Posts Tagged ‘Juliana Morris’

Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan VII: Saying Goodbye & the Road Ahead

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This blog post, by Juliana Morris, is part of a series following a caravan for migrant rights on the Mexico border.

Day 6 – Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, Mexico

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Participants in the migrant rights caravan.

Representatives and members from the various migrant rights organizations participating in the Step by Steps Towards Peace Caravan march up four flights of steps to a large, air-conditioned auditorium in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, Mexico. We are all a bit tired after a week of traveling northward through Mexico, sleeping on church floors, mounting street protests, and holding press conferences, but we are excited for the meeting ahead of us. Dr. Felipe Gonzalez, Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS), has agreed to hear the our testimony and recommendations regarding the rising number of kidnappings and disappearances of migrants in Mexico.

The meeting begins and representatives from each of the groups, as well as victims directly affected by violence in Mexico begin to take turns sharing their stories. I am struck by the resilience of the people involved in the Caravan. These are people with whom I´ve shared meals, swapped stories, and laughed at silly jokes all throughout the past week. We have bonded, and enjoyed many good times together. But at the same time, we are dealing with very serious material. As a human rights defender from Guatemala methodically lists the names of every disappeared person currently being sought by family members on the Caravan, I watch as, one by one, my new friends take turns standing up in silence with the photos of their missing loved ones clutched in their hands.

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Emeteria and Nelly, Juliana's friends from Honduras

At the end of the day, after we had all eaten and debriefed from the meeting, I realize that it is time for me to say goodbye to my new friends and allies. Due to other obligations, I knew from the start of the Caravan that I´d have to depart early, though the other participants will continue the route through the states of Veracruz and Puebla and will eventually finish in Mexico City on August 2nd. Among a flurry of hugs and phone numbers exchanged, I wish my Caravan-mates luck and thank them for all they have taught me. Carlos*, one of the young men who has been traveling with us in search of a lost cousin, tells me meekly as I shake his hand goodbye, “Maybe I’ll see you in Boston next month.” Clearly, migration is always with us.

For Carlos´ sake, and for the sake of all the migrants who risk their lives along the dangerous route northward, I hope against hope that the violence they now face in Mexico is brought to an end. But hope is not enough. My experience in the Caravan has taught me that we must join together across cultures and countries, organize, and unify our voices. We must all take responsibility to hold our own governments accountable and demand action to protect the human rights of migrants. For people residing in the US and US citizens, this includes:

1. Advocating for more legal options and visas for migrants who seek to come to the US. In the absence of legal options, people risk their lives along the migrant trail.

2. Protesting against aggressive in-country enforcement and the rising number of deportations from the US. Many deported migrants re-migrate to the US, which increases their exposure to the danger.

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These young Honduran migrants asked that their photo be titled "Caravana de los Catrachos."

3. Challenging US diplomatic pressure for increased Mexican immigration enforcement and material support of Mexican authorities. Focusing primarily on increasing capacity and enforcement, with limited attention to human rights protections, increases migrant vulnerability in Mexico.

4. Recognizing the role that US military and business interests have played in spurring violence and economic problems in Central American countries. The US must ensure that its foreign policy prioritizes human rights and sustainable economic development in these countries.

Achieving true social justice for migrants and their families throughout the Americas (and around the world, for that matter!) will take vision, dedication, and hard work. But, as the name of the Caravan and the example of its over 500 participants shows us, by simply coming together and moving forward “step by step,” we can truly work towards peace.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Ready to advocate for immigrant rights or to bring your current work to the next level? Make sure you join us at UU General Assembly 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. Click here for more info.

