Language is a way of communicating who you are: a way of letting the world know how you feel. When you articulate yourself, the door to others opens. But when you're an immigrant, language is a luxury. Communication is fiction, and connection is rare.
I was brought up in Vietnam by my grandparents, so my first steps in Canada were strange. I moved here when I was 9 years old. My parents had been living in Canada for some time, hoping to provide us with a life of comfort. When I moved to Canada, I left behind friends and family. I left behind a home that felt warmer than the cold streets I have become accustomed to.
Upon arriving in Canada, I remember language being my first source of discomfort. The inability to speak in English separated me from others; as a child, I remember wishing it didn't. I recall wanting to speak and understand the whispers on the playground: wanting to participate in the games that evolved into friendships. However, friendships are not the only thing you become distant from when you arrive in a new country. You also become alien to those you love, not because you love them any less, but because understanding them amidst cultural barriers becomes a linguistic challenge of its own.
I didn't always understand my mother; in many ways, she also didn't always understand me. But I loved her because despite being separated for years, we both still tried. I was in middle school when I discovered she was dying of a terminal illness, and the isolation from my youth flooded back into my life.
This time it was not English that became difficult to converse in: it was the language of honesty. I didn't always know how to respond when people asked about my days or when they tried to check in. It isn’t easy to care for someone who is always slipping away.
I lost my mother not long ago. Relearning the language of honesty was a lot like learning the English language. It took patience and time to foster connections and truly open up. Grief created its own dialect. However, despite this challenge, I soon learned I had a gift for listening and caring for others. As I navigate adulthood, I carry the experiences of being a caretaker and an immigrant with me. They are embedded in my conversations and who I am; when I connect with people who have walked difficult paths, little is lost in translation.
Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity
This story is a collaborative effort between Vipasna Nangal and Emma Nguyen