Thursday, August 1, 2019
Where are you from?
A few months before my birth, my mother’s sister was set to marry in Goa, India. At the time, my parents lived in Jamaica — half-way across the globe in a culture not unlike their own. It is a place they, to this day, hold dear and call home. They followed a path much like any immigrant with the promise of a better tomorrow for both themselves and the family they had since begun.
It is possible, their move was fueled by India’s takeover of Goa, and the instability and nebulous prospects for economic security it brewed. My aunt’s wedding saw the return of my parents to Goa at least temporarily. This is where I was born, where the indigenous red sand continues to stain my heart, but it is not where I was raised. Shortly after my birth, we returned to Jamaica. Yet it was not long before political turmoil struck again and with the imminent civil unrest, once again my parents moved. This time it was just a stone’s throw away to another island country — The Bahamas.
Indeed the life of an immigrant is such that while assimilation can often occur fairly quickly, stability is often elusive. In pursuit of enhancing their educational credentials, my parents moved us to London, where I received the formative years of schooling and apparently adopted the accent as well. The Meridian Line in Greenwich Park was our daily jaunt. In a serendipitous episode of good fortune cloaked in a mistake my siblings and I made of locking ourselves out of our apartment in our feeble attempt to bring the milk bottles in, we met our midwife neighbor and her husband, who decades later, are still dear friends of ours. I remain grateful to her and her husband for their kindness and generosity in welcoming us to the country and opening their hearts to us.
A few years later we moved to Galway, Ireland, where my father matriculated as a Masters in Medical Science student at the University College Galway. Many of our neighbors had never seen a person of color before. On my first day of school at the nearby all girl’s convent, I was asked to be the model in art class. My classmates had no idea how to mix the paint to simulate my skin color and so many painted me as purple. At no time, did I feel anything but a deep sense of love and friendship from any of them. In the years predating the internet, we wrote letters to each other. In fact, 25 years later I returned for a conference and decided to take my parents with me to revisit our old neck of the woods. A few years later, with the advent of social media bridging the Atlantic divide for us, I was able to reconnect with some of these friends and they held a reunion reception at a restaurant for my family. It was after all my home.
After our time in Galway, we returned to our beloved archipelago where I have spent the majority of my childhood life, before permanently migrating to the US. It is also my home.
I find myself in a precarious position at social events. At which time pleasantries are exchanged, I often hesitate when queried, “Where are you from?” It is a fair question to ask, and my many moves have immunized me from any suggestion otherwise. I’ve thought many times about abridging this version, but out of fear of diluting the essence I now respond with, “How much time do you have?” Home is many places for me and, I have a deep affection for them all.
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