An ode to my first apartment

Moving back to Montreal. ASHLEY FISH ROBERTSON/The Concordian

You never forget your first love

When I think back to my first love, an image of a person doesn’t come to mind, but rather, a place: my first apartment.

It was a charming five-and-a-half located across from Rosemont’s Maisonneuve Park, and featured abundant natural light, worn-in hardwood floors, and an alley cat who regularly frequented the balcony. It also came with the lingering smell of cigarettes from previous occupants.

As anyone would probably tell you about their first place, it certainly wasn’t perfect; the ceiling in the bathroom was gradually caving in, the kitchen sink had a tendency to clog, and the walls were thin enough to hear the neighbours argue over what to have for dinner. Still, despite all its flaws, I was 19 and was about to live with my two best friends. Life was golden.

Before moving into my dream apartment, I had left the province I grew up in for New Brunswick. It was during spring break of 2018 that I realized I wanted to move back home to Quebec. I was residing in Fredericton, studying at the University of New Brunswick. Having spent most of my childhood living in a small village in the Argenteuil region of Quebec, I wanted to escape to somewhere new the second I finished my senior year of high school. As fun as it was to move to a city where I knew nobody, I began to miss the familiarity of home.

When I flew home to Quebec for spring break, my friends and I spent the night bar hopping in downtown Montreal. On the taxi ride back to our Airbnb, I remember being so mesmerized by the skyline, with its abundance of highrise condos and towering office buildings. Even at 3 a.m., the city was lively and teeming with pedestrians. It was exactly the kind of place where I could see myself living.

Back in Fredericton, I was used to most nights out ending around midnight. Everything moved so much slower on the east coast, something that I had enjoyed at first, but was beginning to grow tired of. When I returned back to Fredericton after spring break, I decided to finish my freshman year and move to Montreal as soon as I wrote my last exam.

Moving to Montreal. ASHLEY FISH-ROBERTSON/The Concordian

When I moved back to Quebec, the apartment hunt began (and my god, was it excruciating). After countless visits, my roommates and I were running low on patience. It was on a humid evening in June that we finally found a place.

To call it a pigsty would be an understatement; the entrance closet, instead of housing shoes and coats, contained a massive pyramid fashioned from empty beer cans. In the kitchen, the current tenants were gathered around a small table, smoking cigarettes and playing cards, with empty Domino’s boxes scattered haphazardly on the floor.

We left feeling confused. Sure, the place was atrocious, we agreed, but did you see those windows? And those hardwood floors? And the double sinks? I’d watched enough house flipping shows to know what a good cleaning job could do, and so we figured that a makeover would render the place liveable. It took many hours, but we succeeded.

In the months that followed, we all began to settle into our new independent lives. We bought our own groceries (and quickly realized how much it would cost to feed ourselves), we argued over whose turn it was to wash the dishes, and we learned to balance part-time jobs and school. It was simultaneously liberating and exhausting. I’m almost certain none of us knew at the time that 2018 would be the best year of our lives.

Our apartment became our one true safe haven, a place where we could escape to when faced with heartbreak, treacherous Canadian snowstorms, or just a bad day at work. Even when we were in our own rooms, we were comforted by the fact that company was right down the hall, just a knock away.

Some of my best memories took place here, from cooking spaghetti together, to lounging on the balcony while listening to The Doors, to night strolls through Maisonneuve Park. Outside of this apartment, we all felt like misfits. And so, in this place, we resembled some sort of odd family, one that wasn’t bound by blood but instead by a shared space.

Saying goodbye. ASHLEY FISH ROBERTSON/The Concordian

Nothing prepared me for the day I bid farewell to my first place. It was an immensely bittersweet experience. I often find myself thinking of my last moments in that apartment. I remember handing over our keys to the landlord and stealing one last glimpse of the empty living room before closing the door behind me. I made sure to sear that image in my mind because, frankly, I was — and still am — terrified of forgetting all the memories that took place there.

On days when I’m not pressed for time, I’ll walk past the apartment building. The curtains are still drawn wide open just as they had been when we lived there, affording prying eyes a glimpse into the modest but welcoming kitchen. If I focus hard enough, I can picture my roommates and I still sitting around the table, each of us discussing our day with one another over plates of spaghetti.

Instead of focusing on the goodbyes, this is how I choose to remember my first year on my own: in the company of two of my favourite people.

Photos by Ashley Fish-Robertson

Third culture kid: My identity crisis as a multicultural person

Stop asking me where I’m really from because it’s none of your business

I was 10 years old when my parents told me to pack my suitcase and said, “We’re moving to Canada.”

As a kid, everything happened so fast, and I didn’t really understand where we were moving. Within a blink of an eye, I said goodbye to my friends, family, teachers, and left my home in Italy.

Growing up with my multicultural background in Montreal, I often got asked what culture I identified with the most.

That’s a hard question to answer. As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve been unable to fully relate to any of the three cultures I grew up with: Italian, Filipino, and Canadian.

Who am I? Where do I belong? What defines my identity? These are questions that many TCKs ask themselves.

The TCK term was coined by an American sociologist Ruth Useem in the 1950s. A TCK is a child who grows up in a culture different from the one their parents grew up in. According to Merriam-Webster, “The ‘third culture’ to which the term refers is the mixed identity that a child assumes, influenced both by their parents’ culture and the culture in which they are raised.”

When I moved to Montreal, I was amazed by the multiculturalism. It was refreshing to see so many different cultures existing side-by-side. However,  I was shocked to find out how unwelcoming some people in the city were at times, despite the melting pot of cultures around them. Though, I didn’t understand at that time.