Day  Coatzacoalcos, Mexico
“No more deaths! No more massacres! Everyone has a right to migrate!” The crowd of over 400 Central American migrants, migrant family members, and human rights activists marched through the streets of Coatzacoalcos in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Waving banners and singing songs, the protesters made clear their demand that Mexican authorities take definitive action to end the violence and abuse that is being carried out against migrants in the country.
Migrants who travel through Mexico, headed northward and to the US along the common migration routes, face a slew of dangers. Abuses, assault, robberies, and rapes have become common parts of the trip for many migrants, as thieves, gangs, and corrupt officials take advantage of the vulnerable situation of migrants I the country in order to seek personal gain. The number of kidnappings of migrants has grown particularly alarming in recent years, with estimates from the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH) running from 20,000 to 50,000 cases per year. Sometimes, these kidnappings end in death, such as occurred in the massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas last year.
In the face of all this violence, we might expect migrants and their families to despair or lose hope. But the protest in the streets of Coatzacoalcos shone a light on a different side of the story: the teenage migrant with a fist in the air shouting “No more kidnappings!”; the line of migrants and Mexican activists holding up a banner and jumping in unison to a chant; the committee of Honduran mothers holding up photos of their sons and daughters and taking turns shouting into the megaphone. The sun was scorching and the subject matter was heavy, but the group was organized, and the participants gained energy and power from one another to fight for their rights.
I was filled with energy as well. The event, which brought together participants from throughout Central and North America, was hard proof of the power that can be gained through transnational organizing. Having the participation of organizations and individuals from throughout the region not only increased our numbers, it moved the spirit of the march beyond the national context and highlighted the need for comprehensive solutions for justice in the region. Violence against migrants doesn`t just happen in Mexico – it begins with the lack of opportunities and physical danger in migrants` own countries, and revolves around the lack of legal options they have to pursue a better future and provide for their families, whether in the US or at home. The movement for justice for migrants and their families requires that activists, organizations, and people directly affected by the current migration situation come together to learn from one another`s perspectives, gain strength, and make change.
It was in this spirit of transnational collaboration that another US activist and I decided to contribute our unique voices as US citizens to the march. With a thin-tipped marker and an old pen, we scratched out our messages onto colored poster board: “No human being is illegal!” “United States: Respect the Rights of Migrants.” Later on, as I marched down the street, holding my handmade poster with two hands over my head, I received thumbs up and smiles from migrants and family members who read the message. And though after a while my arms began to tire from the weight of the sign, my step was sure and my voice stayed strong as I chanted and marched alongside the rest of the participants, all of us heading towards our common goa

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Read previous posts in the series “Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan”:

Part 1: Step by Step Towards Peace–A Six-Day Caravan for Migrants’ Rights

Part 2: U.S. Immigration Enforcement Hits Home

Part 3: Shining a Light on Immigrant Detention Center Abuses

Part 4: The Graves in Arriaga

Part 5: Women Along the Migrant Trail

Part 6: Protesting Migrant Kidnappings in Coatzacoalcos

Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan VI: Protesting Migrant Kidnappings in Coatzacoalcos

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan VI: Protesting Migrant Kidnappings in Coatzacoalcos Share/Save/Bookmark Aug 01, 2011
This blog post, by Juliana Morris, is part of a series following a caravan for migrant rights on the Mexico border.

Day 5 – Coatzacoalcos, Mexico
“No more deaths! No more massacres! Everyone has a right to migrate!” The crowd of over 400 Central American migrants, migrant family members, and human rights activists marched through the streets of Coatzacoalcos in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Waving banners and singing songs, the protesters made clear their demand that Mexican authorities take definitive action to end the violence and abuse that is being carried out against migrants in the country.
Migrants who travel through Mexico, headed northward and to the US along the common migration routes, face a slew of dangers. Abuses, assault, robberies, and rapes have become common parts of the trip for many migrants, as thieves, gangs, and corrupt officials take advantage of the vulnerable situation of migrants I the country in order to seek personal gain. The number of kidnappings of migrants has grown particularly alarming in recent years, with estimates from the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH) running from 20,000 to 50,000 cases per year. Sometimes, these kidnappings end in death, such as occurred in the massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas last year.
In the face of all this violence, we might expect migrants and their families to despair or lose hope. But the protest in the streets of Coatzacoalcos shone a light on a different side of the story: the teenage migrant with a fist in the air shouting “No more kidnappings!”; the line of migrants and Mexican activists holding up a banner and jumping in unison to a chant; the committee of Honduran mothers holding up photos of their sons and daughters and taking turns shouting into the megaphone. The sun was scorching and the subject matter was heavy, but the group was organized, and the participants gained energy and power from one another to fight for their rights.
I was filled with energy as well. The event, which brought together participants from throughout Central and North America, was hard proof of the power that can be gained through transnational organizing. Having the participation of organizations and individuals from throughout the region not only increased our numbers, it moved the spirit of the march beyond the national context and highlighted the need for comprehensive solutions for justice in the region. Violence against migrants doesn`t just happen in Mexico – it begins with the lack of opportunities and physical danger in migrants` own countries, and revolves around the lack of legal options they have to pursue a better future and provide for their families, whether in the US or at home. The movement for justice for migrants and their families requires that activists, organizations, and people directly affected by the current migration situation come together to learn from one another`s perspectives, gain strength, and make change.
It was in this spirit of transnational collaboration that another US activist and I decided to contribute our unique voices as US citizens to the march. With a thin-tipped marker and an old pen, we scratched out our messages onto colored poster board: “No human being is illegal!” “United States: Respect the Rights of Migrants.” Later on, as I marched down the street, holding my handmade poster with two hands over my head, I received thumbs up and smiles from migrants and family members who read the message. And though after a while my arms began to tire from the weight of the sign, my step was sure and my voice stayed strong as I chanted and marched alongside the rest of the participants, all of us heading towards our common goa

