Went to Riga. Came home

I’ve been going to Riga almost every year since 2016 (pandemic excluded). The first time I hoped for a sense of inherited belonging, that I’d feel at home in my ancestral city. It wasn’t without disappointment that I realised that I’m not Latvian, but Swedish-Latvian, and don’t belong in Riga, but belong where I create my own home. As I’ve gotten to know the city over the years, it’s become more familiar without becoming home. I’ve just learnt to love it more and more for what it is: heritage, and a destination.

This visit was different. 26 other branches of the Zarins clan (27 if you count the baby) were also there for my mother’s birthday celebration. Many of us hadn’t seen each other in over two years, and none of us had been in Latvia in that time. Catching up over our favourite foods and drinks, on familiar squares and new bars, walking, shopping and river boat touring, it was a return to something old, known and loving. Like home.

In my writing, I have focused a lot on the feeling of being an outsider, particularly when travelling and wanting to belong. In unpublished writing, I have also focused primarily on the stories from my father’s and uncles’ generation, as the children of refugees. But it was in conversation with my cousins that I realised I’d missed an entire generation of stories, one where I’m not an outsider at all.

Growing in the 70s and 80s, several of their stories about Riga and Latvia were different from mine, who grew up in the 90s. But the sense of being different, both from Swedish friends and the Latvian people introduced to us by our fathers, was something we all recognised. In not knowing where we belonged, we belong to each other. We are individual branches belonging to the same tree. Their stories are worth recording together with my own.

And then I went home.

Freedom Monument in Riga, 18 November 2018, when Latvia celebrated 100 years of independence. Photo by Jessica Zarins.
Jessica photographing the Riga marathon, where a folk choir sang by the Freedom Monument. 15 May 2022, photo by Peter Zarins.

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