2024 Festival:
October 21–27

My Roots: Writings About Home

On June 1, 2024, the Vancouver Writers Fest hosted our annual My Roots writing workshop for immigrants to Canada. Led by instructor Eddy Boudel Tan (author of After Elias and The Rebellious Tide), the workshop centred around themes of place and home.

Discover a selection of excerpted pieces from our 2024 My Roots cohort below.

A Story of One Book by Masha Birkby

This Certainty We Call Home by Oralia Gómez-Ramírez

Rebozo by Marifer Hurtado

Reclaiming Home: An immigrant’s evolving connection with Vancouver by Carmen Lo

A Daughter’s Love to Her Mother by Ikran Yasin Nur 

The Girl From the Window by Yas Sabersheikh

A Story of One Book
by Masha Birkby

He digs under the tree, trying to make a hole deep enough to ensure proper coverage but also shallow enough for someone to find it when Ukraine comes back. The rumble of the APG the russians parked next to his house, the house on the edge of the village, drowns out the gunfire in the distance. The air tastes metallic, everything smells of smoke and explosions, and his very autistic son pretty much stopped talking once the new noise of occupation came to the village. 

He knows he won’t get a chance to see the bloom of the cherry tree this year — or any year after that. Maybe there’s an afterlife from which he can watch him grow up. But his diary, the package sitting next to the hole he’s digging, it tightly wrapped in plastic and sealed closed, it is from this world, and it has to meet the people here, it just has to. So he’s digging under the tree, to bury it to be dug up another day. 

They arrested him and his autistic son today. It wasn’t unexpected. His loud and proud pro-Ukrainian stance puts him in the crosshairs of the ideas that the occupiers hold. He begged for them to have mercy on his son, the one small human that needs him, so after a severe beating they let him go. 

He knows that next time, they won’t care about the presence of his son to take him away. 

Masha’s full piece can be read here.

This Certainty We Call Home
by Oralia Gómez-Ramírez

At home. I belong. At home.
Purple jacaranda petals blowing wind from my grandparents’ patio trees.
Brother laughing, aunts and cousins
Mom calm, serene afternoons of games and play.

I am cherished.
Like when I dance in perfect sync with the lively tunes
Twists in time, twirls moving across the vast dance floor.
Dearest friends
Radiating smiles at me.
Sought-after. Skin-to-skin-to-skin rubs.

Blowing colours and textures into worlds and into words.
No translations necessary. Why would anybody not know what my name is?
A dream from a different period. Recurrent, bleeding, entrenched.
A yearned-for interval. Far in time now.
Unentangled, tamed tongue.
The certainty where I once belonged.

by Marifer Hurtado

Before leaving Mexico, my husband told me how her grandma used to hold him when he was a child, hugging and wrapping him with her rebozo. Colorful and carefully weaved, the rebozo is the regional handicraft from Santa María del Río, a small town in San Luis Potosí state. It consists on a thin, delicate, long piece of silk that women wear around their back and shoulders. While walking long distances, the rebozo would be the tool women use to tie up and carry their children at their back. Whenever I feel nostalgic, I like to imagine: the cozy mantle protecting me, my nose inhaling the natural scent of fresh grounded corn and Mexican peppermint. I then let myself lull with the swinging at the back of my ancestors, and, tied up in a rebozo, I feel home again.

Reclaiming Home: An immigrant’s evolving connection with Vancouver
by Carmen Lo

Maybe it was the somber, persistent rain every winter dragging dread and loneliness into my home, a reminder of dad choosing a life of solitude. Or the beautiful scenic views and access to boundless hiking trails inspiring me to turn fellow newcomers into friends, only to become strangers again. Or perhaps it was the repeated job losses due to ‘no fault of my own’, and questioning if my career may have prematurely ended. In every conceivable way, Vancouver has failed me. 

With each rejection or heartbreak, I would intentionally visit a little spot near the Maritime Museum that I affectionately called my ‘thinking spot’. Sitting on the same bench, I would gaze at the layered landscape of a pond, ocean, apartments in the West End and Grouse mountain, in that order. The permanence of that view in stark contrast to the transient impermanent reality of my life soothes me. Over the next five years, I would find myself returning here and start to plan my exit from Vancouver.

When my grandma recently passed away, I flew thousands of miles to Malaysia, my first home, to mourn the loss of my main caregiver. Standing with my family, I realized I couldn’t grief here. And just like that, I miss Vancouver. In this home, I have embraced the messiness of adulthood, and it is here that I am healing, growing and becoming. In time, I found myself back at my thinking spot. Only this time, I am thinking of ways to stay.

A Daughter’s Love to Her Mother
by Ikran Yasin Nur 

In her womb she brewed me for nine months,
And breastfed her brood with two-year gulps,
With discipline, she groomed her pup,
With utmost care bloomed the chap

Her training taught me to build self-drive,
And recalling never to allow embarrassment to thrive,
Her encouraging of me, made me study hard to reach the sky,
Her comforting forehead kisses dried moments of weakness and bulling, halting my cry

For her playful pup, her own life she sacrificed,
And despite youthful experience and growth, monetary wealth from emotions still to be sufficed,
When like a thief, the stormy night arrives,
And in beef, the wind violently fights

When fear lashes in the dark rainy night,
And in clear day the world without trace disappears in fright,
When my dreams get lost between,
And the gleams in the window of concern unscreened

When my concentration is gone,
I recharge my force in contemplation to your call,
In absolution my sorrows and pain fall,
And retribution raises my morale like a ball

In my waking, her message, a good morning bids me,
In my sleeping, her message, a good night bids me,
Of the greatest hustlers, none have I known greater than you,
Of the greatest mothers, none do I place over you

My excitement, capabilities and well-being, to you, I pay homage,
Center of my universe, to you I accept bondage,
Your smile brings me home,
You are my home, Mama, you are my home ❤️

The Girl From the Window
by Yas Sabersheikh

I am sitting in the dining room behind my favorite window, the big window that opens onto the street. I love to sit here every evening, around 6 o’clock, as it is the time when Troy gets home.

Oh no, Lizzy and Troy are walking down the street, together, hand in hand. Lizzy is his girlfriend; they live together just across from our building. Lizzy is as ugly as a pig, she is short, chubby, pale like a ghost with red hair, but my handsome Troy is tall, dark hair, thick eyebrows, ice blue eyes and tan. I wish Lizzy would die when I turn 20, then I will marry Troy, and have two beautiful baby girls, Iris, and Evelyn.

Ugh, Nannaaa!!!!! She is ruining all my future.

Nana is shouting from her room, take the phone Marjan!!!

Nannaa, for God’s sake, learn English! Why should I take the phone all the time.

I picked up the phone, it was “Telus”, I did as my Maman (my mom) taught me: ‘we are with “Shaw”, and we don’t need your services, thanks! then hung up’

I just ran to Nana’s room. Nana, please never call me Marjan again, my name is “MARGOT”, “MAARGow” like “Margot Robbie”. I showed you her picture thousands of times.

Then she started to murmur some stuff in Farsi, which I couldn’t pick up entirely. She was saying something about I am very ungrateful, rude, and my parents failed in raising a kid in a foreign country.