Day 5 – Coatzacoalcos, Mexico

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"Stop the spilling of migrants' blood"

“No more deaths! No more massacres! Everyone has a right to migrate!” The crowd of over 400 Central American migrants, migrant family members, and human rights activists marched through the streets of Coatzacoalcos in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Waving banners and singing songs, the protesters made clear their demand that Mexican authorities take definitive action to end the violence and abuse that is being carried out against migrants in the country.

Migrants who travel through Mexico, headed northward and to the United States along the common migration routes, face a slew of dangers. Abuses, assault, robberies, and rapes have become common parts of the trip for many migrants, as thieves, gangs, and corrupt officials take advantage of the vulnerable situation of migrants in the country in order to seek personal gain. The number of kidnappings of migrants has grown particularly alarming in recent years, with estimates from the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH) running from 20,000 to 50,000 cases per year. Sometimes, these kidnappings end in death, such as occurred in the massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas last year.

migrantprotest2

Migrant rights supporters march behind the Honduran flag.

In the face of all this violence, we might expect migrants and their families to despair or lose hope. But the protest in the streets of Coatzacoalcos shone a light on a different side of the story: the teenage migrant with a fist in the air shouting “No more kidnappings!”; the line of migrants and Mexican activists holding up a banner and jumping in unison to a chant; the committee of Honduran mothers holding up photos of their sons and daughters and taking turns shouting into the megaphone. The sun was scorching and the subject matter was heavy, but the group was organized, and the participants gained energy and power from one another to fight for their rights.

I was filled with energy as well. The event, which brought together participants from throughout Central and North America, was hard proof of the power that can be gained through transnational organizing. Having the participation of organizations and individuals from throughout the region not only increased our numbers, it moved the spirit of the march beyond the national context and highlighted the need for comprehensive solutions for justice in the region. Violence against migrants doesn`t just happen in Mexico – it begins with the lack of opportunities and physical danger in migrants` own countries, and revolves around the lack of legal options they have to pursue a better future and provide for their families, whether in the US or at home. The movement for justice for migrants and their families requires that activists, organizations, and people directly affected by the current migration situation come together to learn from one another`s perspectives, gain strength, and make change.

migrantprotest3

Juliana hold a sign that reads "No human being is illegal."

It was in this spirit of transnational collaboration that another US activist and I decided to contribute our unique voices as US citizens to the march. With a thin-tipped marker and an old pen, we scratched out our messages onto colored poster board: “No human being is illegal!” “United States: Respect the Rights of Migrants.” Later on, as I marched down the street, holding my handmade poster with two hands over my head, I received thumbs up and smiles from migrants and family members who read the message. And though after a while my arms began to tire from the weight of the sign, my step was sure and my voice stayed strong as I chanted and marched alongside the rest of the participants, all of us heading towards our common goal.

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Read previous posts in the series “Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan”:

Part 1: Step by Step Towards Peace–A Six-Day Caravan for Migrants’ Rights

Part 2: U.S. Immigration Enforcement Hits Home

Part 3: Shining a Light on Immigrant Detention Center Abuses

Part 4: The Graves in Arriaga

Part 5: Women Along the Migrant Trail

Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan V: Women Along the Migrant Trail

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This blog post, by Juliana Morris, is part of a series following a caravan for migrant rights on the Mexico border.

Day 4 – Ixtepec, Oaxaca

Doris, from Honduras, speaks at a press conference about her search for her missing daughter.

Doris, from Honduras, speaks at a press conference about her search for her missing daughter.

Doris, a Honduran woman participating in the Migrant Rights Caravan Paso a Paso Hacia la Paz (Step by Step Towards Peace), walks up the steps of the caravan bus and throws two fists in the air for all to see.

“Yeah!” she shouts, “We did it!”

