Crafting A Path Through Diaspora (Part I)

Disclaimer: While this is an important and relevant topic, the following is also only my experience. It is not true for everyone, and my experience with diaspora is not the experience that needs to be at the forefront right now. I am privileged, and white, and live in a community that is primarily made up of the same. If you want to work on healing the pain caused by displacement and diaspora, don’t just look at that which is past. Look at the present. Help the people who are currently being forced into diaspora. Listen to their stories and, if you can, help ease their pain. Their experience is of crisis, dealing with the open wounds of being separated from place. I am writing about scar tissue.

So many of us are from so many different places. Even looking beyond national borders (which tend to change A LOT over time), we are from so many different continents! And even if you have grown up with a strong sense of place and connection to where you were literally born, as I have, there is this sense of hollowness and discomfort that comes from the diaspora that nearly all of us contain. 

Being the child (or grand child or great (however many times) grand child) of immigrant people is to constantly grapple with ghosts of places and people and pasts that you do not know much, if  anything, about. (Or know about, but have no memories of.) Most of the time, when people make a drastic move away from homeland, it is to escape and/or it is against their will, and they have only been torn from that place kicking and screaming and vowing to remember and vowing to forget. The trauma that we experience in a lifetime is passed down to future generations along with our basic genetic codes. Likewise, we carry the trauma of past generations, and it continues to affect us. But we also carry the light and joy and beauty of those who have come before us. Even if we have never heard the stories of the place our people left, we carry with us the experience of their leaving. 

Even if we do not know the name of the place where our ancestors walked, we carry the sunshine of that place in our hearts. There is some part of us, somewhere, that knows what the rain tastes like when it falls from that part of the sky. 

Our bones remember the first plants that grew up and fed our hungry ancestors, and our ears remember the way that birdsong poured in, once upon a time in that place we came from. 

Of course, for the deeper ancestors, travel was a given. There was the place they were in summer, and the place they were in winter, and the places they were in between, and those places were not necessarily the same year after year. But that travel happened at a much slower pace. It was the pace at which a heart could beat or a ship could sail, not the pace at which fuel could burn in an engine. Even those more recent ancestors who chose to migrate usually did so in smaller bites than a continent for breakfast and an ocean for dessert. Moving through time and space, even on a speedy bicycle, gives a sensory experience of time and place and space that is so much incredibly richer and deeper than that of even the person driving alongside in a car. When I ride a bicycle to town instead of driving a car, I know how many newts were crossing the road, not just that I might have run over one. I know when the first flowers bloom on the roadside, and where they smell the sweetest. I know where the moss grows in between the asphalt, and where it holds the most water, and which valleys the bugs favor on summer nights. 

This is a level of engagement with our environment that is so often lost to speed nowadays, which makes it harder to take life moment for moment, and see the echoes of a rose that your deep ancestors smelled in the one that is blooming before you. Instead, I often find myself panicking because I don’t know where the breaks are to slow our speed, and aching with this all consuming dissonance of where my body calls home. 

That sense of home straddles continents and oceans and centuries, and every time I am able to grasp the ancestral memory of a thousands-of-years kind of place where my people (especially my matrilineal people) came from, frustration and pain and turmoil fill up my chest and I weep. Because I don’t know how to recreate that home on wounds covered only by a few generations. I don’t know how to hold on to home in two places at once when those places are continents and oceans apart. 

And part of me doesn’t want to. There is this child in my heart who cries for the mountains and valleys that her grandmothers grandmothers grandmothers knew better than the wrinkles on their skin, and she say take me back, please. Let’s just make home there, and re-learn those paths and forests and meadows. I cannot live without them. 

And then there is the child whose body I have only recently grown out of, who is a child of seaweed and evergreen forests and tide pools, who says, what about the yew tree in the middle of the house your parents built. How can you be willing to leave that kind of home?

The co-existence of these opposites consumes me. 

I hold desperately to the words that I know about where I come from, especially the places that have been left. I turn them over and over until they shine and the edges start to round with wear, and still I hold then, taste them, cherish them. 

When someone says those words, they settle into this space in my ears that I didn’t know was longing to be filled. A spark lights within me, and I jump up— “Are you from the same place too?” Are you my part of my diasporic family? 

When little pieces of my cultural past filter into my cultural present, I reach out for them in desperation. Please. please. Tell me more about where I come from. 

Learning about the old ways, not just the fear ways— learning about the old times, not just the starving, cold winter, dirt poor times— hearing the songs of my people, and learning what birds came to nest in the winter, this is what makes my blood sing. 

To have this knowledge is to settle into place as if I am part of a puzzle, to settle into the tapestry of being and know finally the ways of the threads before me, and be able to tell the story for the threads after me. 

But it is not just the having of this knowledge that matters— it is the practice of it. And it is the adaption of it to fit in this new environment, this new culture of diaspora.

So, in honor of my ancestors, I make. In honor of the future, I make.

I make and sew and weave and embroider and draw and write in the hope that I can lay this craft down and create a path— one that stretches far enough in all directions for the children of the present and future to walk back and meet their ancestors, and for the ancestors to walk forwards and meet their future. I craft in the hope that this path will span time and space and oceans and mountains. I make it in the hope that it will lead over valleys and through the darkest of forests, and heal wounds no matter how old. 

I know that I cannot heal everything.

 I know that I cannot reverse time and wars and famine. 

And I do not yet know how to build a house. 

But I do know how to make beautiful things. 

And I am learning how to clothe a body. 

So that is where I will start. 

2 responses to “Crafting A Path Through Diaspora (Part I)”

  1. Beautiful, Juniper.
    I would love to hear more specific details about your diaspora genealogy. Wonderful and rich writing (in general and on diaspora in this and part II). AND . . . please tell us more, specifically, about your search for personal history, identity, roots, and ancestry. 🙂


    1. Thank you!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

%d bloggers like this: