“Where are you a local?” a question I could answer with the depth of an answer I have been dreaming of. I was born in Michigan, but raised in Ottawa but I am also Lebanese in response to my parents – and I have also lived there for 5 years. Growing up, I denied my Canadian identity and claimed a stronger hold on my American one, however, I never understood why until now – and that is because of the 3 R’s (relationships, restriction, rituals).
I lived in Ottawa from the age of 3 until I was 9 and then in Lebanon from 9 until 15, and then back to Ottawa until I moved to Kingston at the age of 18 – prior to that, I was born and lived in Michigan until age 3. Although I lived in Ottawa, I was not a local, I was very young and my parents sheltered me from the world and so my experiences were very limited. We visited Michigan every summer and Christmas break, and there I roamed the streets with my cousins, and walked around their house as it was my own, became friends with their friends, and so on. When I lived in Lebanon, the first 2 years were spent in tears, as I wanted to go back to Canada because I hated everything – the people, the language, everything – until I made friends in my third year living there and my parents allowed me freedom to go to their houses or to the mall with them – I was at home, but just when I started to get comfortable, we left and I came back to Ottawa. Alas, my entire life I never truly felt connected to just one place, I would always claim all three identities with whatever order I saw fit; for example, when I wanted to be American it was American, Canadian, Lebanese and the order shifted with every interaction and everyday experience. I also shunned my Lebanese side in High School due to racism – I didn’t want to be Arab or Muslim because I just wanted to fit in – which I now regret for I have grown more in touch with my Lebanese side.
The first ‘R’ I will talk about is restriction. Money is a big one because I would still love to visit Michigan and Lebanon more often, but due to tight funds, I cannot. At one point, I also held citizenship to all three countries and I had all three Passports. In America and Canada, unfortunately due to the issue of racism, I am restricted from getting too comfortable. My Arabic isn’t as advanced as my English – so when I do visit Lebanon or talk to my family there I feel like a foreigner, and they don’t fail to remind me every time I speak that I have an accent, my grammar isn’t the best and my vocabulary isn’t vast.
The second ‘R’ I will speak about is relationships. I mostly speak to my family in Ottawa and my boyfriend who is Canadian. I also kept in contact with my childhood friends in Lebanon and we talk not as often as I would like to, but we keep in touch. In addition, I talk to my family there everyday – we have an active group chat. I also talk to my cousins and aunt in Michigan, my aunt is like a second mother to me and when I talk to her she feels like home. This is why I have a hard time choosing an Identity because I frequent Lebanon, America and Canada with my day-to-day interactions, and experiences. Most notably I have a little cousin in Michigan that I claim to be my child who I love beyond words could explain, and I talk to her every single day.
Last but not least, the final ‘R’ being ritual – that is bound by “Canadian” borders. I live in Kingston and Ottawa, thus I work here, I eat and drink, sleep, walk and carry out daily activities in both places. So ritually speaking I local Canada – specifically Kingston and Ottawa. I could not give a concrete answer to where I am from because I am local to all three of my cultural identities. For I have experience in all three countries and have emotional and relationship and ritual connections to all three. I could talk for days about summer nights in Michigan when my cousins and I would catch fireflies and once accidentally injured one and tried to nurse it back to health in the warmth of our shared home. Or about the times I would gather with my family in Lebanon every Saturday at my Grandma’s house – all 7 aunts, 3 uncles, 40 cousins and my cousins spouses and their respective children and we would smoke shisha, dance, sing and share stories and food. Or the times my friends and I would meet up at the park after school and we would just sit there talking or playing, listening to music and laughing uncontrollably so much.
And so, with every experience, relationship, and ritual I have grown interconnected with my Lebanese, Canadian and American roots. I local Canada more often due to physical barriers but spiritually and emotionally I inhabit Lebanon and America as well. I am local to all three and all three have shaped me into the person I am today.