046 | Kamal al-Solaylee | Why we go back to where we come from

Immigration isn't a one-way ticket. For many, the homeland calls back.

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

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From the Basque region to Israel, Jamaica to Taiwan, Kamal al-Solaylee talks to immigrants who've chosen to make their way home as he plans his own return to his native Yemen. Can reality match the fantasy? Why is the call of home so powerful? And what if you're still a foreigner wherever you go?

“We often cast ourselves as the lead character in our return stories. The fact is that we return to countries that have moved on. You have to just accept that what you're longing for is really a state of mind rather than a physical place.”

In this episode

  • 🛂 Going, coming back, going again... the not-so-simple story of migration
  • 🇬🇭 Ghana's year of return
  • 😬 Quaint nationalism and the exploitation of nostalgia
  • 💔 Reason, emotion and fantasy in the longing for home

📚 Return: Why we go back to where we come from. Harper Collins Canada, 2021. Find it here.

Show notes

[00:00:30] Intro
[00:01:29] Migration isn't just a one-way ticket
[00:05:27] Ghana's Year of Return
[00:07:25] Return is big business, politics and emotion all mixed up
[00:09:08] Can reality match the fantasy?
[00:13:44] Return is not a failure of the immigration journey
[00:16:54] The irrational call of the homeland
[00:18:48] The pain of feeling like a foreigner at home
[00:23:00] The exploitation of nostalgia
[00:25:07] Return can feed or soften the edges of nationalism
[00:29:14] Whose return is actually wanted?
[00:31:12] Deportees, the unwanted returnees
[00:35:02] Kamal's own return plans


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[00:00:00] Kamal al-Solaylee: We often cast ourselves as the lead character in our return stories. The fact is that we return to countries that have moved on in a way. And you have to just accept the fact that, what you're longing for is really a state of mind rather than a physical place.

[00:00:30] Intro

[00:00:30] Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

[00:00:34] Today on the show we have Kamal al-Solaylee. He is a Canadian born in Yemen, a professor at the School of Journalism, Writing and Media at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. And he's here to talk to us about his third book, I believe: Return, Why we go back to where we come from. Thank you so much, Kamal, for joining.

[00:00:55] Kamal al-Solaylee: Oh it's a pleasure, thank you for having me, Isabelle.

[00:00:57] Isabelle Roughol: So I have to say when I came across your book by kind of weird internet rabbit holes, because unfortunately it's not in bookstores in the UK yet, I was really, really, pleasantly surprised because it feels like it's a topic that we don't talk about very much, even though, as an immigrant myself and knowing many immigrants, it's something that's always on your mind, the return. but it's not part of the narrative. We, we talk a lot about immigration as a kind of a one-way ticket. So what made you want to dive into this, to address this?

[00:01:29] Migration isn't just a one-way ticket

[00:01:29] Kamal al-Solaylee: I mean in part exactly because of what you said is that we often talk about immigration as an outward immigration as a, and it more or less has this kind of narrative is that you leave a place of war or economic disadvantage and you go to a better place or you seek a better life somewhere else. or you escape, escape, torture, or, political, persecution.

[00:01:52] and, and, and, and that narrative is just so overwhelming when we think about movements in general, the movement of people. and I, I, and I've often felt that, that the return aspect of, of migration, the fact that people, that migration is not just one directional, it is multidirectional. It's not just even return. people, some people return and go back to their adoptive country and they return again.

[00:02:14] but on a very personal basis is actually the book started. I started thinking about this book in 2015 when the war in Yemen started. and I started thinking about Yemen, where I was born in Aden, the south part of Aden. I think most of your British listeners will recognize it as a former British colony. and I started thinking about the suffering that the people are experiencing there, my connection, including my family. Most of them still live there. and I just wanted to be, you know, wanted to join them on some level, wanted to be there for them.

