I am from there. I am from here.
I am not there and I am not here.
I have two names, which meet and part,
and I have two languages.
I forget which of them I dream in.
Paddington (2014) is a quietly charming film that I watched when I was still back in Colombia, on the eve of starting my immigration journey. A journey that is still going on. When I watched it back then I felt a very heavy feeling in my belly, as if I had swallowed a tonne of lead. Yet, I overlooked the feeling and kept striving towards my goal: leave home and find greener pastures on the other side of the world. For those not familiar with Paddington’s story, the film follows a talking Peruvian bear on his trip from his torn-apart home to London. The movie shows the bear’s struggles and small successes as he tries to fit in with the Brown family in a quaint neighbourhood in the city.
Such a fantastic premise might only indicate that this film is targeting children, I mean at the end of the day an anthropomorphic bear can only appeal that much to an older audience. However, Paddington is much more than this. At the core of this film lies a melancholic understanding of immigration that is hard to ignore. The “just-for-kids” packaging is in fact misleading, or so I have heard when talking about this movie with colleagues and friends. That is another whole conversation, why can not “children” movies tackle world issues that appear to be for “grown-ups”, in the end, we all share the same spaces and struggles. Immigration matters beyond courthouses and media debates.
I could not understand this at first. I overlooked the feeling, I got stuck on the idea that Paddington is just a kid’s movie; I could not envision what it could teach me about life and about the journey that lay ahead of me. Then I left home. I left behind what I knew, who I loved, where I felt comfortable. Just like Paddington Bear, I quickly realized that it did not matter that I spoke the language or that I knew the intricacies of their culture, like hitting a wall at high speed, too fast and soon you realize that we respond to otherness with hostility.
Just like Paddington Bear too, I instantly resorted to people back home. “I don’t feel comfortable here” – I said, but I could not really find the words to describe what I was feeling. Paddington Bear does. When his plight to find a home is met with the cold shoulder, he aptly describes that “you can no longer simply turn up at a train station and get a home. It‘s hard to see where a bear could ever belong in such a strange, cold city.”
It is such a peculiar feeling seeing a fictional bear materialize what you really feel. The concept of not being able to belong, of not finding a place to fit in, but ‘the strange, cold city’ is unforgiving. Just like Paddington, I could not sit with my arms crossed waiting for something to occur. It is you that has to be ready to change, to adapt, to conform, to shape your sensibilities to the standards of the new city and the community you live in. It is your responsibility to adjust your speech and accent to camouflage your otherness, even if no one else tries to pronounce your name correctly. Hence Paddington’s name, accommodating himself so people around him could refer to him comfortably. Likewise, you need to change your wardrobe. It is impossible to live in ‘the strange, cold city’ with the clothes you came from. Hence, Paddington’s raincoat, adapting himself so the city has a bit of mercy on him.
It was when the bear and I started to make these changes that we started to see how the community was more accepting, more forgiving of the otherness. It is painful to see your identity being stripped down and nitpicked, whatever is useful and utilitarian can stay with you for them, everything else belongs to the gutter.
Weeks begin to pass faster, and when you think less about it, you have been far from home for years. You do not feel the same way you did before, the sadness and the rage transform into more taciturn emotions. Nostalgia and melancholy are your two most faithful companions. Once you thought all was lost, but now you can see the light. Paddington built his community around the caring Brown family, I did too with friends and colleagues in Canada. Suddenly I stumbled upon the realization that the heavy feeling I felt when watching the movie for the first time was okay, I was about to embark on a perilous journey. I understand now, it is terribly scary to try to find a home in an environment that will be so hostile and that will contend every single of your beliefs. In the end, you will change, you will belong here and there. The pain I guess is feeling your heart being split, but we recover, just like Paddington did. Every time I feel like I do not belong, every time I encounter someone blinded by hate or ignorance, I just look back to Paddington’s words when he is writing back home after he established his community “I really do feel at home. I will never be like other people, but that’s alright because I’m a bear.” Standing in place between luck, privilege and gratefulness I can look back and say the same, I will never be Canadian, but that is alright because I am Colombian and the people I love know that.