I’ve been a migrant for long as I can remember. I left Bangladesh, my birth country, at the age of one with my parents and moved to Saudi Arabia. When I turned fourteen, we uprooted ourselves once more and came to Canada in 1998. The multiplicity of home is not only a concept I am very familiar with, it is the essence of my lived experience. As a Bangladeshi Muslim Canadian woman, this hyphenated existence is an integral part of my identity, as it is for many who have left behind a home in search of a new one.
Many of us choose to leave, and many of us are left with no other choice but to leave. We do so for better opportunities, for a better life, a better future. Yet at the same time, we long for what is left behind, and that sense of loss stays with us forever. It is the beauty and complexity of this ambivalence that I’ve tried to capture in my short story collection, Home of the Floating Lily.
Growing up in Scarborough, I met many immigrant families like my own. I observed, firsthand, the sacrifices that many from my parents’ generation made to give themselves and their children a better life. Many had left their established careers, and the comfort of their loved ones behind to begin again from scratch. As they struggled to succeed in this new land, they simultaneously built a community here by bringing a slice of home. Bangladeshi restaurants and Sunday Bangla schools started popping up, sari shops opened, and Bengali home catering businesses flourished. While there was an effort to integrate to Canadian society, the sense of loss was deeply reflected in the efforts to bring pieces of home here, to preserve tradition within places and people. Over the years, I have observed many transitions. Some people chose to return to Bangladesh, and some started to identify themselves as Canadian. Many, like my own family, became sure they never wanted to move back. Yet every-time they visited Bangladesh, there was a sense of “return,” or “homecoming,” of meeting one’s origin. Throughout this journey, many relationships formed, some fell apart, and many evolved – with others and with the self. Like water lilies, we formed a dual existence – our roots anchored in solid ground, yet forever floating, away from our origin, but not too far away.
Through my stories, I have tried to highlight the migrant experience by providing a glimpse into my community in Toronto. In my stories, some characters choose their roots as their primary home, others accept the constant back and forth, and some come to a sense of homecoming as they ultimately choose Canada. Also, their sense of ambivalence goes beyond geographic spaces. They travel between relationships, households, and versions of themselves. But in all cases, by the time they came to some kind of resolution in terms of what they consider home, they’ve become so entrenched in their multiple identities and this life of ambivalence, that they cannot shake it off, or separate it from the core of who they’ve become even if they think they have, or even if they want to.
Silmy Abdullah is an author and lawyer. She was born in Bangladesh, spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia, and immigrated to Canada when she started high school. Home of the Floating Lily is her debut collection. She lives in Toronto. Read more here.