[00:02:48] Kamal al-Solaylee: And I started reconnecting with Arabic as a language with, as a culture, things that I've sort of abandoned for the longest time in order to be, to become the model westernized migrant to the. and I began to think about the writing something along those lines of my own personal story, but I had already written a memoir. My first book was a memoir and I thought, I just can't, I don't have it in me to write a full book personally. So I, instead I turned into a book of reported nonfiction, where I looked at this whole concept of return, philosophically, in migration studies, which, you know, it's began, for the last twenty years, it has gained some traction.

[00:03:28] but most of all, just talking, talking about it, as. From different points of view of other people who, who have returned to their homeland and finding out what happened, what happens next? It's kind of almost like a movie when the credits end, there's a happy ending and the credits end, and you don't know what happens next. Return re you know, we, if we talk about return at all, the story ends with these people returning to where they come from.

[00:03:56] Kamal al-Solaylee: But I was really curious to know: so what happened to them? How would they. how are they faring in their, in their country of origin or ancestral homeland? and that's, that was the origin of the book.

[00:04:08] Isabelle Roughol: So, who did you talk to? You traveled all over the. world and, and what did you hear from them?

[00:04:13] Kamal al-Solaylee: Yeah. I mean, actually I wanted to add a couple of more destinations, but, but COVID happened obviously in 2020, and I was lucky that the last reporting trip was in the, sort of late summer of 2019. I went to the Basque region. I went to Belfast Northern Ireland,Taiwan. I went to Israel, Palestine, to Ghana and Jamaica.

[00:04:36] And initially I really, I really wanted to focus on homelands that are for lack of a better word contested, where there are at least two or more people laying claim to, to it. so that's why I started in the Basque region, given the history of the Basque region, in, in, in, in relation to Spain. and then, and then obviously Northern Ireland, and I was really curious about the situation between Taiwan and China, both in terms of individual returns, but also the bigger picture of China sort of working very hard to reunite. Oh. To, to return, Taiwan to the Chinese main but to become part of the Chinese, mainland. and, and obviously the mother of all return stories, which is, Israel and Palestine..

[00:05:27] Ghana's Year of Return

[00:05:27] Kamal al-Solaylee: And then I, while I was reporting the book in 2019, I heard about the year return in Ghana and it was too good, an opportunity not to, not to go to Ghana. I CRA, during the year of return and see how, an entire nation can mobilize the, the, the concept of return, you know, for political reason, but also for economic.

[00:05:48] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. It's like, it was, it was scheduled just for you. Yeah. obviously, I guess for people who haven't heard about it, the year of return was, was it a four, 400 year anniversary?

[00:05:59] Kamal al-Solaylee: So it's the 400 a year anniversary of the first arrival of a slave ship to what is now the United States. so it's 16, 1619, which is again the 1619 Project. And, Ghana, what is now Ghana features a number of ports from which, the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade sort of mid or ships made their way to the Caribbean and North America.

[00:06:28] So, so in, in, in an effort to kind of reclaim that anniversary instead of, an anniversary around, slavery, it is the government of Ghana and other governments in west Africa have tried in the past, but nobody on the scale of Ghana, sort of very clever. It's a very clever marketing, strategy, rebranded the year instead of a year of exile for the year for return and anyone who, can you, who believes they can trace their, their origin to, as the descendant of slavery, who is an EF of an African descent anywhere in the world can return to Ghana and not necessarily to reside, but, but to explore, to connect with sort of Africa, the motherland, and also maybe to invest, which as you can tell from the book in both Northern Ireland and,in Ghana , return is big business. Return, it can bring back capital, foreign investments,ways of rejuvenating, stagnant economies.

[00:07:25] Return is big business, politics and emotion all mixed up

[00:07:25] So there, the thing that I find most, I wouldn't say puzzling, but the thing that I find most, most intriguing about returns is that it is such an emotional journey, like when you say, you said you're an immigrant, I'm an immigrant. And, and this, this connection to where we come from is so emotional, so deep, works on such an intrinsic, deep, psychological level. And yet for many countries or for many organizations, it is also a business opportunity or a or in many cases, a political weapon. And so it's going to strike, it straddles all these things that are emotional, that they're very hard to talk about, to decipher, like how you tell, how you get people to explain exactly what is it about the call of the homeland.

