A search for belonging

To the restless, the lonely, and those forever stuck in between,’ is the dedication of the new book Wherever I Find Myself, published by Caitlin Press Inc. and edited by Miriam Matejova, PhD student at the University of British Columbia (UBC). In the book, immigrant women describe their struggles of integrating into Canadian society in the form of personal accounts.

Matejova, who emigrated from Slovakia 12 years ago, had the feeling that the tides were slightly turning against immigrants and wanted to give them a voice.

“There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding immigrants, which can be partly solved by getting to know them better. Some of them went through a lot and are sometimes still struggling to belong. I want to reach out and let their stories talk – what it means to emigrate and how heavy it is to feel and be disconnected from your home country,” says Matejova, 31.

Struggles

One of the contributors to the book, Brazilian writer Camila Justino, 31, tells of her struggle with the English language, of which she did not understand a word when she immigrated to Canada. Simple things like getting a cup of coffee ended up in an endless stammering of broken English. In conversations with others she often felt stuck, lost and frustrated.

“I never dared to express my opinion, because I simply didn’t know the words to do it,” says Justino.

Onjana Yawnghwe, a 39-year-old nurse, experienced other kinds of implications after she escaped Thailand with her family to start a new life in Canada.

“My family is part of the Shan people, an ethnic minority in Burma. Because my dad joined the Burmese resistance army, the government [there] prosecuted our family. When we escaped to Thailand, my dad became the target of assassination attacks and we had to move to Canada. This history was always heavy on the shoulders of my parents and they were dealing with a lot of unresolved traumas,” says Yawnghwe.

Miriam Matejova, editor of Wherever I Find Myself. | Photo courtesy of Caitlin Press

In between

Yawnghwe identifies herself as a Shan-Canadian.

“I am kind of a hybrid Canadian. I have a strong connection to my ethnic identity, but I also miss Canada when I’m away. I have the feeling that I am not really belonging to the Shan culture, but I also don’t know what being Canadian is. It is the feeling of being in between cultures,” she says.

Disconnection is a feeling a lot of immigrants are dealing with. According to Matejova, newcomers are often lonely and struggle with language, homesickness and feelings of alienation from both their guest country and their home country.

‘When I go back to Slovakia, people see me sometimes as a stranger. My accent makes me an outsider,” says Matejova.

Despite their struggles, the female contributors to the book all express a certain gratitude for being able to live in Canada.

“Interesting is that nobody feels unwelcome here. I think that is because Canada is really supportive in helping people find their way in Canadian society,” says Matejova.

Justino says the place where people originate from never leaves them either.

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Press

“When I hear Brazilians talk, I get tears in my eyes. The further I am away, the more I miss my country, while at the same time I left my country because of the poverty, unemployment and expensive social services. It is a confusing feeling,” says Justino.

Being far away from her homeland and totally immersed in English surroundings, Yawnghwe experienced another loss: that of her mother tongue.

“I am really ashamed about that. I can perfectly hear, but the words won’t come to me anymore.”

Yawnghwe says that immigration is a give-and-take process.

“I gained access to the English language and culture, but at the same time I lost my mother tongue,” she says.

Wherever I Find Myself covers, with acumen, the experiences of immigrant women across Canada, who tell of their struggles to belong.

For more information, please visit www.caitlin-press.com.

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