Every summer, a period of intense reminiscing occurs for me after I visit places around the world, such as a place that I mistakenly call “back home”: Bulgaria. I have been in Canada for 19 years now and I am Bulgarian born with a mixture of Lebanese origins.
Throughout my 19 years in Canada I have continuously kept a habit of visiting my two countries of origin and my extended family. Despite the fact that I have been in Canada long enough to be able to call myself simply “Canadian,” I refuse to identify myself so. Actually, I am most likely to identify myself as a hyphen-identity — Bulgarian-Lebanese-Canadian.
The reason behind this is that I cannot help but feel nostalgia and confusion each time I reconnect with my roots and culture, whether it would be by visiting Bulgaria or Lebanon. Many people will say that it is only the “vacation aspect” of it all that tempts me into wanting to create for myself a life outside of Canada. Personally, I would rather call it the syndrome of “dis-belonging.” Even though the places that I like to call “back home” fulfill me in a way that are far more interesting to me than any place in Canada, in terms of culture, I can safely say that after 22 years of existence I do not belong anywhere anymore. I believe that most immigrants, newcomers or settlers have experienced this syndrome or are currently going through it.
This feeling also consists of envy towards the seemingly simplistic life or identity that a person who stayed in the same place for all his or her life might possess. I can only imagine what it would be like to not be on a hunt for identity or for a place to call home.
In fact, there is no back home, at least not for people like me; people whose parents have jeopardized culture, family and proximity to the home land in order to meet stability, wealth, a promising future, and a legitimate education for themselves and their offspring.
Now, the western world may be multicultural by consisting of several different ethnic communities, but a person with the syndrome of “dis-belonging” will only perceive this as immigrants who coincidentally are part of the same nationality and who group together only as an attempt to reconstitute or re-experience what it was like to “belong.”
An important thing to do is to take into account what constitutes this idea of “back home.” Is it the place you were born; is it the country that makes up your cultural background and ancestry; is it the place where you grew up, or is it simply a place that provides you with stability, happiness and financial gains?
I think that the fortunate opportunity of calling a place “home” goes to the sedentary individuals who remain in one place for the rest of their lives. For all the other people out there, migrants and immigrants, possessing culturally diversified experiences go hand in hand with the feeling of being a citizen of the world or, in other words, a citizen of “nowhere.”
Some immigrants, at least in Canada, are often people who flee their original countries because of societal circumstances, such as civil wars, dictatorships, lower than average standards of life and other problems. By seeking a better life outside of their homeland, a person who’s immigrating can expect a permanent feeling of emptiness in terms of the absence of the cultural fulfillment that familiarity and the surrounding of traditional aspects bring, once landed in the new host country.
In Canada there is a high ratio of immigrants that evolve professionally by making the best out of the Canadian system that is available to all through quality education and fruitful career opportunities. The bottom line is that immigrating to a country that will bring a person a more stable future than what their homeland has to offer comes with a price. As much as immigrants are striving for bigger achievements and opportunities in life, such as the “American Dream,” for example, sometimes it is the little things in life that matter.
This past June, in Bulgaria, I experienced a month of cultural enlightenment, authentic traditions and reuniting with family and friends who reminded me of where I came from. This priceless experience ended with a 12,000 mile flight — 30 hours in airports and planes — in order to return to Canada, back to a productive routine and reminiscence of how beautiful the other side of the ocean is. Pessimistic? Maybe. But this is the way I make up for my cultural identity that remains confused 19 years after my parents decided to leave the places that hold my roots.
Sarah Khalil is the International Coordinator at the Manitoban.