[00:08:14] Kamal al-Solaylee: And you'll see, in the book that I talked to a lot of people, particularly in Jamaica, in places where I, or Belfast, and particularly in Israel and Palestine, because I, you know, In some cases, these are either war-torn,countries with ongoing protracted conflict, or just, oh, just as in case in Belfast, you know, after 20 years ofprosperity. I mean, for lack of a better word, the troubles is beginning to grow again after Brexit. and, like why would you want to return to a place where there's still violence? Jamaica, for example, but the general level of violence and, and try to get them to talk through these contradictions.

[00:08:54] That was probably the hardest part of the book because you, you, you, you, you're talking to people and asking them to explain the inexplicable, the very subliminal and not everyone can put that into words.

[00:09:08] Return as a second birth or as a transactional opportunity

[00:09:08] Isabelle Roughol: Because you really focused on, on diasporas and on people who have a, um, a relationship to home that I found really interesting because I've experienced return personally, and that's kind of, that's where your book surprised me because, you know, I think selfishly when you, you kind of look for your own experiences and actually it was, it was completely different because I never thought of myself as being part of a diaspora. And my reasons for leaving or for returning are not political. But but here you talk to people who have this kind of very almost romanticize relationship to the homeland, including people who return, I don't even know if you can call it return because there's several generations removed. and so their vision of, of the, the homeland, the motherland is, can be a bit of a postcard.

[00:09:56] and, and I wonder what they told you about, um, how the reality of return kind of matched their imagined homeland.

[00:10:06] Kamal al-Solaylee: It varied. It varied from place to place, but I, I will give you an example from Ghana, for example.Two of the people I talk to are, one Canadian and one American, men,Kwame and Fule, Kwame's the American and Fule's the Canadian. And, they are different generations, they're about 30 years apart, roughly, and they both really were tired of being black men in north America. They carried the weight of race and racism around them for 60 years, 33 years. And, and they feel reborn once they, once they went back to, uh, once in, in, in Fule's case, he's actually born in Canada to Ghanaan parents. So it's a very recent, like it's one generation away.

[00:10:53] But in Kwame's case, he had never been to, to Ghana until 2017, I believe. And that was, he had always this dream of going back visiting, just visiting Africa, but after his initial visit, he felt that he has finally arrived, that he's finally in the place where he's meant to be what he's learning to live again at the age of 63, what I spoke to him.

[00:11:18] So it had been a couple of years earlier.Learning to live as a black man freely for the first time in his life, having grown up, having grown up in, near Oakland and, Northern California. Where, even as a, as a sort of successful middle class, real estate agent, he has seen so much death and violence and, and experience carried the experience of racism with him.

[00:11:43] That to the point once, once he, once he arrived in Ghana, um, almost immediate. He felt that this is where he needs to spend the rest of his life, even though he had never set foot in it. so that is sort of one example from Ghana, but on, on the kind of the, the flip side of that is a number of a few younger, younger men and women of Taiwanese background, for whom the connection to, to go back, the idea of going back to Taiwan has been kind of forced on them because they're the generation that entered the workforce right after, around the financial crisis of 2008, 2009. Places like Taiwan weathered that much better than Western economies. Th the going home is sort of in a way lacks that spiritual meaning, that journey to the homeland that, that you, that you and I probably romanticize and think about.

[00:12:41] And there's a transactional element in the return. They're there because they can teach English and, and, and live, live, very well on a relatively small salary that they make in, in Taipei. And it's an adventure, they're young, it's an adventure. and there, but they don't rule out going back to north America.

[00:13:02] Most, most, all the characters has spoken that chapter sort of have their roots in North America. so I think. I find that incredibly, rich and rewarding to talk to all these people whose returned journeys, vary quite, um, vary, to some extent. And that's just this, you know, my way of saying is it's not a monolithic narrative around return, is as complex a story as immigration.

[00:13:25] Kamal al-Solaylee: And we, I, I believe that we need to talk about it as well. For host countries like Canada and the U S and Australia, the new world, that unquote new world that takes in new immigrants, but also in terms of, what does that say about immigration and global movement in general?