Everyone else on the bus cheers. After over three years of not having any news of her daughter, she finally has been given a clue. As the migrant rights caravan passed through Arriaga, Chiapas, the local authorities informed her that they might know where her daughter was. Doris went with them to fill out some paperwork and, when she came back to join the rest of us on the bus, she was full of smiles.

But as I spoke with Doris later on in the evening, her eyes were full of worry. “Well, they think she might be in a cantina working as a prostitute,” she tells me. “I had to go with them to register a complaint so they can begin to investigate the case.”

Doris, with a photo of her daughter.

Doris, with a photo of her daughter.

As it turns out, Doris’s account of her daughter’s disappearance is what tipped off the authorities to her possible situation. When the daughter, Daynara, called her mom soon after leaving from Honduras on her way to the US in 2007, she told her that she had arrived in Tapachula and was going to work there for a bit to earn more money to send home to her mother. However, the money never arrived, and when Doris called back the number her daughter had given her the following February, the young woman’s voice had changed. She sounded distant and sad. After that call, all communication was lost, and the phone line Doris had been calling was cut off.

Unfortunately, the possibility that Daynara had been trafficked into commercial sex work is a very real possibility. Central American woman in Mexico are frequently tricked into this line of work. They are given a job as a waitress in a bar, but then and are pressured into beginning to sell their bodies. In other cases, the sheers desperation to earn money to survive and send to their families drives women into the work. Even among migrant women who don’t stop an work in Mexican cities, sexual exploitation, sexual assault and rape are ever-present dangers along the migrant trail. According to Amnesty International, 6 out of every 10 women who cross Mexico as migrants are raped.

So while the news of her daughter brings Doris some relief and renewed hope, the horror of these possibilities of what her daughter may have been through race through her head. Like any mother, she wants to take care of her daughter, protect her from harm. This desire is clear as she leans forward and tells me in a soft voice, “Well if she’s had a rough time, I’ll do whatever I can to take her home with me to Honduras.”

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Read previous posts in the series “Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan”:

Part 1: Step by Step Towards Peace–A Six-Day Caravan for Migrants’ Rights

Part 2: U.S. Immigration Enforcement Hits Home

Part 3: Shining a Light on Immigrant Detention Center Abuses

Part 4: The Graves in Arriaga

Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan IV: The Graves in Arriaga

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan IV: The Graves in Arriaga Share/Save/Bookmark Jul 29, 2011
This blog post, by Juliana Morris, is part of a series following a caravan for migrant rights on the Mexico border.


The bodies of fallen migrants

The graves of fallen migrants

A line of black crosses sticks out from this stretch of parched earth in Arriaga, Mexico. They bear dates, written by hand in white paint, but no names. The participants in the Migrant Rights Caravan Paso a Paso Hacia la Paz (Step by Step Towards Peace) huddle around these crosses, tired from the walk through the cemetery in the scorching sun.

“Here lie the bodies of fallen migrants,” Father Heyman Vasquez, director of the Arriaga migrant shelter, tells us. He goes on to say a prayer for these unknown migrants, reminding us to also pray for their family members, who are likely oblivious to the death, still eagerly awaiting the return of their loved ones.

The migrant plot in the cemetery is filling up. Some migrants meet their end because the 300 kilometer walk from the Southern border to Arriaga through inhospitable and oppressively hot terrain leaves them dehydrated, weakened, or injured. Others are killed or mutilated while riding on the top of the wagons of the infamous cargo train, which runs from Arriaga to the Northern and provides a cheap (though very dangerous) ride to the northward-bound migrants. Many migrants, poor and without the immigration authorization needed to pass roadside checkpoints, decide to travel this way, riding on the tops or sides of the boxcars and holding on for dear life. As the train races along, the risk of falling and being caught in between the wheels of the train is ever-present. In addition, violent assaults by robbers and corrupt police leave people with injuries, of which some end up being fatal.

In front of the unknown graves, Father Heyman tells us the story of a young man who died from multiple stab wounds from an assault by the train tracks. He arrived in the shelter in a critical state, but when they took him to the hospital, there was nothing more that could be done. He died soon after.

A group of Hondurans above the train

A group of Hondurans above the train

Later on in the day, resting in the migrant shelter of Ixtepec, I ask the recently-arrived migrants why they decide to take the trip, in the face of all this danger. One young man tells me that he really wasn’t aware of the situation in Mexico before making the trip. If he had known, he wouldn’t have come. However, the rest of the men said that they were indeed fully aware of the danger. They decided to make the trip, despite the risks, because of the economic necessity of their families and the unemployment in their home countries.

