Immigration | Moving | Home

Home is Temporary — Before and After COVID-19

A Woman’s Relationship with Home and Change Over 35+ Years

Jessica Bolaños Vanegas
12 min readApr 12, 2020

I’m often told by U.S. citizens and those who want to be citizens but haven’t been able to get their citizenship or residency yet, that I’m lucky or privileged to live in the United States.

But I’ve never quite felt at home here. Neither did I feel at home when I visited my parents’ home country — Colombia. To some U.S. citizens, I’ll never be (North) “American enough” and to some Colombians, I’ll never be “Colombian enough”. That’s fair. I was raised in the U.S. by Colombians in a red state.

I often feel bad that others, whose families came to the United States to escape the violence, civil war, death and natural disasters in their countries are being sent back “home” after re-starting their lives here. At times I’ve wished I could trade places with a Dreamer, who is fighting so hard to stay here…or one of the hundreds of thousands of TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holders who have had to get out of the United States. I’ve thought of it as a type of one-for-one path to citizenship system. I was born and grew up in Texas and have been itching to re-start my life in another country for years. Why not let people switch places? Literally.

As a Texan born child of immigrant parents from Colombia, who came to the United States legally before I was born, I’ve come to know a different feeling than most (North) Americans, or immigrants for that matter, have about what “home” is.

I spent the first five years of my life in Houston. My parents owned and operated a food truck business called S & S Catering when I was little. (After their first names, Silvia and Silvio.) This was in the 80s–90s, long before food trucks became popular. They each drove a food truck to construction sites around Houston, selling breakfast and lunch to construction workers. They bought food from local restaurants like Red Top Texas Style Burgers in Friendswood, a family owned and operated spot run by Mr.Lee — who taught me how to make ice cream cones from his machine and let me serve a few customers at his drive thru window as a teenager.

My family moved to Friendswood, Texas when I was in 1st grade. FISD is where I spent almost my entire public education experience. Until I figured out that Alvin, Texas (just a few miles down the road) had trimesters instead of semesters and didn’t require as many credits to graduate high school. Switching school districts would get me out of high school almost a year earlier.

I moved from FISD to AISD in my junior year of high school and became a 3-year early high school grad. In Friendswood, I was a quiet kid that was more into my computer than sports and only had a few close friends, so the decision to move cities and school systems so close to graduation when I turned 17, a legal adult in Texas (making the decision my own), was easy.

Alvin was also my first mini introduction to a somewhat more diverse school district. According to the U.S. Census at the time, Friendswood was roughly 90% White, 3% African American, 2% Asian, 3% from other races, 1.63% were “from two or more races”, and “Hispanic/Latino of any race were 8.79% of the population”. Alvin wasn’t that much better with an approximate 82% White population at the time, but “Hispanic/Latinos made up about 28% of the population.

*Speaking of which, we all have the responsibility of responding to the U.S. Census every 10 years and NOW is the time to be counted. Each of us accounts for $10,000 in federal funding that’s appropriated to our community depending on how many people respond and are counted. The money is given to our communities and go toward situations just like the one we’re in now — when we need support. But not just for pandemics. It only takes a couple of minutes to complete the Census online. Take a second to be counted here:

In Friendswood we lived in 3 different houses over the course of about 7 years. I remember living in a house with a huge unfenced backyard that had tall pine woods in the very back and more than enough space to play badminton between the trees and our home. We also lived in a long house that had a pool in the backyard and a basketball net in the front driveway. I had a few sleep walking episodes and recurring nightmares about lightning bolts being thrown down from the sun in that house. For a while we lived in a duplex down the street from the public library and my local girl scout troop meeting place — both of which I’d walk to or ride my bike to often.

Then finally, after being asked to leave by our last landlord who wanted to move his family back into the home we were living in, my parents ended up buying and remodeling a manufactured home in Pearland, Texas, where as often as possible, I’d walk down the long county road to what used to be Clover Field Airport, now the Pearland Regional Airport, and watch planes take off and land on the runways. I lived there for about 5 years during middle and high school. It’s the smallest place we lived in growing up and it was out of the traditional neighborhoods where it’s much quieter and very private — although I didn’t appreciate that at the time.