[00:13:44] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm.

[00:13:44] Return is not a failure of the immigration journey

[00:13:44] Isabelle Roughol: I wonder if there's an hesitation to talk about it, because if as an immigrant you talk about wanting to return, maybe you're feeding into that narrative that you, you don't quite belong in your new country or your, or, you know, people who dream of sending us back, quote unquote, or, you know, love hearing that and are like, "oh great. You don't, you feel like you belong better over there. Please go, please."

[00:14:10] Kamal al-Solaylee: yeah. I know. I mean, this is why I chose that subtitle while we go back to where we come from, because I wanted to reclaim that chant, or that racist taunt, like go back to where you come from. I heard it, you know, over the years. And I wanted to say that first of all, that is my right to go back to where I come from, if I want to.

[00:14:28] And it's, and I'm not like I am not, I don't see that as anything that isnegative or implying defeat. And the, the big thing is that for the longest time, at least in my mind, I saw returns as,as a kind of a last resort as a defeat. You immigrated. But you didn't really make it. like if you talk about north America, for example, like you immigrated but you, you weren't able to integrate properly or you didn't, it wasn't a success story that you hope you'd be. So you go back and, you know, you, you, you know, you retreat in a way to where you come from.

[00:15:03] But as, as I reported the book, and as I started looking into return studies, which is a kind of a baby burgeoning field within migration studies, I it's it's actually, I stand corrected. I think it is, the return, comes with a lot of agency and control over your narrative over your life story of where, where, where it is that ma'am and where we'd like it to be.

[00:15:28] many of the people I spoke to and then includes that includes my own desire. There were, they were thinking of their final resting place. Like there, the final stage is in life. Maybe they're in, at retirement or past retirement, worked for 30, 40 years in England or the U S or Canada. And they thinking they're tired and they just want to.

[00:15:52] Kamal al-Solaylee: Back, buy a piece of buy a home or buy a piece of land, particularly this is a story in Jamaica. and, and thinking about the final third, the third act of their, of their lives. And, and I don't think that's that, that to me, that does not imply, defeat, but to me it is, it is the ultimate in agency saying I'm going to go back to my homeland and it will have my remains when the time comes. I'm going to change the narrative of seeing the West as the ultimate destination, where everybody should be and everybody should be happy because we have a much better standard of living, and I'm going to go back to, in many cases, a still developing country or countries that are ravaged by conflict or violence. And I'm going to, reclaim that land or that culture that I turned my back on. I th I think that's a very powerful statement that people who return, like they go through a very complex emotional journey, but they come out, in most cases they come out of it at the other end feeling that they have, gained control of their lives.

[00:16:54] The irrational call of the homeland

[00:16:54] Isabelle Roughol: Um, in a way it matches, the way that we, that our lives evolve, I think more and more, we don't have lifelong jobs don't have lifelong careers, and lifelong marriages. we, we have phases right, more and more. Maybe, maybe it's the same with countries. We have, we have phases and things can end without failing.

[00:17:16] Kamal al-Solaylee: Absolutely. I mean, there's no reason to think that because you immigrated to say you came to Canada and, or the U S and the you've lived, you know, Of the American dream or whatever those, an older generation. and there's no reason for that to be all your story. I mean, they still they're still, you know, acts to be written.

[00:17:36] And I think for me, for me personally, I, I I've been, I've been in Canada for 25 years and I know in England for eight years prior to that, so I've been away from the middle east and the part of the world I come from, my native tongue of Arabic for 33 years now. And I, and I, in fact, the older I get the stronger, the connection becomes, the stronger the longing for it becomes.

[00:18:03] Kamal al-Solaylee: Now, listen, I'm a gay man of a certain age. I am never going to be at home in the Middle East. Like I know that for fact, and I. Uh, and yet I think my return fantasy, or my return story has so many contradictions and so many& irreconcilable elements because how do I feel at home in, uh, in part of the world that is still, known for is homophobia and more than homophobia, probably violence against gay men like myself.