Looking at the faces of these migrants, tired and dusty but still showing traces of hope, I begin to grasp the enormity of the decision they make. For many of these migrants, from poor backgrounds and with the goal of working in the United States, this dangerous journey really is the best option they see for their lives. The U.S. gives a maximum of 5,000 green cards each year for low skilled workers. This number pales in comparison to the more than 1 million immigrants who enter unauthorized to the U.S. each year.

Temporary work visas are primarily only available for highly skilled workers, but most migrants that cross Mexico are seeking more basic jobs. And for the low skilled spots that are available, the worker must already have connections and a job offer with a U.S. company in order to even have a chance of obtaining the work visa. People who have family members with legal status in the U.S. also have options for immigrating legally. But for poor Central Americans with limited connections in the U.S., the options are virtually nonexistent. Only a select few of workers manage to obtain a visa, thereby avoiding the dangers of the journey through Mexico.

Meanwhile, the rest of the migrants continue climbing aboard the train, trudging through the dusty heat, and risking their lives on the trip through Mexico. And the little black crosses keep appearing in the cemetery of Arriaga, in a dusty grave far away from home.

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.


Read previous posts in the series “Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan”:

Part 1: Step by Step Towards Peace–A Six-Day Caravan for Migrants’ Rights

Part 2: U.S. Immigration Enforcement Hits Home

Part 3: Shining a Light on Immigrant Detention Center Abuses

Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan: Shining a Light on Immigrant Detention Center Abuses

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan: Shining a Light on Immigrant Detention Center Abuses Share/Save/Bookmark Jul 28, 2011
This blog post, by Juliana Morris, is part of a series following a caravan for migrant rights on the Mexico border.
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Irineo Mujica, Mexican migrant rights activist

It wasn´t your usual group of Central Americans arriving at the immigrant detention center in Tapachula, Mexico. The center guards are used to receiving buses of detainees awaiting deportation to their home countries, but this group was comprised of family members of migrants, caravanning through Mexico to protest the inhumane treatment their relatives receive during their journey via Mexico to the US.

Standing together in front of the locked gates and armed guards, about 150 Central American and North American activists called upon Mexican immigration authorities to clean up their act. “I was beaten by an immigration officer in Huixtla, Chiapas, even though I had authorization to be in Mexico,” testified one Honduran man. “I was caught by immigration in northern Mexico, but they turned me in to kidnappers, who held me and abused me for 4 months,” said a Honduran woman from behind dark sunglasses to protect her identity.

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Participants in the migrant rights caravan.

“These are just some of the abuses,” emphasized Irineo Mujica, a Mexican migrant rights activist, “Here in this detention center, there are stories of rapes, mistreatment, exploitation. They charge migrants 4 times the price just to call their families. They hold them for months and months–long past the authorized amount. They call this a detention center, but just look at the bars on the windows. This is a prison!”

After Mr. Mujica, Father Heyman Vasquez, director of the migrant shelter in Arriaga, Chiapas, spoke up, demanding that the United States also be held accountable for the treatment of migrants in Mexico. “The US is using Mexico to push its border further south!” he shouted. He then went on to point out that the United States uses its aid money and diplomatic pressure to encourage Mexico to beef up its immigration enforcement, particularly along its Southern border.

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Juliana Morris is a 1st year student at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Student Immigrant Movement of MA. A lifelong UU, she grew up attending the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook.

Indeed, out of the 1.4 billion dollar aid package the United States began providing to Mexico through Plan Mérida (aka Plan Mexico) in 2008, 20% is designated for immigration authorities. These funds go to things like buses for deportations, more migration check point and detention centers, and arms and equipment for Mexican authorities. Supposedly aimed to promote order, human rights defenders are seeing that this same strong-handed enforcement has led to the situation of abuses and extreme violence against migrants that they witness every day in Mexico.

After the testimonies and speeches, the group moved forward and formed a human chain directly in front of the gates. We chanted together “Stop the kidnappings! Stop the rapes! Stop the abuse!” I moved with the group, linking arms with the two Central American women at my sides, knowing that, as a United States citizen, the struggle to end violence against migrants in Mexico is just as much my fight as theirs.

Previous posts in the series “Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan”:
Part 1:  Step by Step Towards Peace–A Six-Day Caravan for Migrants’ Rights
Part 2: U.S. Immigration Enforcement Hits Home