.

Now, a few weeks later, we are dealing with COVID-19. This time, it is happening all over the world. 

I am currently in Metepec, Mexico, my hometown, visiting family. I was supposed to take a little break after my gig in Toronto, to then come back to St. John's.

I will be here until further notice. It could be another week, a month — or who knows how long. 

While in his home town of Mexico City, Santiago Guzmán is enjoying some of his favourite dishes. This is alambre de pastor, which is one of the most traditional street foods in Mexico. (Submitted by Santiago Guzmán)

Not in Metepec anymore

When the news started to hit about the spreading of COVID-19 around the world, my friends in Canada started sending me messages asking me when I was coming home. They were alarmed that the Canadian borders would close soon and I wouldn't be able to leave Mexico. 

I wanted to believe that things would be OK, so I didn't worry that much. 

It was the first time though that my Canadian friends referred to St. John's as 'home.' Even though I already knew it, the fact that my close friends started saying it reaffirmed that I indeed lived in Canada, and no longer in Mexico.

My friends and family in Mexico were overjoyed with the idea of having me here with them longer than we all had anticipated. I was happy to reconnect with family and friends after not visiting in almost three years.

However, driving on the most crowded streets of Metepec, I realized that there was nothing here for me. Yes, of course, my family still lives here, and memories from the past are still impregnated in the air I breathe. But nothing that relates to my present life, my adult life, is in Metepec anymore. 

All of the projects I'm currently working on are happening in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere in Canada. 

At Coyoacán’s downtown food market: Santiago Guzmán (centre) with his friend Josean Maldonado and sister María Andrea Guzmán. (Submitted by Santiago Guzmán)

A hard call to make

This time, Mexico did not feel like home, but rather a holiday destination. I felt as though I was a tourist in my own home country.

Should I extend my stay in Mexico or quickly find a way to return to Canada? That was the question. Naturally, I thought of rearranging my flight to get back to St. John's sooner than I had planned. 

However, I was afraid of exposing myself to the virus while travelling, hence exposing my loved ones back home.

Folks, let's be patient and share love and kindness, and follow official guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada or the country you're in.

I would have had to put myself into self-isolation anyway if I had succeeded in getting back to the country, so what was the point, really, on rushing to get back home if I was going to be alone? 

I couldn't help but be concerned about risking my immigration status in the country while being out of Canada while awaiting extension of my post-graduate work permit to be granted.

Instead, I found myself in Mexico, safe and healthy, surrounded by my loving family, and I had health care available to me that I would not be eligible for back home. 

It was definitely a very hard call to make.

Just seeing greenery is a treat for the eyes. Santiago Guzmán took a photo of the Oasis shopping centre during his travels in Coyoacán, Mexico City. (Submitted by Santiago Guzmán)

Every small action counts

"Santiago, Trudeau just announced," a colleague texted. 

"Santi, Canada has now closed the border," my partner said.

"OK, how's morale?" my best friend asked.

On Monday, Justin Trudeau announced that the Canadian borders would be closed. Only Canadian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to return to the country. Although I hope to become a permanent resident or Canadian citizen one day. I'm a temporary resident at the moment. In other words, I am not legally allowed to come back home. 

My phone started exploding with notifications of people telling me about this announcement. I started laughing as I started reading. Yes, laughing. I laughed and laughed, because I didn't want my younger sister to see me crash.

Different from the Snowmageddon, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were sharing the global concern of this virus spreading out. No more gatherings and kitchen-parties. Instead, isolated people on Facebook freaking out.

The best thing, undoubtedly, forced or not, was for me to stay in Mexico until the travel ban is lifted. For my own health and my loved ones. I am being solitary after all.

Yet I am still homesick.

Folks, let's be patient and share love and kindness, and follow official guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada or the country you're in. Let's find a way to connect from afar: FaceTime, phone calls, texts. Every small action counts. 

We are not alone. We are all one. Regardless of where we are.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Santiago Guzmán is an actor from Mexico City currently living in St. John's, N.L.

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