[00:18:30] So there's, perhaps there's nothing. Um, part of return is also incredibly irrational and it doesn't always make sense on paper. but it's still the coal, the coal of the home then is too powerful. And I tried to the best of my ability to resolve that conflict.

[00:18:48] The pain of feeling like a foreigner at home

[00:18:48] Isabelle Roughol: Um, the challenge with, with return. it's something I've experienced probably on a smaller scale because I wasn't gone for 30 years, but I've. I've moved away and returned home to France twice before. And the thing is when you, when you go to live abroad, you kind of, you break something, you don't realize it at the time, but that sense of unconditional belonging somewhere, because you kind of adopt, you know, the mores of wherever you go to. And, um, you're always going to be a foreigner where you go. But suddenly, you kind of become a foreigner at home as well. Um,

[00:19:30] Kamal al-Solaylee: Did you feel that when you went back, which w.

[00:19:34] Isabelle Roughol: I did and I, and I still do. And it's it's, what's,it's what made return really hard for me and what made me eventually leave again. And I'm curious if you've heard that from, from other, uh, from interviewees of yours, but.. It's very hard to feel like a foreigner at home. When you live abroad, you expect it. But when you go home and you still don't belong, it's um, it's pretty painful.

[00:19:59] Kamal al-Solaylee: It hurts. Yeah, no, I definitely heard that from several, from several people. Some, some people from, from Jamaica in particular,who, who have fantasized about return for a long time, went back and then found themselves of mired in the cycle of violence. and, and also they don't belong because they speak, you know, American English or British English.

[00:20:22] And so they stand out even within, they may look like everyone else, but they stand out when, as soon as they open their mouth and they become sort of, uh, subject to exploitation and, and, and everyone tries to, everyone sees them as having come, coming back with money and therefore they're sort of ripe for exploitation and I, and the way I look at it, I think it's.

[00:20:46] We often cast ourselves as the lead character in our return stories. The fact is that we return to countries that have moved on in a way they've got on with their lives The language has changed. I open the book about how my Arabic seems to be stuck in 1970s or sixties, even. Arabic that is so dated. And then I was like the laughing stock of my nephew and niece when I tried to speak Arabic to them. They moved on with their lives. They have other concerns. They don't, you are not the center of their attention when you go home. I mean, there, there, the, the context has changed so much that you are no longer the focus of the story. In fact, you're just a supporting character now. And you and you have to just accept the fact that, um, what you're longing for? Um, is really, um, a state of mind rather than a physical place. The physical place has changed.

[00:21:45] You go back to Cairo and it's not the Cairo that I grew up in at all. the population more or less than doubled in 35 years or so. it's crowded. It is, it is rough around, much more like rougher around the edges then I remember it as a child. And I think the Cairo that I'm always trying to reclaim is the Cairo of my childhood. Not only does it absolutely kind of not exist, but it probably wasn't that realistic to begin with. I over romanticized childhood because I was a child or a young man, and I probably didn't see many of the things that my parents were worried about now. Now I understand why my parents were always worried when you stayed out late, as a young man in Cairo, because there is a, there is a violent street culture there. And, but I didn't, you know, being young and foolhardy, I never even noticed it.

[00:22:36] so I think that the thing that I would emphasize is that, For a lot of returnees, they think they're going to go back to where they, they going to pick up from where they left off. And they just don't understand that it is they're returning to less the same country. but it's not the same culture or, or people because you know, you change and they've changed as well. And you expect them to stay exactly how you remember.

[00:23:00] The instrumentalization of nostalgia works for immigrants as for everyone else

[00:23:00] Isabelle Roughol: Um, so in a way it's a, it's a nostalgia. And within the context of immigration, there is a physical place to return to, it's almost not that different from someone who never left and just misses, you know, the, what the country was in his or her adolescence. So.

[00:23:21] Kamal al-Solaylee: I mean, that is at the heart of Trumpism as far as I'm concerned. I mean, make, make America great again, is about a nostalgia for an age in which America was probably predominantly white, economically much more vibrant. and, and, so I mean, the weaponization of nostalgia is a big, is a big story.

