CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 13 . . . . February 28, 2003
In 2001, Ukraine had finally regained its status as a sovereign nation, a dream longed for, both by those dwelling there and if possible, even more fervently by post-war emigres. Whether in North America, Australia, western Europe, or South America, those displaced by the Second World War and then by the Soviet takeover, saw their efforts to maintain their culture and ethnic identity vindicated at last. John Paskievich is the son of one of these refugees, and My Mother's Village is the story, not only of his visit to the land of his forbears but of the attempts of his contemporaries to come to terms with the dual identity forged by the displacement experience.
It is a long, and sometimes, painful journey, crossing two continents and several generations. Paskievich shares his own family's story, and other Ukrainian Canadians - all, significantly, involved in the communicative arts - tell of the frustrations, sadness, comfort, and ambivalence they have experienced as a result of growing up caught between two cultures. The name "Ukraine" actually does mean "borderland", and historically, the borders of this fertile territory were constantly shifting. And, for those of Paskievich's generation, identifying oneself as "Canadian" or "Ukrainian" was a state constantly negotiated at home, school, the community, and the workplace. The Ukrainian community was a place of security, of innate understanding of cultural codes; but it was also a place with constraints and restrictions. The Canadian community represented a world in which one's accomplishments would make one's parents proud, where one could progress, but also a world which challenged and discriminated against those whose ethnic identity was notably different from those of the founding nations. Growing up in this emotional borderland developed strengths and created weaknesses, both of which are freely acknowledged. Although My Mother's Village is set in the context of the post-war Ukrainian Canadian community, the experiences described are those of any ethnic group which finds itself in exile for political reasons. And all children of immigrants find themselves caught between the world of their parents and the world in which they grow up.
As a Canadian of Ukrainian background, I was fascinated by this documentary. I am of a different generation than Paskievich; my family's forbears emigrated before World War I, and my parents never suffered quite the same sense of cultural diaspora as the subjects of this film. I was struck by the overwhelming poverty of Paskievich's relatives in Rava Ruska; farming is largely unmechanized and village life incredibly untouched by modernity. This was not a sentimentalized portrait of village life, by any means. Nevertheless, I was touched by how customs which continue in Canada at such holidays as Christmas, Easter, and Epiphany are celebrated in the context that they originated. Although so much speaks to those of eastern European background, the essence of the story is the same for anyone who has heard the immigration stories of grandparents or parents.
My Mother's Village is a long story, and I thought that it could have been edited a bit more tightly. Still, this documentary sheds light on some difficult realities: the covert and overt discrimination experienced by immigrants of various ethnic backgrounds is made quite plain, and the subjects of the interviews all candidly told stories of the mean-spiritedness shown by classmates and co-workers. History classes in grades 11 and 12 can gain a perspective on how the experience of immigration changes at different times in Canada's history, and how modern historical events shapes those who are forced to find new lives in new worlds.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.