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“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).

full restaurant with counter showing
Photo by Rod Long from Unsplash

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. 

outdoor hc 2
Original photo by Lily Borror

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.

Susan Mokh

Queen's U '21

Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.
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