The most literal translation that I can surmise is
"After such a long time,'I will speak about my hometown' is what occurred to me."
So the と translates to "is what", "is the thing that" or just "that" in almost all situations. It can be loosely considered a subordinating conjunction that connects an independent clause to a dependent clause functioning as a noun. This is the same function that the word "that" has in English. If you absolutely must compare it to English grammar, it is best thought of as the subordinating conjuction "that". But strictly speaking, there is a crucial difference that makes it best described as a particle/postposition that follows a quotation. As there are no postpositions in English, there is no direct English equivalent.
The terms "direct" and "indirect" quotations don't really hold the same syntactical distinction in Japanese that they do in English. In English, a direct quotation has two criteria:
- It is (or is intended to be by the speaker) someone's exact words.
- It is delimited by quotation marks.
- It does not use a subordinating conjunction.
Look at the following sentences:
The teacher said "study kanji".
The teacher said to study kanji.("Study kanji" is what the teacher said.)
The first sentence is a direct quotation. In Japanese, it is delimited by quotation marks, but still has a と functioning as a subordinating conjunction. The conjunction is omitted in English because it is not considered a clause--just a long predicate consisting of several words. In Japanese the と is always there, whether the quotation is direct or indirect.
the と resembles "that" in English, but is actually a postposition following a quotation, with no English equivalent.