I have been reflecting about home a lot lately, and what that concept means. Despite living in the lower mainland my entire life, I’ve never felt a deep connection to any place of residence. My comprehension of home is much more abstract. My home is my mum; she is the durable foundation of my being, her support creates the beams that hold me up, and her praise allows me to always feel valued. But if I was to think of a more concrete setting, the space that I have built a meaningful friendship with is the New Westminster Quayside neighbourhood. When I was a kid, my mum would take my little brother Andrew and I to the Quay Public Market (now known as the River Market at Westminster Quay) several weekends a month. The moment our car crossed the Pattullo Bridge over the Fraser River, I would shake with excitement.
These visits were more frequent during the summer when warm weather typically equals consistent ice cream treats. Andrew and I would press our faces against the glass and try to decide what flavour to get; it was always mint chocolate chip or blue bubble gum—the two flavours that generated the most prismatic mess. After ice cream, we got to play on the stationary tug boat. Our sticky fingers from residual ice cream blended with other children’s as we eagerly pressed the boat’s buttons together. Kids love pressing buttons—tangible ones as well as their parents’.
Face painting was another activity that we were enamoured with. Bubbles the clown would be there on most Sundays with her collection of pigments, ready to take requests. My cheeks either became decorated with glittery rainbows or striped cats; a declaration of love to my tabby Lucky.
But the memory that is most clear to me is the trek to the “cool playground.” As an adult, that walk is approximately ten minutes from the market, but as a child, that walk feels like for-ev-er. On days that my grandma joined us on our riverside adventure, she would teach us the names of the ever-changing botanical arrangements that lined the boardwalk: rhododendron, fuchsia, chrysanthemum. My curious fingers always gently touched their petals, my way of saying hello. These greetings temporarily took our minds off of the time. After what felt like hours, the playground became visible to our impatient eyes and we ran. We were in a rush to make friends and collect scrapes and bruises: a sign of a successful summer. We’d play hot lava and sincerely believed the ground was viscous and would melt our light-up sneakers. This firm belief allowed us to jump far, swing long distances, and shriek; imagination is a powerful tool.
I am now in my late twenties. I walk riverside every weekend on my way to work. The walk is made exciting once again as I reflect on my childhood memories. Each time a community member waves, smiles, or nods hello, I momentarily pause my nostalgic thoughts. I like to start my stroll from Pier Park where I stop to sit on a hammock and watch the mighty Fraser move. As I grow older, I am critical of selfishness. The Fraser watched me grow up, but it was, and is, a sustainable friend to many before me and will be, after me. I think about its tributaries and the Indigenous communities it has traveled through since time immemorial: the Coast Salish, the Nlaka’pamux, the Tsilhqot’in peoples and so many more. The river communicates through movement.
How can I practice reciprocity to this prosperous body of water? I reflect on author/poet/activist Rita Wong’s relationship and camaraderie to water, her poetry, and her collaborative paper with Dorothy Christian’s untapping watershed mind: which encourages folks to embrace the intrinsic value of water instead of practising commodification. I can begin by offering my stories and express gratitude. I stand by the river and introduce myself: who I am, where I am from, and what I want to be. I promise the river that I will always acknowledge the land and do my best to take only what I need. Land extends to the plants, trees, animals, water, the wind, the sun. This land has allowed me to collect countless memories that I so deeply cherish. My mum will always be my home, but Quayside and the river will always be where my memory resides with countless other stories.