I’ve had people ask me a lot lately about where my home is. Where I come from. Where I was born and raised. A lot of people in Texas take pride in the fact that they were born and raised here, so I’ve been hearing that a lot lately too. Each time I hear that my heart pings with slight jealously because I realize I’ll never get a chance to say that. Ill never be able to claim “I was born and raised here.”

For those of you who don’t know my story, I was born in Bucharest, Romania while it was still under communist rule. My incredible and brave mother escaped Romania and communism by herself when I was around two years old. She left me with my grandmother and grandfather in Bucharest and risked her life to escape the communists. She failed the first two times she attempted through Germany, but made it the third attempt through Turkey. That is a whole different story and deserves the glory of its own blog post. I will focus on the big picture of my home now. Also, public service announcement, I may be full-blooded Romanian but I’m full-hearted American.

Home. What is the definition of home? Where you were born? Where you were raised? Where you spent most of your life? Where you live now? For me, all of those are different: Bucharest, Chicago, Sacramento, Dallas. Which one do I call home? Honestly? I feel it’s a tie between Chicago and Sacramento.

I spent only six years in Chicago, but it was during my most impressionable years: from 6-12 years old. I learned to speak English there, joined the Catholic church through the legacy of my step-dad’s elementary school, and became a loyal Cubs fan there. Chicago defined me as a person and set the standard for my morals, ethics, and personality. I owe my blunt nature to Chicago. We speak our minds and know ourselves, we are rooted deeply into Chicago culture and we fiercely defend ourselves and our city. People know better than to mess with us or mess with Chicago. I owe my foodie tendencies to Chicago because we are the melting pot of America and I don’t care what anyone says, we have the best food in the entire country. Two words for you: Europe 2.0. I owe my love for winter, snow, and rainy autumns to Chicago. That city has actual seasonal change and it’s stunning. Yea yea, the wind is not ideal, but damn that city is beautiful under a blanket of white.

I also spent seven years in Sacramento. Three of those years were in Davis, but they’re 11 miles apart, so I consider them one “home.” I met my best friends there. People I will be friends with until my dying day. If I ever have a wedding and bridesmaids, nearly all of them I met while living in Davis/Sacramento. Except my brother, Michael Castaneda, who will be my maid of honor, I met him at UCSD. I learned how to drive in Davis, I graduated high school there. Being the first person in my family to graduate high school in the United States, that is a huge deal for me, definitely an honor. I got my belly button pierced there and drank alcohol for the first time there. I also had my first job interning at my mom’s company during high school one summer and my first big girl job out of college there. I experienced important rites of teenage and adulthood passage in Sacramento.

Since and in between then I’ve also lived in Dallas, San Diego, Rome, and Oslo. I know what you’re thinking…”Girl gets around.” You Betcha! And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been blessed with the ability to visit 20 countries and live in four of them for at least six weeks. Let me tell you, six weeks in Rome is nowhere near enough but it gripped my soul so intensely, I still think of Rome on a daily basis. Maybe it was the mid-summer afternoons strolling along the narrow cobblestone alleys that thrilled me, or perhaps hearing the mysterious stories of historical figures and seeing that architecture enchanted me, or maybe the combination of living with ease and pleasure, eating with delight and appetite, and dreaming with possibilities and excitement all seduced me and captivated my heart. I often joke that I left my soul in Rome, but that statement is not far off. If you find skepticism in my words, I encourage you to visit Rome in mid-July and walk along the Tiber at dusk from the Vatican to Trastevere. Open your eyes to all the sights and your ears to all the sounds, but most importantly, your heart to all the culture. Breathe it in and let it consume you. Actually let it or not, it will consume you. Is Rome my home?

I bring us back to the present. I moved back to Dallas, Texas one month ago, today. I took a giant leap and decided to trust in God’s plan. Too many prayers were answered by pointing me in this direction for me to blatantly ignore or disregard them as user error. I often pray to God for guidance and wisdom but humbly ask that he answers me several times, at least three, because I don’t trust my self-doubt to catch the signs the first time around. So, here I am today, at least five signs from God pointing that I belong here. Five that I had the ability to see, there may have been more. But was I leaving my home? Or returning home?

“Homeless” is not a word I would use to describe my current predicament, but rather, home abundance. I don’t have a lack of one home, I have an abundance of seven. Each city, state, or country I’ve been fortunate enough to live in has welcomed me with open arms, some were wider arms than others. But I try to remind myself that I do not have to pick just one, I can fondly recall how each one contributed to my contradictory personality. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I appreciate life more because of what I’ve seen, the struggles I’ve faced, and all the souls I’ve met who helped shape me. I do not exist as I am now by chance, but by the grace of God putting me in situations which I could never have fathomed or conjured inspiration for on my own, by living in one place my entire life.

People are always fascinated to hear my story of where I come from and how I ended up in so and so. It’s flattering, really, to be the shiny new toy for people and to answer all their questions about how I like so and so compared to so and so. People always want to hear their city is the best, you can never be sincere and tell them traffic sucks and it smells like a Mexico City zoo. Not that I’ve ever even been to a Mexico City zoo, not sure if they have one, but I imagine it’s rough. So I say I love it. I usually do though.

Moving and traveling around so much, I’ve developed the essential life skill of making the best of any situation. So you’re in Bratislava, Slovenia and the local police stop the inner-city tram to check commuters actually purchased tickets but they’re carrying AK-47s while they do their ticket checks. Well at least you bought your ticket and aren’t getting locked up abroad today! So you’re in Machu Picchu, Peru and go to pet a Llama but almost get your hand bitten off. Well at least you visited one of the original seven wonders of the world! See, I can find good in just about anything, or anyone. Probably why I’m still single, but that’s another story for another time.

To be completely sincere, it is lonely. It’s isolating knowing there exists not one place on this entire planet where I can go and say I genuinely belong there and be treated like I belong there. I am an outsider everywhere I go. There is a sense of freedom, that I may wander to the ends of this beautiful planet and find happiness literally anywhere I find myself in some capacity, but there is also a looming thought, one I often attempt and sometimes fail to ignore, that I am a person without identity. Sometimes, I look at some friends of mine enviously who have lived in one city their entire lives. They still spend Friday nights with the friends they had in elementary school. They can proudly claim they are from that town, that state, rep that football team’s sweatshirt with such devotion, rest assured that when they eventually plan a wedding, everyone they will invite lives within 30 miles. I will never know what to write when online user profiles like Yelp ask me for my hometown. These are things I think about.They are things that always keep me separate from literally every single person I meet, have met, and will meet. I have never found and will likely never find anyone like me, who has followed the life path I have, and there is something tragically isolating about that. No one will ever truly understand me or appreciate me for what I have been through or who I have taught myself to be.

However, on the bright side, per usual there is always a bright side and it always has the final word in my book, my roots may not be firmly planted in one zip code, but my heart does beat to the Star Spangled Banner. My respect goes to this country’s brave veterans, active military, law enforcement officers, and other emergency first responders. My passport is American navy blue and although foreign stamps fill its pages, I still consider this country my home. I may have been born abroad, but this country adopted me with open arms and gave me opportunities beyond my family’s wildest dreams in Romania. I may have sprinkled a little bit of myself in multiple places throughout this world, but I embrace my American culture like my life depends on it. The United States is my home, this entire country is my home. I don’t have to feel alone when people brag about growing up in the same city anymore because I grew up in the same country, the greatest country on this planet, along with all my best friends. And for that, I will never be an outsider.

Positively grateful to be an American and living in the great state of Texas again! Yeehaw!