When she was 10 years old, living in Durban on South Africa’s east coast, Cherry Clark‘s father was under the surveillance of the apartheid government. He was teaching South African politics at the University of Natal, colleagues had been banned or even jailed and, as the founding member of the anti-apartheid Progressive Party, he was apparently close to the same sanctions. With the help of the South African academic, Arthur Keppel-Jones, who taught history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Cherry’s father was able to secure a position in the political science department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cherry’s family did not expect ever again to set foot in South Africa.
Travel was prohibitively expensive at that time – 1964 – but Cherry’s mother saved what she earned as a teacher to allow them all to travel home at four-year intervals. “My eighteenth birthday was at the end of a six-month sabbatical that allowed my father to bring us back to Durban while he and my mother debated whether to accept an offer from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg,” Cherry says. “We all concluded that we could not live as unwilling participants in apartheid.” She did not see South Africa again until 2015, at the age of 60.
This image is a photograph taken this past July, while on a dawn shark trip out of Simonstown near Cape Town. “The image represents far more than the day or the event,” says Cherry. “The string of lights piercing the dark, bisecting land and sea, symbolizes the two halves of my existence, my early life in South Africa and the time since in North America, the light being a moment of magical fusion when it all came full circle.” Another interpretation also suggests itself to her in the distant lights – the warmth and life of home, viewed from far away as though in a dream. “All that water in between, and one might despair of ever making land, just as I thought I would never find myself back in South Africa no matter how much I grieved and yearned to be there.”
Cherry has a double longing. She grew up in Halifax, her ex-husband was a French Canadian, and their children were born in Canada. As her children grew up, Cherry studied canon law – Catholic ecclesiastical law – and obtained a master’s degree through a sponsorship from the diocese of Toledo, Ohio. The terms of the sponsorship required that she work in Toledo for a period of time, and so she came to the United States in 2003, having met her present husband, an American, in the canon law class of her final year. He was a Catholic priest on sabbatical, and resisted the lure of a career as a canonist, leaving his studies and the priesthood, and following Cherry to Toledo. The strangest part in all of this has been that Cherry now finds herself living indefinitely in the States rather than with her family in Canada. “In the back of my mind, the original move to Toledo had been a stepping stone until something came up somewhere in Canada. After living away from extended family while growing up, I truly never envisioned choosing to live in a different country from my own children.”
While Cherry has found that the most difficult part of being an immigrant is having no extended family in Canada or in the United States, a close second has been adjusting to the differences in political culture – being from a strongly socialist background and finding that many Americans consider this a bad thing. “There is a strong suspicion regarding government and those needing assistance here, versus the expectation of finding necessary help from government agencies in Canada,” she says. “I am much more comfortable with Canada’s ‘European’ attitudes regarding politics, religion, sex, family structures, and so many aspects of life; it was a surprise to discover such a strong expectation to conform to traditional behaviors and beliefs, especially among young adults here in the States.” The genuine belief that America is the ‘greatest nation in the world’ is very difficult for Cherry swallow, especially when combined with incredulity that she chooses not to become a citizen. “I live here, I am married to an American and love his family, but I would not choose to live here if I were not married to Curtis. I am here for him, not for me.”
Cherry misses everything about Canada and a great deal about South Africa. In all the time that her family lived in Canada, they considered South Africa to be home. “I did not want to leave, and have spent most of my life feeling that I was taken away,” she says. “Returning now after so many years has been healing, but if anything I want more than ever to ‘be there, rather than here.’” This has become, as for so many immigrants, a real psychological issue for Cherry, and it has pervaded so much of her life.