Personal Essays and Creative Non-Fiction

Belonging Isn’t A Feeling

By Candice Louisa Daquin

It has been said younger generations are more selfish. I would argue that with every succeeding generation, there are stereotypes that are false and misleading. No one generation has all the answers or is superior, though in our humanness, we may wish ours to be. We are all in this thing called life together, and as such we should draw from the myriad of experiences of us all instead of looking to ourselves for all the answers. It is tempting because we can work in isolation and have technology to answer our questions, but is that enough? If we take the human out of humanity, we lose what makes us more than a computer.

I have known intimately what it feels like to be an immigrant, to have no friends or family, to start over from scratch. It isn’t a good feeling. For all the happy stories of immigration, many immigrants struggle with a sense of ‘belonging’ in their adopted countries. They may feel like outsiders, the way I did, because their adoptive country doesn’t appreciate their cultural nuance, or offer true equality. When we as a culture, draw circles around ourselves and isolate, we may create a sense of belonging for ourselves, but we do not share it. We have no home if that home is bereft of a larger sense of inclusiveness. We only belong in relation to our understanding of what belonging is. It necessarily includes others. I am not advocating the insular introvert go out to parties every day, but all of us must own some collective responsibility towards the world at large. That means not turning a blind eye to the continued inequity and suffering. Quite simply, we are better when we do things together. Everyone has a right to a home, to belong, to chances and a future. If we deny this, we deny the very fabric of equality and compassion. Salman Rushdie coined the term ‘Selfistan’ when reflecting on the absurdity of an increased world desire for self-determination and separate statehood.

In his book, Shalimar the Clown, Rushdie sarcastically wrote: “Why don’t we just draw a circle around our own two feet and call it Selfistan?” Western-backed efforts to create statehoods and their implications make many wonder if Rushdie was prophetic. Rushdie describes a phenomenon whereby people draw a circle around themselves and define their sense of home to themselves, with little thought to the bigger picture. The idea being we struggle to open ourselves up to a wider sense of belonging on a universal level when we isolate what we deem ‘ours.’ Could this tendency toward Selfistanism be why borders that were supposed to be erased have raised their ugly heads again? Where we perpetuate isolationism in favor of xenophobia and small-town-mindedness and our fears of ‘other’ translate into discrimination and racism?

Illustration by Pratyusha Chakraborty

Hiraeth is a Welsh word with no literal English translation, but it is likened to homesickness, or sadness over the lost or departed, especially in the context of Welsh culture, and it is a mixture of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past. Many cultures share similar feelings. When all you have known is your ‘home’ you make take the idea of ‘belonging’ for granted. But for many refugees and immigrants, ‘belonging’ is a luxury they don’t have. For all the utopia of improved circumstances, the reality can be quite different. Canada is one such example. When immigrants were first invited to Canada, they were enticed with the promise of a freer country, with less prohibitive laws. A better quality of life. Many immigrated. Canadians soon saw an influx of immigrants competing with their jobs and racism increased. This could be documented by the number of anti-immigrant crimes that occurred after immigration numbers were increased. Canada didn’t have the jobs to sustain such waves of migration, so they resorted to a stricter points system for immigration. However, for those already in-country, relatives could be brought in on the basis of their relationship status.

When I moved to Canada on a Skilled Worker visa, I was told I’d have to start at the bottom. This didn’t make sense given the implication of ‘Skilled Worker’ and the number of hoops I had had to qualify for, to obtain such a visa. Nevertheless, I was told I should work as a secretary or in a fast-food-chain, to start off, and with time, I would work my way up. I was in my early 30’s at the time with more than a decade of work experience and didn’t want to start from scratch, but at least I had that opportunity. If I had come from a more challenging background, this would have meant a huge chance I might not have got in my country of origin. Maybe because I didn’t have kids, I didn’t think generationally. If I had kids, I might have thought that my sacrifice would be my kid’s success, and I believe that is true. Parents will often sacrifice their own dreams to ensure their kids get a chance. Kids born in-country have higher chances of assimilation and career success than those who immigrate.

Without kids, I didn’t want to spend years working my way up again, so eventually I left Canada and gained work in America where the economy is that much larger and they still accept

like-for-like career swaps with foreign nationals. Even so, in the years I have lived in America, I have seen many legitimate workers struggle to attain the level they had in their native countries because of racism, ageism, classism, or a lack of equivalency recognition in their career (such as doctors and nurses). The process of immigrating and belonging is complex and challenging. To this day, I don’t know what country I ‘belong’ to; is it France, where I was born? Egypt, where my mom is from? England, where I went to school? Or America, my adopted, but strange new world?

