Animal Writes
© sm
2 April 2000 Issue
The Word Is Querencia!

by [email protected] - Michelle Rivera

There is a word in Spanish that is used to describe the affection one feels for being in their own place. The word is querencia. What a beautiful word!

It is the feeling of satisfaction one gets for being truly at home. There are many ways to experience querencia. But it is much more than that. I will try to explain.

How many of us have felt this sense when returning from a long road trip? As our journey comes to an end, the landmarks become somewhat familiar, and then more familiar, and so on until we reach our own street.

Or how about when you go to work in the morning and see that nothing has changed. The feeling of querencia at work is much more acute when a new employee is present and we can sense and understand their lack of querencia in this new place and that makes our sense of the familiar so much more acute by comparison. We are settled in, we know the routine. We know we are where we should be at the time.

And the feeling we get when we come home from an entire day away from home. We aren’t quite completely settled, don’t quite have that sense of “querencia” until after the dog has finished leaping in excitement, has been let out and let back in again, and the cats have been greeted and their food bowls full. Even though we may be home, there are still these small familiar routines that must be followed before we can feel secure that all is right with the world.

Animals have a sense of querencia too. Witness a pride of felines, be they lions or housecats, who are content to groom each other, dozing peacefully, limbs intertwined. Or chimpanzees within the safety of their families, being together, being where they belong. Contrast this sense with the look on a stray dog’s face while he races through traffic, or a kitten up a tree who cannot come down. The panic, the sense of not being where they feel safe, where they feel understood, where they feel at home.

Sometimes we see birds in migration winging their way south for the winter. We can see them as they situate themselves on telephone poles and wires, and they seem content. They are not home, but they’re with their frequent flying friends! Together, they experience querencia.

Late at night people gather to play basketball at a park near my home. I can see people of all ages and shapes and colors playing together. They know that they are expected on these nights, they know they will be missed if they don’t come to play. This too, is querencia. Hanging with the homeboys late at night playing basketball, it just doesn’t get more familiar than that.

The most profound sense of querencia that I have ever experienced was during the 1997 Animal Rights Convention in Washington D.C. The first night at the hotel, I joined some other activists poolside. We introduced ourselves and talked about what brought us to the movement. One activist described a physical pain she felt upon seeing or hearing a case of animal abuse. She indicated an area just below her sternum. “Right here”, she said, “I feel a deep, physical pain, right here”. Yes! Yes! I knew exactly what she meant! I thought I was the only one who felt that exact pain, exactly “there”, and here was a complete stranger describing for me the acute pain that I myself had felt so many times.

During the next five days I was to learn just how many others there were who felt that pain, and thought that, they too, were the “only ones.”

The hotel restaurants had gone cruelty free for the convention! We could order whatever we wanted from a specialized bill of fare and knew that it was a vegan meal!

And on one cold, rainy, bitter D.C. morning, PeTA sent three chartered buses to the hotel to transport us to the United States Capital where we held a demonstration to protest the U.S. subsidy of fur farmers. There, surrounded by three-hundred activists standing in the pouring rain, I felt a sense of querencia.

There were workshops too. There was such a variety of workshops that it was hard to choose from the many topics and learned speakers. After the workshops, we would get together and chat about what we learned. I attended a workshop sponsored by the Jains, a religion that doesn’t believe in killing even the smallest of insects, and I felt that I was in a nurturing place. I learned about Alley Cat Allies, and the Farm Animal Reform Movement, Performing Animal Welfare Society and United Poultry Concerns. All wide and varied agendas...... all making me feel completely at home, at peace, querencia!

During a dinner reception, we had the privilege of hearing firsthand Alex Pacheco’s account of rescuing doomed horses in Texas, Howard Lyman’s story of rebirth, Naomi Rose’s unfailing efforts to save the dolphins, and the ever-humble “father of the animal rights movement” himself, Peter Singer, discussing his thoughts on “How Are We To Live”. The late Cleveland Amory was there too, sharing his memories of his famous white cat, Snowball and of the activities at the Black Beauty Ranch.

The true bragging rights came at the Celebrity Gala where I got to meet James Cromwell, Rue McClanahan, Elaine Boosler, Linda Blair and, oh my stars, the inimitable Jane Goodall! But did I feel inadequate in the company of these wonderful and exciting icons of our movement? No, I felt a sense of belonging, I felt a sense of the familiar. Querencia.

Our very last day brought us to the streets of Washington D.C. for an animal-rights march that began at the White House lawn and proceeded down Pennsylvania Avenue to the steps of the U. S. Capitol. Two thousand or more strong, we marched defiantly shouting animal-rights slogans and experiencing the sheer and boundless joy of being a part of something historical, something big, something important. (I often think of the million-man march and wonder what a “million animal march” would be like!)

When the convention was over and my traveling companions and I had to make our way home, we had layovers in two airports, and I distinctly remember when my sense of querencia came to an abrupt and discourteous halt.

We had gone to Starbucks coffee shop in the Atlanta airport. There, sitting at the counter, I watched as the server poured whole milk from a gallon jug to make a fancy coffee drink. At that moment, my warm, fuzzy sense of insulation and isolation from the cruel truths of the outside world ceased to exist. Querencia had left me cold and alone.

In the years since that moment, I have thought many times about the warm, wonderful feeling I had while with the people who make up the animal rights movement. And whether they were celebrated people or ordinary, everyday people just like me, I was secure in the presence of kindred spirits. I have come to liken it to the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan of “learning to live life on life’s terms” because, like us, alcoholics must live in a society where they are surrounded by that which breaks their hearts, spirits and bodies.

I write this in the hopes that you, dear reader, will make every effort to attend this year’s Animal Rights 2000 conference. Your resolve will be set in stone from the moment you set foot in the hotel, your senses surrounded by acceptance, understanding and love, you will make new best-friends, and meet old, online friends. You may learn how to argue your points, you may share a thing or two with someone new to the movement. But I promise you this, you will really, truly know, once and for all, what the Spanish mean when they say Querencia.

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