This here post is more of a "let's sit back, grab a tissue and ponder" type of a blog. It's really a blog post for posterity rather than hilarity. So this is just a warning. This one's a thoughtful one.
It's about how it feels to be an immigrant. I know I know...tired cliche of a topic, isn't it? But I can't help it. It's really the kind of topic that only a fellow immigrant kid can grasp. And I don't mean one of those "Oh, I'm an immigrant because my grandma moved here from Scotland when she was four" kind of immigrants. I mean, good on you for being able to phase haggis out of your systems through the generations and having some kilt pride, but this one's for the immigrant kids who moved to Canada at an impressionable age....but with plenty of motherland memories to shape and confuse their current existence.
Why am I thinking of this topic now and not at any other time? Well, because, earlier this year a new law was passed. This law amended an existing Czech law that prevented some of us to hold a dual citizenship. So, for the past 15 years, I pretended to be only Canadian. Well, on paper, anyway. Inside, I, of course, was Czech but it somehow troubled me that I had to give up who I am because of a law. It seemed unfair that some Canadian hussy who's never set a foot on the cobbled streets of Prague, but happened to marry a Czech dude could have a Czech citizenship by marriage, but not me. Heck, I lived in Prague before Prague was deemed cool by the rest of the world. I was a pioneer! Back when it was still shrouded in the foreboding cloud of communism. Yep, that's when I lived there. So, what the heck, I ask you?
And so, last week I went to the Czech Embassy here in Ottawa to properly apply for my citizenship. It's like a secret code, this Czech language.
I mean, who but a Czech person could speak it and understand it? If you hear Spanish, really, that person could be from anywhere! They could be Spanish, Mexican, Nicaraguan....or just someone who took Spanish in University. But when I hear Czech, there's a secret bond immediately. They know; I know. We both know the secret tongue. And even now, fifteen years into my life in Canada, I still find myself to have a far more intimate relationship with Czech as a language than English. I'll give you an example. The word "Summer" to me just means warm weather, possibility of camping and maybe a harkening back to the days of summer jobs.
But its Czech equivalent, "Léto" holds a far deeper meaning. When I hear or say that word, I immediately think of the lazy bright sun drowning our one-bedroom apartment in Prague. I immediately imagine the smell of it all. I imagine us returning home from camp or our grandparents' cottage. The smell of pool toys somehow lingers in the air and the apartment welcomes us with its familiar smell and light.
The Czech language just has a sense of familiarity to me when every word not only holds a literal meaning and its English equivalent, but also a collection of senses that complete its full and complete meaning. While the word "Christmas" to me means vacation and shopping and gift exchanges, its Czech equivalent "Vánoce" brings with it a whole atmosphere. When I hear that word, my mind fills with memories of town squares speckled with artisans, the smell of mulled wine and just an overall feeling of unexplained magic. The word smells like frankincense and sounds of bells. That's that word for me.
And so, this one goes out to all the immigrant kids who had to reshape their understandings of words and meanings and culture to fit in. But in a way, this one also goes out to born-and-raised Canadians. Imagine your brain having a second layer of a completely different life and memories and knowledge. Imagine your brain having a clear-cut separation between "Christmas" and "Vánoce" - the day you moved from a place that understood the latter and moved to a place that understood the former. It's not easy and so on behalf of all of us immigrant kids : have patience! Have patience when you hear an immigrant struggle with pronunciation of certain words or when he says something silly. It's not because he or she is silly; it's because he or she is working from a new script. A script they are not yet familiar with. So, have patience.