When I moved out of my parents house and moved to Alvin, I lived in an apartment near Alvin Community College while I was working towards a degree in Psychology (mainly basic courses). Then I went in on an old manufactured home in Manvel, Texas with my boyfriend at the time, that was desperately in need of repairs. The home and the boyfriend. The bathroom didn’t work, there was a hole in the kitchen floor for months and the only 2 bedrooms were uninhabitable among other things. It probably didn’t cost more than $1,000 but moving it a few miles away cost more. I have no fond memories of that place and it was certainly not a “home”. It was temporary.

After that, “home” was a few different apartment complexes, each inching up 45 North. For a few months I lived in Palestine, Texas with a friend who moved there for a new job opportunity. He was also my former manager at a Mexican restaurant I worked at in Friendswood. He knew I’d been wanting to get away for a while so he invited me to move out there with him.

Palestine, Texas on Google Maps — between Houston and Dallas

Palestine is about 3 hours north of Houston. I quit my job at a restaurant in Pearland where I had just been promoted from hostess to catering manager and packed my bags. I still feel bad about that spontaneous move. I had just gotten a box full of freshly printed business cards the day I quit. It was my first set of business cards.

My home in Palestine was the most peaceful place I’d ever lived — probably to this day. I enrolled at Trinity Valley Community College to continue my college studies but didn’t last through the semester. The small country life was peaceful and something I started dreaming about again in my thirties, but in my early twenties I found it was boring and the days seemed to drag on forever. I only remember appreciating the starry night skies, the four wheeler rides and the wide open spaces next to and behind the house without a neighbor in sight. (Thanks Tom.)

After Palestine I moved to League City — back in with my parents. Soon after that I moved into a couple of apartment complexes in South and Southwest Houston, one of which became housing for Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans. I remember being invited into one of my new neighbors’ temporary “home”, the apartment across from mine where several women, young women and kids always sat on a couple of chairs outside on the patio. I realized that those two chairs were the only furniture they had in an otherwise empty home. I moved out shortly after seeing a fight and gunfire on the news broadcasted with aerial views above my complex.

Some of my favorite memories are from my time spent living with roommates in the Heights, just outside of downtown Houston. Some of my greatest and worst times were lived out in that three story “Full House” looking home. My friend who lived in the house, offered me a room on a whim when I was in a bad place in my life.

I had just come back a week earlier than scheduled from a trip to Japan — a trip I thought was a great career opportunity — gone wrong. I had known and worked with a photographer friend for years who ended up moving to teach there. He invited me to shoot some photos on an all expense paid trip. Turns out, he ended up overstepping boundaries and making me really uncomfortable. I got a flight out of there as fast as I could and came back home to Houston only to find out that my long-time partner had cheated on me while I was gone.

Train ride selfie in Japan, 2006 📷: Jessica Bolaños

I broke up with him the day after I got home when I found out and decided to move out — with no plans or thoughts on where I’d call home next. I didn’t want to move back in with my parents and while talking to friends about my situation, an acquaintance offered me a room in his 3 bedroom home in the Heights. I am forever indebted to this person who I had only known through a mutual friend and who during my time there, treated me like any of his other long-time friends and roommates. He would take us all out to eat, invite us to go out at night, and they all taught me a lot of hard lessons about men and life at a crucial young age. For that period in time, “home” for me was a gift, and it was all about my 4 roommates — all of whom were men. I literally trusted them with my life during a period when I trusted almost no one. (Thank you Roomies.)

In 2007 once I met the man who would be my business partner and husband, and my roommates also had their own relationships growing into their next chapters, we all went our separate ways. I settled into a brand new house that my partner was building in a new Richmond, Texas suburb. We lived there for a decade. It’s where we adopted our 2 dogs (of which we still have one), where we were flooded in during Hurricane Harvey, working remotely from home for a period of time,

1st day in our new (and first) home together in Richmond, Texas.

Had I known while that house was in the process of being built that I’d be invited to live there, I would’ve paid a lot more attention to those “friendly” trips to the model homes my partner was looking at and the trips to the builder’s office to help pick what I thought were going to be his brick colors and kitchen sink features. The house was beautiful but it didn’t feel like my home for years.

