Thursday, May 8, 2008

Emigrant versus Immigrant

Home sickness. It's an all-encompassing feeling sometimes. And, at my stage of life, it is an odd feeling to have, because I associate it with young girls and boys who are at camp, or away at yeshiva/seminary, or otherwise not in their normal element.

But I suppose that's the point. When you are from a different country, you always sense that tie to where you are from. Perhaps immigrants to America possess that sensibility to a lesser degree due to the cultural emphasis here on "being an American", i.e. the melting pot approach.

In contrast, back in Canada, immigrants identify themselves as Canadian, but live the culture of whence they came in parallel to life in Canada. They live amongst others from their given nation, eat their national dishes, speak their national language at home, and label themselves ___-Canadian (e.g. Chinese-Canadian, German-Canadian, Turkish-Canadian, etc.). There is consequently no conflict in their sense of self, i.e. they live in Canada, and savour all that Canada offers them, but still consider themselves predominantly of their native land. That is what it means to Be Canadian: to be both simultaneously, and to celebrate each other's differences.

My husband came to America just at school age. He has, in other words, spent all but a handful of years in his life here in New York. Yet he vehemently insists on referring to himself as Israeli, despite being overwhelmingly American. I mean, you should just hear him say particular words; not an ounce of Israeli in that pronunciation (e.g. idea = i-deer, horror= hawrur, etc.). I understand the mental/verbal emphasis however, since it stems from an attempt to retain a connection, which fades more with each year, to the land where he was born.

My husband and I are at different points in the process, but our sentiment is the same. I desperately long for "home" even though I am at an age where home is basically wherever I find myself. My father is gone, my mother is in a home, and while my older brother maintains the house of my teen years for the day when my mother is finally able to return there, I am in principle without a physical residence in Canada. Yet my emotional self-definition remains solely Canadian, my mindset solely Canadian, my every memory- even of my years in the US- is filtered through my Canadian-ism.

At this juncture in my adulthood, I doubt that I will ever switch over to an easy sense of myself as an American, or even of myself as a resident of the United States. Rather, despite my American passport, I see my future self continuing to define myself as a "foreigner" for perpetuity.

We all make choices in our lives. I chose to move to the United States for work, and while I wrestle with surprisingly large set of cultural differences between Canada and the US, I do appreciate the positive aspects of living in the United States. But I need to also give credence to the fact that while my physical/spiritual self enjoys the opportunities here, my emotional self will continue to feel a sometimes overwhelming sense of loss and displacement. Maybe the International Bureau of the Canadian government has me registered as a non-resident of Canada, and maybe I am currently without a Canadian passport, but I assure you: my heart and mind rests there.

To all of you who are from somewhere else and now live in America, I salute your continued efforts to define a life here that is meaningful and fulfilling. It is a constant, yet necessary process.

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