[00:23:41] I don't actually go into it in great depth in the book, but that w. What I do sort of mentioned is how that some countries uses that romanticization or that nostalgia, very effectively to, to kind of connect the diaspora with the homelands, maybe for emotional reasons, but mostly would be for political and economic reasons like you, that you see the way, Th the, the, I mean, I talk in the book about, Northern Ireland and Belfast, the way Belfast has presented to the Irish diaspora as, as this sort of new technological place where check and, and, upstart, you know, sort of, Digital economies are thriving, but it's also a good place to raise children.

[00:24:28] You can use, your money goes a lot further when you buy a house in a nice neighborhood, then you can, you can, your kids can walk to work safely, just like you did when you were a child. and, and that is, that is in a way, playing it's a very manipulative narrative in many way. and maybe true, but it plays on your sense of nostalgia of childhood, of a kind of a lost a more innocent time. Even if you grew up during the troubles,because you know, the troubles had, so, so far behind in terms of just so much time has passed that it's actually kind of almost ripe for historical revisionism.

[00:25:07] Return can feed or soften the edges of nationalism

[00:25:07] Isabelle Roughol: You mentioned, you mentioned, you know, Trump and nationalism. It was actually one, it's actually one part of a story that makes me uncomfortable. And I could tell from reading that it made you uncomfortable too, or is it's, it's hard to reconcile in your mind is, um, especially as a chapter on the Basque country. and having grown up in France, you know, when I hear of Basque nationalism, I think terrorism, which obviously is not all, it's not all of it by any means, but it's interesting how a lot of these return diasporas talk, you know, rely on a form of national identity and nationalism that we think of as almost quaint and romantic coming from these small powerless nations, but it is the same dynamics that, you know, make nasty empires and, and, you know, and Trump and Brexit and all that is it's that same idea of, you know, because you were born somewhere somehow you belong to it and you have a right to it. which is hard to reconcile with the, more internationalist attitude of, of an immigrant.

[00:26:06] Uh, I mean, exactly in, in many ways, I mean the Basque, I'm glad you mentioned the Basque region because, you know, given Spain's location as a whole and, and the waves of immigrants from, from north Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, the whole country, but particularly the Basque region is um, kind of in a state of flux in terms of population demographic.And in the Basque region then, as I mentioned in the book, one of the, the beading parties,slogan is a homeland for the Basque, a homeland for everybody.

[00:26:34] and, and, and I really wanted to investigate is that true? Can can someone who has absolutely no connection to the Basque ever feel like the Basque is their homeland when, when clearly, the notion of the Basque homeland is rooted, has changed, has shifted over the years. It began with suggesting that it's a certain, certain blood type that makes you a Basque, to a certain sort of connection to the land, like you have to, as you said, you have to have been born there to now just whether you speak Euskara or not the Basque language or not. Because anytime you tried to connect national identity to a birth place of birth or a certain geography, you run the risk of sort of the virulent form of nationalism, blood than soil in some far right language.

[00:27:21] Kamal al-Solaylee: and I would totally agree that, that returns some sometimes yes, they, they deploy a number of nationalists, um, uh, other slogans or strategies to, to invite people to come back. I mean, that's definitely the case in China, the idea of wooing,the, the talents that are, the Chinese talent that are contributing to medical advancement and science in the West back to China in order to contribute to China's continuing, rising, rise to, as a superpower. That's definitely a nationalistelement there.

[00:27:56] However, I also argue that return can soften the edges of nationalism somehow, because you're coming in and out of, of a country with, that had, notions around national, like nationality, residence citizen rights, and you're creating this subcategory of returnees who, who.... that people, that some of these governments want you for what you can, what you're offering back and they have to give you concessions. They have to give you some voting rights. They have to give you some cultural training if you want to your children to learn the language, whatever, for free. And, in a way, because you go in and out of the borders and you, or you come back from another culture, you're already kind of undermining the single narrative of a nationalist political system. You actually arguing that, "yes, I belong here, but I'm bringing with me ideas from the, my adopted country as well.