If I hadn’t met my husband when I did, I’d probably be long gone by now — surely out of Texas, as I was planning a move to California around the time we started dating, and quite possibly out of the country if I’d really had my way.

Each move has felt like a normal part of life — I enjoy moving. I like change. I look forward to each new beginning. Each new place. A fresh start that’s sometimes forced and at times chosen, but always with something to appreciate and learn from.

Home” for me has always been just another move away — a temporary place of refuge when parents are looking for a better place to raise their kids, a better school system, a smaller house when you need to downsize, a place to live when you’re family is being evicted for no fault of your own, a place far away from the troubles of the city, a convenient house right smack in the middle of the city, a bigger house in the suburbs when you think you’re going to start a family of your own, a mobile home that lets you save money for a while, a tiny house on wheels you can take with you on the road, or the perfect work-from-home/office with the best natural lighting you’ve had in your life.

The place we call home today didn’t come easy. Ask our realtor, Jenny Fly. ;) In all of my moves, I’ve never encountered a foreign investor/seller (couple) like the one we bought our current home from after it went into foreclosure and was remodeled. But it was worth the trouble. This home has brought me the most joy in the shortest amount of time and we just moved here in January of 2020. February was spent mostly traveling for work and we came back to our new home in March, a week before the travel bans started to stop the spread of COVID-19.

March 13, 2020 — H-E-B in Houston, Texas, 📷: Jessica Bolaños

I’m one of the “lucky” ones who is healthy, enjoys being at home and enjoys the home I’m currently in. I can also work from home as I run a digital business with my partner. A business which we had for the most part already transitioned into a remote one so we could spend more time traveling. Most of our work was already in digital and video with everything but filming and digital media training workshops being done from our home office.

Since we don’t plan on having kids, and we work remotely, we shopped for our current “home” thinking of it more as what its always been for us—an OFFICE.

It’s an open layout we turned into a co-working space which now has independent working spaces for Zoom meetings and solo projects since the Stay at Home, Work Safe Order was put in place in Houston. We purposefully bought a home to turn into an office, at the same time that COVID-19 made it’s way into our world and just 2 months before it became a global pandemic and people all over the world were ordered to work from home.

Had this happened 2–3 months earlier while living in our last home, ours would’ve been a completely different situation. I’m sorry for all those who don’t feel at home in their own homes right now, like I felt for many years. It will get better. One day and one plan at a time.

Like most children of immigrant families, I’m still living here because of my family. If my family wasn’t here, I’d probably have left a long time ago. My family also now includes my husband’s side who immigrated to the U.S. in the 80s during the civil war in El Salvador. There is no other place they’d rather be than here. As many others who were born here or moved to the U.S. whether by choice or for their families’ safety.

So here we are—blessed to be in our new home. (Thanks Jenny!) Temporarily not going anywhere except to pick up groceries at H-E-B Curbside so that I don’t get sick, my partner doesn’t get sick, and we don’t get anyone else sick during the pandemic. I welcome the next move when the time comes, our next home, and the next new beginning with open arms.

And for now, I’m grateful for this time in our new home which we hadn’t even been able to enjoy prior to the pandemic. I’m grateful for the space we have to spread out and work and for the amount of work we still have. I’m grateful to be making a lot more meals at home now, much healthier and cheaper than before. I’m grateful for virtual meetings, virtual classes, virtual grocery shopping and all the digital things I’ve always loved and appreciated.

May you enjoy these moments in time in whatever place you call home today. Because our homes are just a temporary place and we don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow. We’re always just a dream home, a dream job, a DREAM Act, a DACA ruling, a Presidential term or a global pandemic away from our next move. ❤

*One of the many Airbnb homes we’ve lived in temporarily while working remotely away from home. 📷:Jessica Bolaños



Jessica Bolaños Vanegas

Digital + Video + Social Impact. Storyteller. Documenting history as it unfolds. Co-Founder @Goodspero. TEDx-er. Former Contributing Writer @HuffPost. She/Her ❤