Halves in the Meeting Place

Immigrants are always homesick. This is the core of our story. Even those of us who flee horrific circumstances have at least one thing we remember fondly, or that becomes fond when it is gone. To emigrate is to surround oneself with the unfamiliar, and to live in the echoing absence of what was once everywhere. There are days when those echoes are a deafening cacophony, laying down the impossible demand of that incoherent word, home.

Ottawa’s yearly Latin festival puts the many feelings of that word into focus. This gathering of my people in the plaza before Ottawa City Hall is a riot of sensation. Live music invites listeners to come close, and an uproar of food smells permeates the area. Hand-written signs advertise our regional specialties with words I rarely see even on our restaurant menus, and every spoonful of yellow rice and chunk of slow-roasted pork is a portal to a world I left long ago. Even the less familiar offerings, Peruvian noodles that take notes from South America’s Chinese community and Colombian pastries I’ve never tried, come with our unmistakable aroma and style.

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Halves in the Meeting Place
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I Want To Miss The Moorhens

I used to think I didn’t get attached to places. The past was a haze, an awful mystery I yearned to escape. My heart was not heavy when my family moved us from New Jersey to Florida when I was 10, and it was lighter still when I finally left Miami to seek my fortunes in Ottawa, Canada. I had much to flee. It was only later that I found something to mourn.

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I Want To Miss The Moorhens

The Forever Shelf

There are times when the sheer availability of modern media leaves me awestruck. Netflix means that, more than ever before, I can watch my favorites whenever I want. I’m having trouble emphasizing how big that difference is. I spent my youth encountering things I enjoyed and carefully watching for title sequences, “[show] will return after this,” and anything else that put a name on it I could use to recognize it in my friends or on toy-store shelves. I dreaded when shows would inevitably leave the airwaves, and watched reruns obsessively to fill in gaps from the previous viewing. Media was ephemeral, and there were never enough blank VHS tapes to capture it all.

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The Forever Shelf

Immigrant Gems

It is not possible to run out of reasons to love Steven Universe. This show’s explicitly queer representation is staggeringly high for a show as mainstream as it is; its psychological depth is impressive; it tells us forthrightly and aggressively that our genders should not constrain our possibilities; most of the characters are women or people of color (and largely voiced by people of color); there is a plot arc that is unambiguously about consent and another about being willing to seek comfort from one’s friends in crisis; onward and onward.

It’s also an impressively diverse treatment of immigrants’ and refugees’ feelings about the place they used to call home.

Spoilers out to episode 83 follow.

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Immigrant Gems

Chickadee

I don’t belong here.

The paths are the same, the same Australian umbrella trees and thickets of palms and little yappy dogs, the same pervasive sun and smell of car exhaust, but they feel foreign now.  I walk the 33 blocks to the grocery store that sells all the Latin specialties I quickly learn to miss when I’m away, and it doesn’t feel like coming home to something.  It feels like traveling a long way away for my weird exotic tastes, bits of the old country I like to keep around, like the immigrants who define my past.

I lived here from 1999 to 2009, but I got used to counting it as eleven years in my mind.  And I’ve finished with this place.

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Chickadee