I live today in a land that can show me blazing blue skies and temperatures that cause sunburn on the skin of my lighter family, give rise to annoying brown splotches on my skin, and then, within 12 hours, can shift to snow-covered earth and trees and a winter wonderland. I am someone who has learned to adapt quickly but also to love change.
I have learned, because of my adopted home, what it means to long for those first signs of spring, to wait for the buds to form on the trees, to run outdoors optimistically in shorts and sandals at the first signs of the temperature rising above zero.
I also know what it is to be seen as an ‘other’. In Southern California, when my sister’s very blond children were small and I was with them in the yard or out shopping, it was often that neighbors and others thought I was the nanny or the cleaning woman. At the university, I was the only brown person in our Faculty of Fine Arts for years. As I leave this year, I am one of 2. My spouse came to Canada from Europe and has struggled (successfully) with a new language, new social norms, and changing expectations. We have both missed our families, watching them change and grow without our daily presence. We have missed the foods, the sounds, the rhythms of our homeland while carving out our own way and adopting with great joy and pride what we see as the dominant Canadian ideals and values; diversity, tolerance, social responsibility, social justice, abiding by the rules, as well as a fierce love of hockey, and at least rudimentary knowledge of what curling is. It was here I learned to stop patiently for pedestrians, to say good morning to others on our walks, to know what it is to live in a community when the expectation of ‘nice’ is the norm and not the exception.
I think a lot about the immigration problems south of our border; the changes in culture, language, the socio-economic shift, the expectations and disappointments of those who arrive, the resentment of those who experience changes they don’t like or understand in their communities. I think of people from warm lands arriving in Canada and wondering, as I did, what is a block heater? What? My hair can freeze when I go outside with it wet? The ground is still frozen in April and I can’t plant outside? And the changing definitions of family and familial roles? All these changes of the environment come so quickly…less than a 14-hour flight and everything known and familiar has changed. I often wonder if we were meant to travel this quickly.
I have written often about our artistic work that “our voices are not blended but are intertwined…like the ampersand symbol “&” wrapped around each other, two voices distinct but on a journey together”. This is how I see our relationship to our homelands and our Canadian home. We are Canadian but our old roots are in places very distinct from this one. Our childhoods were shaped by those lands, but our home here has taught us things we would never have learned there. It is here, to this vast open sky, that we throw our arms open wide, turn our faces to the sky and sing.