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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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Go on to
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