SOME|WHERE | Chantelle Blagrove

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Sundays were reserved for curry goat, slow-cooked inside a Dutch pot whose smell saturated our entire apartment and coated our fancy garb before we went to church. Sundays were reserved for hair, the hairstyle I would wear for six days straight in order to preserve time and lessen my mother’s stress. I would sit in between my mother’s legs on our soft, fuzzy carpeted floor while she parted artful designs on my scalp to braid my hair. Each time she took her fine-toothed comb from my roots to my ends, I’d wince – jumping and grabbing onto her broad feet with one hand. With my other, I’d touch my scalp to see how much more foreseeable pain I had to endure before the braids were finished, but my mother would whip my fingers with her comb to shoo me away. All the women in my life would meet in the living room while my mother groomed my mane. Sundays were reserved for these women: to watch, listen and talk.

I was the youngest of the tribe. I had no idea what the adults were talking about – most of the time they would use their traditional code (patois) at a faster rate to ensure I wasn’t keeping my ear in adult talk, as they put it. I wasn’t included in the sharing or the stories. I was simply there by proxy. My juvenile ears weren’t ready to hear what it was like to be a single mother in a new land, adapting to a new way of life. Regardless, I wanted to be included in the conversation. Being the youngest and having the longest hair – I took the most time to be cared for, so all eyes often landed on me. I would shove my way in, blurting out questions that had bounced around in my head for as long as I could remember.


 
“Mom, what was she like?”

“Who?” My mom would ask, with a confused tone and vexed look in her eye.

“Grandma?! What was her name?”

“Salome Blagrove. She was small, and did everything – she ran the household,” she would reply.

“What was grandpa’s name? What kind of man was he?”

“His name was William Augustus Blagrove. He was smart, kind and gentle. When he got older he lost his eyesight and couldn’t work.”

“What stories did your Mom used to tell you?”

“What kind of question is that? I don’t know. She never spoke about private things with me.”

I would ask her where she grew up and what it was like for her.

“In Mandeville, but we were originally from Clarendon. I don’t remember, I left when I was very young.”

“Why?” I’d ask.

“Because I wanted to get away, I wanted a better life.”

 


Canada provides its citizens freedom, access to education and public health services unparalleled in smaller, poorer countries. It is a land best known for its diversity, which has formed into a mosaic of faces and stories from every part of the world. When you look into the makeup of Canada beyond official marketing stances – smiling faces, picturesque mountains and other clichés – there are threads that politely and quietly divide us. Marginalized people, especially immigrants, discover this in the awkwardness which is the learning process of calling this new land their “home.”

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, between her homeland and Canada, my mother lost her story, along with that of my grandmother and the women before them. North America became this idea of freedom and possibility that many immigrants bought into. My mother, being one of them, left Jamaica in 1977 at 17 years old with my oldest sister. Like countless others, she believed that fleeing the “bad” situation at home meant her problems would remain behind on that island. My mother’s notion of diasporic life was sold to her – a far-fetched belief that life would be easier somewhere else. For a brown-skinned single mother, the fantasy of this promise was something her adolescent mind couldn’t truly grasp.

It took my mother seven years to obtain her citizenship. She lived in secrecy, without the security or the comfort of community, and without the safety net of being in your original home. To Canada, she was nameless and didn’t exist, which perpetuated her displacement of past memories, identities and traditions. My grandmother died when my mother was only 22 – she barely talks about her. Assimilation – learning the ways of a new land while working hard to go unnoticed – can cause one to disassociate, to the point that they forget to go back to their natural state.

Growing up in Canada to an immigrant mother who has a strained relationship with her history causes one to perform dual roles at home and in the rest of the world. Canadian or Jamaican. I hated that these two parts of my identity were separate, and that I constantly had to choose. Instead, I wanted to embrace a fluid sense of Blackness rather than conforming to one cultural expectation or the other. My selfhood isn’t anchored in shared knowledge and attributes belonging to my ancestors. There is no explanation why I like the music that I do, or why I always feel the need to dance when I am upset or confused. Why I have this distinct urge to absorb art and literature even though they were never encouraged or passed down to me. With arms outstretched, I look to my elders for reassurance and validation of my identity. To nod in agreement, confirming that these traits are gifts, and that they run deeper than just me, that they are in my blood.







My mother’s notion of diasporic life was sold to her
– a far-fetched belief that life would be easier somewhere else.


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I felt the identity gaps caused by this diasporic existence only recently. A friend was describing a work of art painted by her great-aunt, and she was able to pull out her phone and Google her name. Instantly, there were links to this woman’s work, and my mind flashbacked to a younger, more frantic version of myself Googling my father's name, trying to find traces of him. In that moment, I realized that the absent fragments of my personal history were the very present obstructions in my way to understanding myself. When my friend showed me her great-aunt’s work, I was able to instantly connect the traits I could see in my friend to the works of her ancestor. I envied her. I don’t know much about my history or, to be frank, about my place of origin.

