Constructing Rwandan Identity in the Diaspora: Remembering the Green Hills in Cold Canada
Ainsworth, Anna Maria
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This study investigated the processes of identity formation among those who identified as Rwandan and lived in the Greater Toronto Area. The study was conducted using in-depth qualitative interviews and ethnographic participant observation. It argues that those who identified as Rwandan in the GTA were subject to powerful discourses of simultaneous belonging and non-belonging in both the Canadian and the Rwandan state. The extreme violence of the Rwandan genocide ruptured the bonds of belonging that had tied those who identified as Rwandan to each other and to the Rwandan state. Since 1994, the new Rwandan state had developed a powerful mythico-history that proposed that all those who are identified as Hutu are perpetual perpetrators and all those who are identified as Tutsi are perpetual victims, even as it had denied that the identities of Hutu and Tutsi continued to exist. The re-telling and re-enacting of this mythico-history became the condition of belonging to the newly created diaspora and the Rwandan state. Simultaneously, ambivalent welcome and racialization that those who identified as Rwandan faced in Canada, and, specifically, the GTA, generated an anxiety and an awareness that they could only partially belong in the new homeland. Thus, the exclusion of the Canadian state generated a desire for the imagined homeland and enabled the Rwandan state to create a diaspora. Yet, those who were defined as part of the Rwandan diaspora negotiated and navigated the terms of their belonging/non-belonging in both Canada and in Rwanda. Even as they were they were racialized by the Canadian state and framed as both desirable and threatening by the Rwandan state, those who identified as Rwandan in the GTA built a sense of home and belonging in Canada. They simultaneously became a diaspora and rooted themselves in the new homeland of Canada.