Journey of the Heart

“Migration is a journey of the heart,” said the Rev. Alan Hilliard, chaplaincies coordinator for the Dublin Institute of Technology, during a recent interfaith forum on refugee stories. It is a trial of emotions – a business heavy and hard – but also an opportunity for growth.

It is a journey of the heart, he said. But sometimes the heart is not so easily accessible. Sometimes migration, in all of its delicacy, is a story left untold.

In Ireland, an ever-diversifying nation that in 2016 saw more immigration than emigration, refugee and migrant stories are becoming increasingly relevant to the national narrative. Particularly valuable are the contributions of men and women too young to remember the more homogenous Ireland of centuries past. For these young people – both those born in country and those having arrived from elsewhere – Ireland is a diverse collection of religions, races, beliefs and nationalities. They believe in an Ireland that is entirely their own, and many of them hold that Ireland dear to their hearts.

Metro Éireann, Ireland’s first and only bimonthly multicultural newspaper and the organization with which I will be spending my summer, paints an integrative picture of this modern version of Ireland. Having operated since its conception as a forum for intercultural communication, Metro Éireann offers an avenue through which migrant peoples can have their stories shared.

Editor Chinedu Onyejelem, himself an immigrant from Nigeria, understands at his core that the Irish narrative would not be so dynamic without the many migrant and minority communities in and outside of Dublin. His mission, it seems, is to shed light on the individual migrant experiences that together make up this narrative – to probe the hearts and tell the stories of those whose tales are typically forsaken.

Each individual experiences his or her own version of Ireland. Each has a unique sense of belonging – an individually tailored conception of community and culture. Each has his or her own story of stagnation or migration – of home and of Ireland – and each has his or her own capacity to make that story known.

I want to help make those stories known. I want to make at least a modest contribution towards dialogue and understanding during my time in Ireland. With my work at Metro Éireann, I may have that chance. This summer marks the third consecutive during which Metro Éireann will host an intercultural writing competition in collaboration with the Kenan Institute of Ethics. This summer, like in the previous two, a Duke student has been tasked with organizing this competition. It is my turn to take on the project and, though sometimes intimidated by the scope of the challenge, I will do my best to plan an event that honors the newspaper’s commitment to giving migrants and minorities a voice.

The writing competition invites young writers between the ages of 14 and 21 to submit original works of fiction that explore the ethical challenges associated with intercultural diversity in Ireland. It is an effort aimed at integration, designed to foster the development of the next generation of Irish writers while at the same time enriching Irish intercultural life. Ultimately, the goal is to enable young people – and particularly young migrants – to tell their stories.

The writing process, of course, will daunt, baffle and dishearten many young adults, and the challenge for me will be to help them trust that their words hold value. I imagine that those for whom English is not a first language will feel especially intimidated. My hope, though, is that these individuals will come to our workshop sessions, engage with their struggle, and recognize the power of storytelling. My hope is that they will link their mind to their heart and write from the depths of their experiences.

Above all, my hope is that they will come to understand that migration is indeed a journey of the heart, and that they will tell us the way in which their hearts experienced such a journey. I want to know their migrations; I want to know their hearts; I want to know their conceptions of Ireland.

I want to know their stories.