Where do I belong? Where is home?
I have asked myself these questions daily since I immigrated to Canada in 2018.
My decision to move to Canada was motivated by my aspirations to be independent, study more, and seek growth opportunities. I was eager to live my North American dream and embrace the west and its lifestyle with open arms. I was nervously excited about taking the first flight of my life, travelling solo, and starting a new life.
However, nothing prepared me for what assimilation would be like when I immigrated. Suddenly, I was in a new place where people did not speak my language, wore different clothes, ate foods whose names I could not pronounce, and lived a life I did not understand.
It didn’t take long for me to start missing home, my city and the comfort and familiarity they offered me.
I realized that the things I always took for granted connected me to the world around me; my culture gave me a sense of identity bigger than myself and tied me to my life in many ways—big and small.
At home, I could anticipate what food would be served at an event, what kind of music my peers would listen to, what clothes I should wear for a party, and which language would be used to communicate.
I am proud of my history, heritage, and culture, and deeply connected with my roots. I missed my country. I missed the feeling of belonging, and I missed home.
I couldn’t avoid assimilation as it felt like it came as a package deal with the decision to make a new place my home. I did not want to feel the weight of being singled out for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes, I just wanted to blend in.
Initially, that was the best choice.
When I allowed myself to assimilate into this new environment, I didn’t notice the gradual changes it brought to my personality.
I remember how enthusiastically I wanted to celebrate my first Diwali in Canada. I wanted to dress in traditional attire, buy sweets, decorate my house, and re-create the feeling of celebrating Diwali with my family.
Truth be told, I failed miserably at it, as I had no company to celebrate with. My friends were busy at their part-time jobs and couldn’t take time off due to financial difficulties.
So many of them questioned the purpose of “celebrating” when it could never replicate the happiness we felt back home.
We all shared guilt and fear; we were so focused on maximizing the opportunities that we thought it was unethical to spare some time and money for a celebration.
So, in my second year, I forgot it was Diwali until my parents wished me.
A sinking feeling overcame me as I realized I was slowly disconnecting from my cultural heritage. Half the time, I didn’t know the folk songs my cousins were singing. I forgot recipes for popular Indian foods, dates of important festivals, rituals to be done on religious occasions, and much more.
Eventually, I started feeling alone in a room full of people. I could not share my feelings with anyone—nothing felt exciting.
The North American dream I once admired was consuming me from the inside. But unfortunately, in pursuing a better life, I suffered the loss of my culture—a common theme for immigrants like me.
When I asked my fellow immigrants how they felt about being away from their families and culture, I was amused to find that culture has different definitions for different people.
For my friend from New Zealand, culture meant sports; a good game of cricket connected him to his community. Even after years of being in Canada, he still misses the weekends when he would play cricket with his friends, and for him, soccer cannot beat cricket.
On the other hand, for my colleague from India, culture meant sitting with their family on the terrace on sunny winter days, wrapped in a blanket, and eating peanuts.
Nevertheless, the common thing among us was that we were homesick and lonely and craved the warmth and support our home countries offered us.
As thrilling as the experience of seeing new places and meeting interesting individuals was, it came with equal parts of grief. Immigrating to Canada made me experience cultural bereavement, financial burdens, and loss of memories of life in my home country.
It was difficult to handle, process and move on from that grief.
My mental health was affected too, and now that I look back, the disconnect did not happen suddenly. In fact, it was a process that took place over the years and was influenced by several circumstantial factors.
The preconceived notions that people from my home country had about me aggravated my feelings of disconnectedness.
When I visited India after four and a half years, people quickly assumed that I had abandoned my roots altogether—that I was now an English-speaking, bagel-eating foreigner who could no longer speak Hindi.
Expanding my horizons gave me a new perspective, but I still wanted to visit the fields back home, have chai on my terrace and eat traditional Indian food.
Even though my entire trip to India was memorable, I still could not shake off the feeling I had throughout my vacation. It was this constant question of, “Where is my home?” and “Where do I belong?”
My passport says I am Indian, but I do not entirely feel like one. I have changed and grown over the years, and so has my perspective.
I felt like an odd one out in India. I missed Vancouver, my freedom, friends, and I missed work.
So, I thought that maybe Vancouver was my home now, and I needed to be away from it to realize that—to feel complete.
However, I did not feel whole when I returned to Vancouver. I was happy to have my freedom back but missed the warmth of my father’s hugs. I was excited to return to work but missed sipping tea with my mother in the kitchen.
On my ride back from the airport, I had the epiphany that I belonged nowhere but everywhere. I carry my home within me. Home is in my memories and is not a physical place.
I realized that despite the cultural loss I had experienced, I had learned so much from other communities while living in a multicultural city—I developed intercultural sensitivity and compassion.
Immigration never had to be the equivalent of losing my identity and culture. On the contrary, I could adopt a new lifestyle by practicing acculturation while maintaining my cultural heritage.
I haven’t stopped questioning where home is, but now when I do, I remind myself it is within me. I am home.
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