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November 15, 2019

#YEG: The Mystery of Migration

A journey from Croatia to Edmonton

Illustration Christian Frederiksen

My dad flew to Edmonton from Croatia in the summer of 1988, his first visit to Canada. It was a big deal – the distance, the visa, the money. He hadn’t known much about the city until then, but a friend had invited him and it was his first opportunity to see North America. He returned elated: Edmonton was the place. The energy of his immediate affection for the city stands out in my memory more than the details he offered in support of it. But, I do remember this – in Edmonton he found cleanliness, and friendliness, and plenty. There were indoor water fountains, well-stocked supermarkets, wide roads, relaxed, smiling people.

It was, for my dad, the beginning of a serious desire to go abroad, which might have remained a dream if the war had not begun in Croatia (which until then had been one of the republics that made up Yugoslavia) less than three years after his summer visit to Edmonton. And what I have admired about the move has been the pluck, the nerve, the gall even – which millions exhibit every year – to migrate like that, with little safety net, and to choose. And thus, to me, his attraction to Edmonton, and Edmonton itself, have become emblematic of the mystery and magic in human migration. There are clear patterns to migration, of course, and many economic, political and social reasons for why populations leave and where they choose to go. But there is also, often, the beautiful, random-seeming, if not truly random, decision: Here. Let’s go here.

When my family emigrated from Croatia, we landed first in Toronto, where I ended up spending my high school years. But my dad still wanted Edmonton, and when I was choosing a university, I chose the University of Alberta. While the school seemed a good fit, Edmonton, to me, at that time, could have been anyplace; the vision and the spark were not mine. But the real spark happens, of course, after we arrive – only lived experience can tell us why we are here. Immediately, as everyone does, I began building my own story of Edmonton. It centred first on the U of A campus, where my world exploded into learning and friendship and love, and later around another campus, Concordia University College of Alberta, where I again found community and beauty. What’s dearest to me is the contrast: My dad’s deliberate choice and my simply landing here. But, so far, we both stay.

Jasmina Odor is a writer whose fiction and reviews have appeared in many Canadian magazines and anthologies, including the New Quarterly, the Malahat Review and Eighteen Bridges magazine. Her short fiction has been long-listed for the Journey Prize and, in 2014, won the Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story. She lives in Edmonton, where she teaches English and creative writing. 

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