My yearning for my homeland comes from feeling displaced in the current home I worked so hard to get and where I still feel unsettled. In my career-driven job I feel as nameless and undocumented as my mother did when she first arrived here. None of these acquired things have reconciled the teenage angst I carried around trying to run away from my mother’s home and creating a new self. I was taught to keep silent. “Respectful” women were not supposed to share too much, or to be openly “emotional.” Somewhere in that silence, pieces of my mother and her ancestors have been lost. Here’s to the beginning of breaking the silence and the sharing of stories – my story.
Sundays were reserved for curry goat, slow-cooked inside a Dutch pot whose smell saturated our entire apartment and coated our fancy garb before we went to church. Sundays were reserved for hair, the hairstyle I would wear for six days straight in order to preserve time and lessen my mother’s stress. I would sit in between my mother’s legs on our soft, fuzzy carpeted floor while she parted artful designs on my scalp to braid my hair. Each time she took her fine-toothed comb from my roots to my ends, I’d wince – jumping and grabbing onto her broad feet with one hand. With my other, I’d touch my scalp to see how much more foreseeable pain I had to endure before the braids were finished, but my mother would whip my fingers with her comb to shoo me away. All the women in my life would meet in the living room while my mother groomed my mane. Sundays were reserved for these women: to watch, listen and talk.

I was the youngest of the tribe. I had no idea what the adults were talking about – most of the time they would use their traditional code (patois) at a faster rate to ensure I wasn’t keeping my ear in adult talk, as they put it. I wasn’t included in the sharing or the stories. I was simply there by proxy. My juvenile ears weren’t ready to hear what it was like to be a single mother in a new land, adapting to a new way of life. Regardless, I wanted to be included in the conversation. Being the youngest and having the longest hair – I took the most time to be cared for, so all eyes often landed on me. I would shove my way in, blurting out questions that had bounced around in my head for as long as I could remember.


 
“Mom, what was she like?”

“Who?” My mom would ask, with a confused tone and vexed look in her eye.

“Grandma?! What was her name?”

“Salome Blagrove. She was small, and did everything – she ran the household,” she would reply.

“What was grandpa’s name? What kind of man was he?”

“His name was William Augustus Blagrove. He was smart, kind and gentle. When he got older he lost his eyesight and couldn’t work.”

“What stories did your Mom used to tell you?”

“What kind of question is that? I don’t know. She never spoke about private things with me.”

I would ask her where she grew up and what it was like for her.

“In Mandeville, but we were originally from Clarendon. I don’t remember, I left when I was very young.”

“Why?” I’d ask.

“Because I wanted to get away, I wanted a better life.”

 


Canada provides its citizens freedom, access to education and public health services unparalleled in smaller, poorer countries. It is a land best known for its diversity, which has formed into a mosaic of faces and stories from every part of the world. When you look into the makeup of Canada beyond official marketing stances – smiling faces, picturesque mountains and other clichés – there are threads that politely and quietly divide us. Marginalized people, especially immigrants, discover this in the awkwardness which is the learning process of calling this new land their “home.”

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, between her homeland and Canada, my mother lost her story, along with that of my grandmother and the women before them. North America became this idea of freedom and possibility that many immigrants bought into. My mother, being one of them, left Jamaica in 1977 at 17 years old with my oldest sister. Like countless others, she believed that fleeing the “bad” situation at home meant her problems would remain behind on that island. My mother’s notion of diasporic life was sold to her – a far-fetched belief that life would be easier somewhere else. For a brown-skinned single mother, the fantasy of this promise was something her adolescent mind couldn’t truly grasp.

It took my mother seven years to obtain her citizenship. She lived in secrecy, without the security or the comfort of community, and without the safety net of being in your original home. To Canada, she was nameless and didn’t exist, which perpetuated her displacement of past memories, identities and traditions. My grandmother died when my mother was only 22 – she barely talks about her. Assimilation – learning the ways of a new land while working hard to go unnoticed – can cause one to disassociate, to the point that they forget to go back to their natural state.

Growing up in Canada to an immigrant mother who has a strained relationship with her history causes one to perform dual roles at home and in the rest of the world. Canadian or Jamaican. I hated that these two parts of my identity were separate, and that I constantly had to choose. Instead, I wanted to embrace a fluid sense of Blackness rather than conforming to one cultural expectation or the other. My selfhood isn’t anchored in shared knowledge and attributes belonging to my ancestors. There is no explanation why I like the music that I do, or why I always feel the need to dance when I am upset or confused. Why I have this distinct urge to absorb art and literature even though they were never encouraged or passed down to me. With arms outstretched, I look to my elders for reassurance and validation of my identity. To nod in agreement, confirming that these traits are gifts, and that they run deeper than just me, that they are in my blood.




My mother’s notion of diasporic life was sold to her
– a far-fetched belief that life would be easier somewhere else.


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I felt the identity gaps caused by this diasporic existence only recently. A friend was describing a work of art painted by her great-aunt, and she was able to pull out her phone and Google her name. Instantly, there were links to this woman’s work, and my mind flashbacked to a younger, more frantic version of myself Googling my father's name, trying to find traces of him. In that moment, I realized that the absent fragments of my personal history were the very present obstructions in my way to understanding myself. When my friend showed me her great-aunt’s work, I was able to instantly connect the traits I could see in my friend to the works of her ancestor. I envied her. I don’t know much about my history or, to be frank, about my place of origin.

My yearning for my homeland comes from feeling displaced in the current home I worked so hard to get and where I still feel unsettled. In my career-driven job I feel as nameless and undocumented as my mother did when she first arrived here. None of these acquired things have reconciled the teenage angst I carried around trying to run away from my mother’s home and creating a new self. I was taught to keep silent. “Respectful” women were not supposed to share too much, or to be openly “emotional.” Somewhere in that silence, pieces of my mother and her ancestors have been lost. Here’s to the beginning of breaking the silence and the sharing of stories – my story.
CHANTELLE BLAGROVE | Chantelle is a writer and poet based in Toronto.
CHANTELLE BLAGROVE | Chantelle is a writer and poet based in Toronto.

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