[00:28:49] So to me on a, I mean, I, I don't know if that theory holds that. but I propose it in the book and I just suggest that actually return can somehow soften the edges of nationalism because people also return with a whole different set of ideas, including democracy and modernization, that, that, that sort of revise revises the way things have been done traditionally in their homeland.

[00:29:14] Whose return is actually wanted?

[00:29:14] Isabelle Roughol: Oh, you won't, you won't hear any argument from me on the value of, of that mixing and those ideas traveling back and forth as people do. Um, you know, and sometimes also migrating to a third country on a fourth and fifth.

[00:29:27] And but it's interesting, you know, with that idea of, of return in nationalism, who gets to wield that, that identity and that power of return, because if you talk to a young Moroccan men, who you know, I was trying to cross the Gibraltar pass, you know, could just as much claim return, right? There were, there were Arabic people in Spain for centuries. but, but that's not who gets to, to, to wield that narrative,right now in Spain.

[00:29:53] Kamal al-Solaylee: No, no. I think it's in many ways, that narrative is tied up with some notion of origin and skin color and Spanish ancestry. and I, yes, I don't think, claiming that your, your,six, seven generation Arab from Andalucia,

[00:30:10] Isabelle Roughol: Andalucia or something. Yeah.

[00:30:11] Kamal al-Solaylee: will, or, Seville or something will get you... because, because in many ways, th th again, I guess this is, we go back to a previous question, is that the nationalist aspect of return, It is to bolster economies. It is to bolster national identity. And there, there are categories of people whose return is more, preferable to others.

[00:30:32] So in the Basque region, I'd talk about why they're,Basque people who, or descendant of Basque people from Venezuela were more welcomed in the Basque regionbecause, you know, historically there, there, they are seen as Basque, even though some of them have had absolutely no contact with the Basque culture or language or the country itself, the autonomous region itself.

[00:30:57] but it's a historical connection that will not be taken away from them ever. And that's a privilege, that's a privilege. whereas as you mentioned, you know, someone who is of, you know, Maurish background,would not, would not be able to lay claim to the same identity.

[00:31:12] Deportees, the unwanted returnees

[00:31:12] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm. There's another category of unwanted returnees that we didn't talk about much. It's, it's people who are deported, people who are, who are sent back and whose, you know, migration story doesn't doesn't end on their own terms.

[00:31:23] Kamal al-Solaylee: Absolutely. I mean, unfortunately I was only able to cover that in relation to Jamaica, which is probably one of the, the countries in the world that, that takes the largest number of deportees. and, and, and the reason I was interested in that, cause I really wanted to contrast the experience of people who, who choose to go back and people who are forced to go back. And obviously the ultimate in being forced is to be deported, be kicked out from one country and, and, and what I found, perhaps a kind of a perplexing about that is, even though, even if they left Jamaica at a slightly older age in their twenties and they go back in the sixties, they have lost that connection to, to, to Jamaica.

[00:32:05] They've lost that connection. They're there they're often counted among the homeless in Jamaica. And there are many of the people I spoke to were living in shelters because they have absolutely no in some cases, no family. There's nobody to sort of look after them while they adapt into, back into life in Jamaica.

[00:32:25] And the, the thing that like you, you wouldn't get that in, in, in, in, in, in the texts. But if I were to play you the audio of some of this interviews, these are Americans. British like very strong British accents and inflected and phrases that are inflected with, with sort of British English or. in some cases, these are people who grew up in the Bronx and New York and they're as American as any other citizen of those cities.

[00:32:57] And now they go back to a country that's called Jamaica. And the only connection is that they were born there. and yeah, th th that, that. That's a diff a whole different category of returns. and in, in, and even within that, there are some who have managed to sort of rebuild their lives and others who are truly the strangers in their homeland.

[00:33:17] Like they, they become the other strangers in their homeland and they still dream or are planning to make, to return as it were to the countries that, that deported them..

