Wherever I Find Myself is an anthology of stories written by Canadian immigrant women. Twenty four voices from around the globe (Europe, South America, the Middle East, Asia, Caribbean and the United States) contribute to this collection that guarantees you will find yourself in its pages. Edited by Miriam Matejova and published by Caitlin Press, this book inspires, educates and builds bridges among us all. Matejova’s moving introduction paints the backdrop of our current time with the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe, increasing hate crimes in North American neighbourhoods, and a general distrust of anybody who looks like an ‘outsider’. But who actually belongs and who doesn’t? Matejova points out that we all have our immigrant stories. That, unless we are of First Nations origin, somewhere along our lines, hopeful, lonely, and perhaps frightened family members stepped onto these shores to begin anew.
In her introduction, Matejova also shares her hope that readers who do not identify as immigrants take this opportunity to walk in the shoes of people who do. It is possible to relate to these themes of love, loss, belonging, community, alienation and prejudice woven throughout the stories. I believe this is the power of storytelling, and my hats go off to the contributors who must have brushed shoulders with vulnerability and reached for courage many times in the telling of their tales.
As a Canadian immigrant woman, I felt a deep connection to the ideas expressed in this book. For example, the unnameable place of living as a hyphenated Canadian mentioned by NikNaz in her story Border Crossings – that is something I struggled with throughout my adolescence. Even now as an adult, I am acutely aware that I am not quite South Asian enough to pull off that identity on its own; I am also not quite Canadian enough, in the eyes of some, to have that identity be sufficient. I’ve learned to live between cultures by creating a new space where there’s a little of both but that has come with struggle and loneliness. That loneliness is held at bay when I hear other people – and it doesn’t matter from which country they come – share their similar experiences. This book is a gift to people of multiple identities!
A story written by Ayelet Tsabari, an Arab Jew who found friendship in the Arab Muslim community in Vancouver, reminded me of two little girls who participated in a summer camp I volunteered at in my teens. Their countries, Serbia and Croatia, were at war that year. In their homeland, they were pre-determined enemies. While running around at summer camp in their new home, Canada, they were best friends. They ate lunch together all week long, wore matching braids and held hands when sitting in circle, listening to the instructions for the next activity. They are forever etched in my memory as the story of ‘what could be’ when we remove ourselves from labels. Ayelet and her friendships that caused heads to turn are equally inspiring.
Many of the stories take place in the Lower Mainland, naming familiar landmarks and neighbourhoods. It is a reminder that countless other stories exist at those cross-streets, and our own. These are not imagined works of fiction but truly representative of the people we live among. Perhaps this was why 200 people attended the sold-out book launch at Vancouver Public Library this past April. These stories are now part of the history of our corner of the world. They are part of Canadian history.
To follow up to the sold-out book launch, Caitlin Press is holding a special event where you can listen to readings by several contributing authors, and grab your own copy of the book.
Join them on Tuesday June 6, 2017 at Book Warehouse – 4118 Main Street, Vancouver, BC from 6:30-8pm. Admission is free. Find more information on their Facebook event page.
This book is perfect for anyone interested in modern-day Canadian history, new immigrants, people who remember relocating during this lifetime, and people interested in the experiences of those who arrived here more recently than they. I can also imagine this book being discussed in book clubs.
Once again, congratulations to the contributors and to editor Miriam Matejova for pinning down these stories, and to Caitlin Press on a successful launch!