Last night I watched the film Brooklyn, starring the hypnotising Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant who moves to New York City in the 1950s. It’s a beautiful film, which I highly recommend if you haven’t yet seen it.
Not having been to either Ireland or New York (yet) and of course never having experienced life in the 1950s, this film could feel very removed from my own personal experience, and yet there is one glaring theme to which I can relate; calling two countries home.
The film depicts Eilis’ struggle with homesickness after arriving in the land of opportunity. She pines for home to the point it makes her sick. Before long, she meets a young New Yorker of Italian ancestry who makes Brooklyn start to feel more like a home. In a letter to her sister she says, “He has helped me feel that I have a life here that I didn’t have before I met him. My body was here, but my life was back in Ireland with you. Now it’s halfway across the sea.”
Watching the film made me think a lot of homesickness; how strong it can become, why we feel it, what makes it eventually diminish. Moving your life to another country, I think you are always bound to feel homesick to some extent. No matter how much you come to love the place you have moved to, the place where you were born and raised, the place your character was made, will always command a certain hold over your heart.
I thought how funny it is that I, a Caucasian New Zealander whose ancestors are from Britain, has now returned to the country of my forefathers and mothers and at times miss the place they once set out for; the place from which they would have dreamed of their own homeland. Our situations are the same but in reverse.
Of course, I won’t be here forever, so I don’t feel trapped in the way I imagine many immigrants in those times felt, or how many immigrants now must feel, the possibility of returning home having been robbed from them. I am lucky to have a home that I can easily return to, and feel happy in the knowledge that I will.
The reason I got to thinking on this point so much, is because when you stop and think about it, when you go back far enough, all people that inhabit this earth have moved from one place to another at some point; it’s why I take such issue with certain people saying, “No! You can’t come here; this is OUR place.” Who can truly say that?
For New Zealanders, it is common to come to England at some point in your adult life, to return to the place a large number of us have heritage, and experience life here for a year or two. But New Zealand is home. I remember my mum telling me when she was young, her peers who, like her, had been born in New Zealand, would say not “I’m going to England,” a country – after all – that they had never seen, but “I’m going home.” Our country was that much younger, the memory of England that much fresher that to some people, despite knowing no life but that in New Zealand, they called a faraway place home. Why? I believe the answer is family.
It’s like Eilis says in the movie – when you have someone or some many ones around you who are family or as good as, you can never feel completely placeless. Home is where you have people you care about, and the care is returned. It’s why I think I find it easier than some, living in London… when I moved here, my boyfriend was already here, my sister was here, a friend I have had since I was 14 to text as I always had done. I had come halfway around the world, landed in a country I didn’t know, and yet I instantly felt like I was in a kind of home. Yet my mum, my dad, so many friends and family members are in New Zealand, that no matter how long I stayed here; even if I settled permanently and married an English lad and had English kids as one of my Kiwi cousins has, I would always, in my heart of hearts, feel like I have two homes.
It’s the people that make a place home. It’s why I know so many people who have happily chosen to live away from the place they grew up; Canadians living in Scotland, Chinese living in New Zealand, and Kiwis living in London. It’s why making friends and alliances with different countries and cultures is such a beautiful thing… it’s the people.