A sense of ‘belonging’ is cultural, but also very human. Who knows if other animals experience it quite as we do, but we know to most humans, some translation of belonging, some sense of ‘home’ and what it encompasses, is part of our collective consciousness. Could we live without a home? Yes. Many do. Those in war- torn countries, those persecuted, or those unfortunate enough to not being able to afford a home. There are many reasons people do not have a home, do not possess enough to call somewhere home, and in 2022, that is unacceptable. Do most of us thrive when we have a home? Yes.

I am often struck when I drive at night past the many businesses that keep their lights on, at our flagrant waste of resources. Trash cans overflowing with discarded things, food thrown away daily, landfills surging with waste. We keep the lights on in empty offices to exude a sense of ownership even when we’re not there, whilst others cannot afford to turn any lights on. We have it all backwards. No surprise then our global homeless problem is not abating. We are like chess players, moving the pieces around, where once a country has higher homelessness, migrants leave to other countries and are technically not homeless anymore, but with no real chance at gaining the system, they might as well be. And worse still, they are homeless in the sense that they do not belong or are welcomed in their adoptive new countries. They are judged for being ‘different,’ be it their skin color, ethnicity or accent. How can anyone carve out belonging if they are accused of being wrong by the majority?

Where in all of this is home? Home is what we aspire to create as immigrants. If we fail to do so, we remain with one foot in each country, not belonging to either. We feel lost, estranged, resentful. Selfistan is the reality that many of us have —  of drawing a circle around ourselves and asserting that only our experience, our life, matters. It is selfish, isolationist and is gaining ground as modes of technology physically distance us from each other.

If I’m honest, I have often regretted being an immigrant. I sought a ‘better’ life and equality, but in many ways, I lost more than I gained. Whilst there are many ‘success’ stories, I think there are, within those, secret pains we’re afraid to admit to. The loss of our culture, our identity, a feeling that we’ll never forge the same deep, lasting connections in our adoptive countries. Yes, I see positive immigration stories all the time, but I also hear stories of loss, isolation, estrangement. If we are increasingly Selfistan-like in our approach, how can we welcome others into our fold? A lot of times I longed to be ‘accepted’ but instead, only felt like an outsider. Part of that might be my own fault, but I also think times have changed, and we’re more concerned collectively with ‘self’ over ‘all.’ I don’t see how this can be a positive thing when it’s often at the cost of compassion. When I worked in Rape Crisis Centers, I was told time-and-time again; “I can’t tell my family what happened.” But they could tell me, a foreign stranger. Because they knew I cared. What does that tell us about how closed we are? How we only want to hear the ‘good news’ and hide the bad under our beds?

If we live in a bubble, we only know what that bubble tells us. If we relate only to our experiences, we are small minded, parochial and stymied by those limitations. When we allow ourselves to experience otherness, we grow and flourish. If we don’t care about other people, are we really worthy of calling ourselves human? If kids use their phones at the dinner table, if families don’t sit and eat with each other and talk, we fall into habits that are really hard to get out. Once you convey to someone that it is okay to live in a virtual world, are you surprised by their inability to live in the real one?

Candice Louisa Daquin is of Sephardi French/Egyptian descent. Born in Europe, Daquin worked in publishing for The U.S., Embassy / Chamber of Commerce before immigrating to the American Southwest to study and become a Psychotherapist, where she has continued writing and editing. Prior to publishing her own poetry collections, Daquin regularly wrote for the poetry periodicals Rattle, SoFloPoJo (South Florida Poetry Journal) and The Northern Poetry Review. Aside from her Psychotherapy practice where she specializes in adults who were abused as children, Daquin is also Senior Editor at Indie Blu(e) Publishing, Writer-in-Residence for Borderless Journal, Editor of Poetry & Art with The Pine Cone Review and Editorial Partner, for Blackbird Press. 

Pratyusha Chakraborty, an artist based in Kolkata, works with different mediums and explores various genres in the hopes of mastering a few of them in her lifetime. She specializes in and is best known in the art community for her creative lettering pieces. She also worked as the editor of “The Quarto”, an online art magazine brought out by Last Page Doodles, Kolkata’s first and the biggest online art community. Pratyusha graduated from Bethune College in 2020 and is currently pursuing her Masters degree in English Language and Literature from The University of Calcutta.

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