Am I supposed to use the phrase ‘back home’ when I refer to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, or any other country where my parents or I immigrated to Canada from? Or should I just be a Canadian with values that are shared by people of a distant continent? Would it be okay for me to say “I was visiting back home” to refer to my trips to Pakistan or should I say “I’m going back home” when I am in Islamabad, alluding to my home in Canada where I make my living and which I have chosen to be my home, where I breathe in the free air, enjoying all the luxuries and comforts for which my parents insisted that my siblings and I work hard here in North America.
Is it really hard to identify which is my home or it is as simple as saying I live in Canada; this is my home.
As an individual I will probably look up to my elected representatives or to the media to see how they are addressing the issue.
I remember I went for an interview with Mr. Bob Delaney, MPP for Mississauga-Streestsville almost a year ago. In one of my questions, I referred to South Asia as “back home.” He questioned me on why I had used the phrase “back home.” This was the first time I really got to think about ‘back home.’ I felt I was chided on something I really wasn’t sure of. I came back to my office and told my publisher that I had screwed up, that Mr. Delaney doesn’t like our paper any more.
However over the course of a year, I paid close attention to what was being subject on the subject of “back home.”
A couple of weeks ago, an event were organized by Canadian Malayalee Association to celebrate Onam festival. The auditorium was warm on a cool Saturday night. Among the audience were people of all different ages who had gotten together to be part of festivities that would have come to their kids naturally if there were in South India, however here in Canada, it seemed that people had made a point of bringing their kids of various ages to learn and be aware of their cultural values; procession, the music, the movements, and the significance of the event.
As was expected – or should I say was not too expected when we have been in Canada for at least two generations – the event was held in two languages – an ethnic language and English. Given the people in audience, perhaps this was not too inappropriate. But somehow I left with the feeling that English should have taken precedence over any other language. Or it could just be my bias, as I could not understand a word of what was said in the ethnic language.
As the speeches started from the stage, it was interesting to see that the president of the organization was invited to call upon the distinguished guests on to the stage. There came the federal minister of citizenship and immigration, the honorable Jason Kenny, then came the Ontario minister of Government Services, the honorable Harinder Takhar, and after him MP Bob Dechert addressed the audience.
During his remarks to the audience, Minister Takhar referred to India as “back home.” For a second I was stunned, not quite sure what to think about what is “back home” really.
Is it my parents’ home in Pakistan or is it Canada? Yes Canada accepts and welcomes my ancestors’ traditions, but will the generations who have been living in Canada for hundreds of years accept me if I would still refer to my parents’ country as back home?