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The paradoxical refugee

By Reyam Jamaleddine, June 10 2023—

No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, writes Warsan Shire in Bless the Daughter, Raised by the Voices in her Head. 

I have written this piece over, and over trying to figure out how to put the words together. Carefully ensuring that I won’t offend anyone, or make this sound like a pretentious trauma dump. The fact of the matter is that the refugee, the war and the rage is an issue so beyond my capabilities of spelling it out perfectly. The diaspora, the exile and the homeless are contemporary issues, new to many of us who are first-generation children of immigrants. As our parents navigate being strangers to a foreign land, so do we. 

Migration to Canada from political refugees and migrants had an influx in the nineties and early to late 2000s. Many of us were born in that era and we are now grown into adults, adults who have dealt with the trauma of our parents — the trauma that has been recreated and given to us. This also comes about at a time when the Ukrainian Diaspora has emerged, but this type of migration is of a different breed. Different from those of us from the East. The term refugee has such stringent energy when spoken of — alluding to a darker-skinned man of the East. But refugee when spoken, alluding to the light-skinned blue-eyed man of the West is so fresh and lenient. The world is their oysterand the world has no room for us.

The experience of those who have escaped from their homelands in the Middle East, Africa, South and East Asia will forever be different. 

I write this piece with the support of Warsan Shire’s Poetry. She is a British national and a child of Somali migrants. Warsan Shire’s poetry in Bless the daughter raised by a voice in her head beautifully exhibits the experience of growing up as part of the Somali diaspora. The resilience of the daughter of migrants and the loneliness of navigating womanhood. This homage will continue on to discuss the life cycles of the refugee and when it can finally end — when and where will the refugee unpack their suitcase? This piece does not speak to everyone’s experience but it speaks to many. 

Avoiding assimilation, the number one goal of raising a child in the land of refuge. Teach them the language of your home, teach them the culture of your home, feed them the food of your home — and then imitate the dictators of your homeland, recreate the wars and impose the same scars that were inflicted on you in your homeland — force them into exile just as you were. 

Being raised by the refugee who relentlessly attempts to recreate the atmosphere of their homeland is suffocating. The clashes between the culture of the walls you live within and the doorway to the outside world have become impossible to disregard as simply the power to avoid assimilation. The desire to prolong the inevitable of their child adapting to the only land that they have ever known is the result of fear and then the need to control. They fear losing the language, culture and values of home — therefore, they need to control what has the power to lose it. The constant ache to obtain what is forever lost is regressive, it inhibits the ability to thrive in the current environment — the umbrella of refuge and the environment that is lost and doesn’t exist anymore. Patriarchs replicate dictators and mothers replicate silent obedient societies. 

Every inch towards freedom, peace and security in the land of refuge is an inch further from home — the rage, the fear and the danger— that is what home is. Whatever you do — Don’t be like the white girls. Don’t dress as you desire, don’t eat as you desire, don’t act or speak how you desire — and don’t even dare to think how you desire. Just as these exploitations of the human being were given to you by the dictators, give to your children. 

How do we blame the refugees for their actions? For who is someone without their home? The ability to survive while being oceans apart from home is admirable. All whilst never allowing their children to discover what home is. The refugee is a unique person, one who has endured wars and raging seas. One who has uninterrupted trauma, from their past life to their present life.

How to break the cycle: become a refugee. Leave the rage, the wars, the fear of home and relentlessly seek out land, a shelter — any entity that can be as close to the hearth of the home that was never there. Create a new version of the trauma, a new cycle, one where you never belonged to a home and burden your future children with the emptiness of your constant chase for what never existed. Cycle after broken cycle new versions of the trauma will reappear.

As children of migrants, we have been blessed with the language of our mothers, alongside the safety of the land of refuge. Although born and raised here this place was always foreign. Its laws are foreign, its culture is foreign and its people are foreign. I have never encountered the land of my parents’ past, nor have I ever deemed this one to be of my own. Perhaps, this foreign land is not so foreign to me — maybe it’s just home. Cultivating mindfulness, seeking therapy, discontinuing past toxic relationships — these all should be the foundation for breaking from the shackles and chains of the trauma. But even more so, having the power and the will to discover what home is. Assimilation is a profoundly negative trajectory on something that always was. 

Becoming aware of the unpacked suitcase, one that has always been there since before my birth. Finally unpacking the suitcase and settling in — no longer a fugitive.

Mama, I made it out of your home alive, raised by the voices in my head”  Warsan Shire

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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