[00:33:30] Isabelle Roughol: Um,I saw that when I was living in Cambodia. There was a wave of returns of, uh, um, so the U S kind of applied thissystematic deporting of, of, young men who had been in prison. So, they were, you know, kind of kicked out of country after serving their prison term. And so you had these, these young men who were from the Cambodian gangs in California, who, you know, had showed up in California when they were like two years old,don't know Khmer and all of a sudden they're dumped at Phnom Penh airport. And, you know, so, uh, there was a great doughnut shop that some American guy had opened, but it was, it was problematic because essentially, America was exporting its criminality, its gangs back to, you know, so-called countries of origin that had had no part in, in, turning these young men into criminals. And, you know, send them to Cambodia where they don't speak the language, don't have connections, jobs.. What are they going to turn to? Crime, um, to, uh, it was really problematic.

[00:34:28] Kamal al-Solaylee: It's the same. It's the same in Jamaica. Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and in many cases, in, particularly in case of the Jamaican deportees, you know, some, and not all of them were involved in the drug trade, and for which the consumers were largely middle-class white American. and they, they, they paid the, you know, not just the ultimate price, but they paid multiple prices.

[00:34:48] Whether it's prisons, prison sentence in the U S, followed by being exiled or deported from the U S so they have, they have really paid a very heavy price for, for catering to the habits of middle-class white America.

[00:35:02] Kamal's own return plans

[00:35:02] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that could be a whole other episode on the, on the, on the, the drug, wars. so now that you've done all these research, all these interviews, I wonder how you think about your own return plans and how that has influenced, impacted changed your or confirmed your own plans. You were just telling me that you just moved to Vancouvereven though you were very much in love with Toronto and dedicated a book to Toronto.

[00:35:29] Kamal al-Solaylee: Yeah. Yeah. I, I was surprised, honestly, I was as surprised as anyone that I made the move to Vancouver. I just, I, I just didn't think the Yemen was a possibility just yet given the ongoing war. And I did not, I mean, to be honest, I did not want to lose out on this great job that I was offered. while the situation in Yemen is, you know, hopefully I don't know if it'll ever settled down, but I'd like to think it will settle down.

[00:35:55] I've never been more determined in my entire life, to go back to Yemen than I am as I'm speaking to you, like right now. And as much as Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in north America and probably the world. And I could see forest and ocean on my way to campus every day,Um, something I couldn't say about Toronto, I don't connect to it. I don't, I'm still new I guess and it will take time, but it doesn't feel like it's going to be my home. Um, I think once I retire, I probably leave. and once I retire and leave, I'll probably leave for Yemen. I'm determined

[00:36:31] Isabelle Roughol: We'll check in with you then to find

[00:36:34] Kamal al-Solaylee: Catch up with me in 8 years from

[00:36:36] Isabelle Roughol: another book and another episode. Thank you so much for this conversation. It was delightful.

[00:36:42] Kamal al-Solaylee: Thank you, Isabelle, I really enjoyed talking to you. Thank you so much for reading the book so carefully as well.

[00:36:49] Outro

[00:36:49] Isabelle Roughol: This was Kamal al-Solaylee. His book "Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From" is published by Harper Collins in Canada. You can find it in bookstores and online in North America. It is not yet available elsewhere. However, you can always find a digital copy online. I will put links in the show notes and on the website.

[00:37:11] Remember that if you'd like to buy this or any of the books that we recommend on the program, please use the links that I provide. Affiliate sales are a little drop in the bucket of funding Borderline, but it's always helpful. You will find the shop at the top of the page at borderlinepod.com where you can also join to become a member.

[00:37:29] Becoming a member of Borderline is really the best way that you can support this independent podcasting. You will get transparency into this business, a little bit more access to me, but really mainly you will show your values and your support for independent podcasting and for this open, honest conversation about immigration, about home, identity, where we belong and why we need an open world.

[00:37:52] Thank you so much for all of you who already support, and as you're doing your black Friday shopping or your Christmas shopping, please think of Borderline. Thank you.

[00:38:02] I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music was by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production, and I will talk to you next week.

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Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.