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Illustration by April Dela Noche Milne

Inside my conference swag bag was a sweatshirt that proclaimed “Home is Canada” in large white print on a jet-black background. It was a beautiful and timely gift given that the weather had started to turn cold. Yet, it gave me pause. I quickly put it out of my mind as I moved on to the other goodies – popcorn, dark chocolate, decadent shortbread, vegan jerky, a branded notebook and a water bottle. But my eyes settled on the sweatshirt once more. Was I expected to wear it? To a virtual conference?

As a preteen transplant from Trinidad and Tobago, I wondered if wearing it meant declaring definitively that Canada was my only home? Twenty-seven years after landing here from the Caribbean, I caught myself occasionally referring to Trinidad as my home. For example, when speaking about travel plans invariably I talk about visiting Cuba (we love the beach and the people there) and New York and heading “home” to Trinidad to spend time with my dad and relatives.

I am a Canadian citizen. I recall attending the Citizenship Ceremony as a teenager with my mother, brother and sister and alternating between feelings of elation and excitement. I love this country. I work here, I pay taxes, I own property including a cottage (which in my opinion is quintessentially Canadian), and still, it felt almost traitor-like to wear that sweatshirt.

On the first day of my virtual conference, I wore a bright yellow hoodie with “Empowered” and three daisies plastered across it. I imagined most, if not all 500 of my colleagues wearing their Home is Canada sweater and I was like a rebellious teen, trying not to conform. The sweatshirt hung in my closet. From the time I received it until the day of the conference, I visited it, I touched it, I admired the craftsmanship but I could not understand the misgivings the wording gave me. It caught me by surprise. I needed to reflect on these emotions that seemed to have morphed out of nowhere.

I have a gorgeous daughter who was born here and would not understand my feelings as she embraces her Canadian citizenship. Despite migrating to Canada at the age of nine from Sri Lanka, my husband also does not have these feelings of apprehension about the meaning of “home,” and so I did not share my unease with him. While I have standing instructions that when I die, my ashes are to be strewn into the Caribbean Sea, he insists that his ashes are to be deposited into the lake at our cottage. (A consensus will have to be reached at a later date. Hopefully, we have decades remaining.)

I attend Canada Day parties and wave my red and white flag. I embrace every season (as best as I can!) though I wait impatiently for bass season to begin in June. I kayak. I watch hockey, occasionally. I love maple syrup, poutine and Beaver Tails. I have been to the Eastern and Western provinces and plan to visit the remaining in between. I enjoy a wide plethora of stereotypical Canadian activities. And yet, I was reluctant to say that Canada was my home.

By the end of the first conference day, I was able to hone-in on the real issue: Canada was not exclusively my home. Trinidad had been my home for 12 years, my formative years. My culture, my early upbringing revolves around the Caribbean heritage. My father lives there along with 99.9 per cent of his family. My maternal grandmother and 80 per cent of my mother’s family remain there. They, too, are also my home. My safe space. My people. My roots. My anchor.

The call of the Caribbean Sea is sometimes too much to bear. The promise of sunny days, the smell of hot asphalt (we boast the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world), the beats of soca, calypso, parang and chutney music live in my soul. Songs such as Orlando Octave’s Love You So, Savannah Grass by Kes and David Rudder’s Trini to De Bone are part of my life’s playlist. You can find me, my daughter and my husband dancing to these beats in our kitchen authenticating our “This Kitchen is Made for Dancing” dish towels. Trinidad’s foods and drinks pepper my cuisine, more now than ever as I make a concerted effort to pass along my culture and traditions to my child.

So, how could Canada be my only home? Ideally, the sweatshirt should have said: “Home Is Where The Heart Is.” And to that, I would have exclaimed, Yes!, for my heart is split across two nations and has been for almost three decades. I expect it will be for eternity.

Much like Canada, Trinidad is multicultural, boasting a population of East Indian, African, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and American Indian descent, to name a few. I have only to step out my front door in Markham to understand that I am fortunate to live in a country that accepts me as I am. A city that embraces diversity and encourages authentic expressions of oneself. Here I can take part in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival a.k.a., Caribana which is akin to Trinidad Carnival. I can listen to radio stations where Dr. Jay, “de Soca Prince” plays the latest and best soca, and I can be grateful that pandemic relief funding meant millions of businesses, including West Indian restaurants, continued to bring a taste of home to those who crave it. The list could go on and on.

The national anthems for both Canada and Trinidad and Tobago speak of liberty and belonging. “We stand on guard for thee,” in O Canada and “We pledge our lives to thee,” in T&T’s Forged from the Love of Liberty. I erupt in joyful yet solemn singing every time I hear either one.

I am grateful that I belong to two countries, so I wore the sweatshirt on the second day of my conference. I’ve worn it many times since, with pride and a sense of peace knowing that while my roots are firmly anchored in one country, my branches are spread across to another.

Stacey-Ann Sukharrie lives in Markham, Ont.

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