I migrated. That is, I moved from point A to point B and “never the twain shall meet”—Rudyard Kipling from The Ballad of East and West.
Did I emigrate or did I immigrate? Did I move away or did I reach my destination? The topic of immigration is full of paradoxes that take a lifetime to satisfy. Immigration is a journey.
Some factors push you away— war, famine, or poverty. Prosecution for race or religion. A hankering for freedom. Some factors pull you—a better job, a beautiful girl you want to marry, the green grass on the other side of the fence.
Emigration affects the people “back home.” Some think, “Good riddance, you traitor. Is it that much better over there?” Or they miss you; it’s as if they had to bury you already.
Immigration affects your new community. People make you feel welcome or they want to send you back. Both sentiments are never far from the surface.
And you? Will you keep your identity and honour your culture from point A, or will you integrate and do in your new Rome as the Romans do? How long will you hold on to your roots, your language, your food, your traditions? Will you stay in touch with fellow migrants or ignore them? Can you adapt and learn the strange new language and customs? Your children don’t have to adapt; they are the new people and that leads to generational conflicts.
And so you escaped, but where will you die? Will you return because you made a bad decision? Point B doesn’t understand you but point A doesn’t want you anymore. Or you feel good in both places and you can’t make up your mind. You want the best of both.
Did the Roman Empire disappear because of a lack of immigrants or by being flooded by too many of them? Even Edward Gibbon in his masterful book, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is of two minds on that subject.
Immigration changes societies and it changes continents. How many continents were affected by the slave trade, a forced form of migration? No one writes better about that terrible journey than Hugh Thomas in his masterpiece, The Slave Trade. With the discovery of the new worlds came colonists, another form of migration. Did they paint on a blank canvas or de-possess an existing society? And the Jewish people are forever linked with their exodus or involuntary departure from a homeland and their consequent Diaspora or hegira— dispersal all over the world with the eternal thought to return. A burden, indeed.
The beauty of Canada—one of its many beauties—is its support for this journey. Built by immigrants, Canada is a young country that understands and respects the newcomers, whatever luggage they carry. And while Canada wrestles with the many paradoxes, we wrestle together and thus this country grows and develops in the place where I feel good. Seneca wrote, ubi bene, ibi patriam—where you feel good, there’s your fatherland.
Canada is my home.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of The Scrivener, and is reprinted with permission.