One of my first encounters with racism was in my elementary school here in Montreal. I vividly remember my classmates asking me where I was really from. Initially, I didn’t understand what they meant.

Until I heard them say, “Well, you look Asian, how come you’re Italian?” Ouch, I thought. Why would they ask me such a thing?

To me, it was normal. So, I explained. My parents are originally from the Philippines, but they moved to Italy, met in Rome and lived in Italy for more than 20 years. The kids insisted that I wasn’t Italian because I didn’t have citizenship.

They didn’t know that those born in Italy are not automatically citizens unless a parent is an Italian citizen. However, those who are born in Italy to foreign parents can become Italian at 18.

In my case, my parents did not want to give up their Filipino citizenship to get the Italian one. I was born and raised in Italy, but I’m not a citizen, because I left at the age of 10.

After a few years of living in Montreal, I realized that every time someone asked me where I was really from, it was a microaggression. Their question implied that I couldn’t be from Italy because I’m not white.

Why was it so hard for people to understand and accept that I considered myself Italian because of the culture I grew up in?

The first language I learned was Italian. Not once did I conversate in Tagalog (the spoken language in the Philippines), nor did I grow up eating Filipino food. It felt strange to identify as a Filipino because I had never associated with its culture.

Within my first year in Montreal, I had to curate the perfect answer for this question to avoid further probing and undesired comments.

This was only the beginning of my identity crisis. 

Why did I let friends and strangers define my identity? Why couldn’t I consider myself Italian regardless of what my papers said? It was easier to let others label me and define my identity to fit their expectations without constantly explaining myself.

Whenever I identified myself as an Italian, I had to explain my whole life story and always got mixed reactions. This was uncomfortable.

As the years went by, I let myself assimilate to Quebec culture. I learned how to speak French and English. I mastered the perfect Montreal accent just to fit in.

I abandoned my Italian culture and gave up on telling people that I considered myself Italian. 

Forgetting I was born in Italy and spent my childhood there was a small price to pay if it meant I could finally fit in somewhere.

Today, I rarely get asked where I’m from, partially because I no longer have a thick Italian accent when speaking in English and try to avoid the conversation before it can even begin.

This summer, I had the opportunity of going back to Italy after 11 years of being in Montreal. I got to see my family and my childhood friends. We visited my old house and my old neighbours.

As a 10-year-old, relocation to another country didn’t affect me. When I finally revisited my old home for the first time since we left, I was able to reconnect with my Italian “roots” that I had abandoned. I was reminded of my childhood in Italy and the life I had before moving to Montreal.

It was easier to block out my childhood memories in Italy and pretend that I had always lived in Canada in order to fit in.

After returning from my trip to Italy, I finally processed all the emotions that I couldn’t feel as a child. I grieved the life I lost and the citizenship I could have had if I stayed eight more years. I cried for my 10-year-old self, who packed up her life, left her friends and relatives, and flew across the world only to lose her culture and identity.

I now understand what it means to be a TCK, and I accept all my cultures as part of my identity. As a TCK, it’s impossible for me to identify with one culture without raising questions. I’m Italian, Filipino and Canadian, regardless of what my papers say. My citizenship doesn’t define my identity.


Feature graphic by Maio

Small Steps: Turning back the clock

I saw a tweet recently that showed screenshots from a TikTok of a teenage girl saying that she hoped to age like the cast of Bridgerton, displaying a photo of the actress who plays Daphne Bridgerton, age 25. The tweet’s caption jokes, “why do they all think ppl rot at the age of 21.”

While, on first glance, the notion of a 25 year-old being seen as “aged” would cause any twenty-something to laugh, this Zoomer’s analysis didn’t come out of nowhere. Our late teens and early twenties are often posited as the most fun, defining and important time of our lives. These years are supposed to be a time to experiment and find your true self — whatever that means. So it would stand to reason that after we hit that horrifying quarter century, it’s all downhill.

Between coming-of-age movies depicted by deceptively old actors and rom-coms that try to make you believe the main character could have a lucrative career in the publishing industry before age twenty-five, pop culture places a lot of emphasis on those early years. If you watch film after film of people finding love, reinventing themselves in a new city and making a name for themselves straight out of college, it may start to feel like that’s the natural progression of everyone’s lives but yours. This sort of thing makes it seem like there’s some cap to the time you can experiment and make mistakes in your life. So, once you reach thirty you need to settle down, join the corporate machinery and start going to jazz brunch for fun until you die, I guess.

Add on to all of that stress of your supposed physical peak, for women especially. The age in which women are seen to be most attractive is astonishingly low. According to a study covered in The New York Times assessing dating app use by heterosexual people, a woman’s desirability peaks at 18 and falls steadily from there. So the moment we become legal, it’s just a ticking clock counting down until our sexual obsolescence. Whether you want to blame this on reproductive biology or near-pedophilic beauty standards, it’s enough to make you gag.

I know simply saying something is a “social construct” doesn’t do much to liberate people from their actual anxieties, but it is true that this timer put on your life is completely arbitrary. Whether it’s in relationships, career or just being a bit of a mess, it’s nearly impossible to fit that all into one decade, and why would you want to? While, yes, many amazing and identity-forming things will happen to you in your early twenties, that doesn’t mean they automatically need to stop at a certain age.

Our culture’s focus on youth stifles us from enjoying the fullness of life in our later years. I hope to continue to be curious and a bit chaotic well into my last years on this planet. Yes, I want a stable job and to not eat as much instant ramen as I currently do, but I’m done putting a fixed date on when this era of my life needs to end.

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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