Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


Writing as an immigrant

When I first moved to the US in 1963 from Western Canada, clutching my green card, I felt excited about residing in a country that seemed much worldlier and more stimulating than how I had envisioned Canada at that time. The American Dream was actually a reality then, and it was possible for someone like me, a high-school dropout and single mother of a six-year-old son, to improve her station in life. And I did. At that time, California offered college for a ridiculously low tuition, but an amount that I could afford. I couldn’t do so now. And by passing the GED, I eventually earned an AA, a BA, and two Masters degrees.

I’m sure that being an immigrant influenced me in creating Curva Peligrosa, one of the major characters in the novel of the same name, released in 2017. In the 1940s, Curva travels to Canada from Mexico on horseback via what was known as The Old North Trail, a passageway that extends from the Canadian Arctic down to the deserts of Mexico and beyond. It runs along the base of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide, following a kind of shoreline between the mountains and the plains for over three thousand miles. The Blackfoot called the trail “The Backbone of the World.”

Curva literally throws curves at the residents of Weed, a small Alberta town near where she ends up in Canada, buying a farm and settling down after 20 years of travel. Curva, lusty and enchanting, offers the residents of Weed a new perspective on things that enriches their lives. They, in turn, welcome her into their midst.

However, an americano, Shirley, eager to exploit the oil reserves there, tries to buy as much land as he can (and this was before I knew anything about Donald Trump, the so-called real estate developer!) so he can obtain oil rights. Curva’s land is particularly rich in minerals, and Shirley attempts to buy her out, threatening her with deportation if she doesn’t sell because she’s in Canada illegally.

This need to belong to a community is part of the human condition, and it doesn’t have to be one of like-minded individuals. Where Curva ended up in Alberta was vastly different from where she was born. So while I recognize that there are individuals who hate America and Americans, and I realize we need to have some restrictions in place to ensure that those who do immigrate will add to the country and not detract from it, erecting artificial barriers based on religion or race has been done far too much in America’s (and other country’s) past. We don’t need to repeat it ad infinitum.

Writing as an immigrant has made me more conscious of how our place of birth influences our perspective on ourselves and those around us. I have two ways of viewing my experiences, my Canadian and my American lenses. From my Canadian perspective, I’m informed by Peace, Order, and Strong Government, a very different approach from America’s Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Canada’s edict emphasizes the collective, America’s the individual. Hence, Canada has a healthcare system that benefits all of its citizens. America doesn’t. Yet each country offers something of immense value to my understanding of world events, and each adds an important layer to what I end up writing about. In Curva’s case, she starts out on her individual quest but ultimately ends up part of a community, recognizing the importance of both.

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