Last winter, I took a drawing class in an art gallery. The first day of class everyone introduced themselves and talked about their favourite artists and why they took the class. But when my turn came, I felt uneasy. The first thing I said after my name was, “I am an immigrant.” It was a strange thing to do. No one wanted to know about my background as I didn’t want to know about theirs. Why did I say that?
I notice I do that a lot as if I worry people might mistake me for someone else. Whenever I am in a situation where I need to introduce myself, I want to somehow mention and immediately explain that if I have an accent or look different is because I am not from here.
Immigrant is my new title. I don’t think I can ever get rid of it. It’s part of my identity now. I attach myself to this title because I don’t feel I have something else to attach to. After four years in Canada, I feel I am lost. I’m torn between two lands that are thousands of miles away from each other. One carries my roots, the other gives me wings — but neither has the sense of belonging, the sense of home.
If someone asked me before “Where is your home?,” without any hesitation I would point at my motherland on the map and say, “Here.” But I can’t do that anymore.
I feel displaced.
This spring, I moved to Kitchener. It is the fourth city I have lived in since I immigrated. Four cities in four years. It is as if I carry my home on my back; wherever I find a better opportunity, I move there. I believe now that once you are an immigrant, you will always be an immigrant.
When I immigrated, I pulled out my roots from the soil I was born in. I said goodbye to my parents, families and friends. I detached from the city I know, the language I speak, the culture I grew up with, and I came to an unknown place.
Two of my uncles died during these years, and I didn’t have a chance to participate in their funerals; four of my cousins married and I only saw their spouses’ pictures on social media; two of them have new babies and I have no idea what they look like. My portion of family is photos of their gatherings, videos my mother takes for me in the weddings and birthday parties and sometimes face to face chats, although the time difference makes it hard. I have a virtual family now.
I knew immigration wouldn’t be easy. I prepared myself to fight and make it worthwhile to leave behind everything I had gained in 30 years. But I never expected to fight for my identity. I never expected to lose myself. I wasn’t prepared for that.
Since I immigrated, I’ve known nowhere and nobody is permanent for me. I move from one place to the other, from one city to another and every time it gets easier to detach. Home has lost its meaning. Those cities, buildings and apartments are places where I live, work, eat and sleep, but they are not home.
“Where is my home?” I ask myself every day.
Is this new townhouse on the border of Kitchener and Waterloo my home or that apartment next to the golf course in Burlington? What about that studio apartment in a 33-storey highrise in Ottawa? Maybe my home is still in Tehran, in Apt. 1 in the brown building overlooking the mulberry garden where I grew up with my brother.
Every night when I go to sleep I imagine all the places I lived. I build them back again, visualize my colourful and dark memories and try to figure out which one is my home, but I can’t.
Some of my friends tell me I am homesick. I’m not. I know how homesickness feels. When I was in my twenties, I studied for two years in Europe and I felt homesick after six months of living there. Wherever I went and whatever I did, I felt nostalgic for my home in Tehran, the streets, coffee shops, stores, people and even some things I didn’t like there. I wanted to go back and breathe in that air, walk under that sky and chat with people in Farsi. I missed my bed and my blanket, I missed the smell of the pastry shop at the corner of the street and I missed the taste of turmeric and saffron in my mother’s food.
Now, I am not homesick. This feeling growing in me is not nostalgia. I am displaced.
I am scared, but it is not because I don’t have a home. I somehow feel free from all the boundaries, all the dos and don’ts, all the restrictions and limitations. This bittersweet feeling is new for me. I don’t know where it takes me, but I trust it.
Today, I am here because I have work to do, lessons to learn, people to meet, experience to gain and paths to find. Tomorrow, I might be somewhere else. In this journey, I carry my home on my back, in my mind, in my soul. I am my home.