Migration is complex. While the holidays symbolize unity and collective gatherings, when someone leaves their homeland, a sense of melancholy and nostalgia grows. “Home away from home” is a mantra that most immigrants tattoo on their skin the minute they leave their country.

Venezuela has the largest mass forced migration in Latin America where over 5.6 million people have left the country since 2015 to chase and build a different future for their family. The diaspora’s disconnection from the new homeland might be explained in how difficult it is to adapt to a different place when, in fact, you didn’t want to leave your home, as is the case for hundreds of immigrants.

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My aunt, a 41-year-old informatics engineer who lived in Lima, Perú for three years until last month, was part of the Venezuelan departure but fortunately, her journey was far more compassionate than the ones of our fellow brothers and sisters. She rode a bus trip from Valencia, Venezuela to Cúcuta, Colombia, and then flew directly to Machu Picchu, Perú. She recalls having an overwhelming sensation of not belonging from the moment her feet set foot on foreign soil, which only grew stronger throughout the holiday season when every Christmas transformed into a bittersweet celebration. 

This is my first Christmas away from most of my family. Although I have a longing living in my chest, I chose to write an ode to my culture and identity. I, a 20-year-old Venezuelan on a three-month trip to the United States, replaced the conventional hallacas binding with plantain leaves imported from Thailand, and pan de jamón with pre-made croissant dough instead of fresh-from-the-oven sold by the bakery near my home street in my country. This is my way of coping and making the best of what I have, my version of surviving.

The greatest way to deal with living remotely and far from family during the holidays is to prepare a feast that brings back memorable and joyful moments. Whether we’re in Vermont, US or in a small Venezuelan state, food represents love.

To leave you with a final thought. I often think of this sentiment by Eleanor King, which she shared in a heartwarming article for Life and Thyme: “like many immigrants stuck away from their country of origin this year, I was trying to cook my way back home.”