A review of Kate Heartfield’s “Gilbert Tong’s Life List” in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2018).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Kate Heartfield writes a tale of ecological refugees and birding in “Gilbert Tong’s Life List”. Initially these would seem to be disconnected themes, but she uses the cataloguing of birds as a way to explore notions of migration and global movements. Birds are frequently treated as symbols of freedom and perhaps that is what they represent for Gilbert’s father, who became an avid birder when he and other Kiribati moved into a refugee camp in Canada after their island was submerged in rising waters. The Kiribati people are confined in a refugee camp, keeping their spirits up with the possibility of Canadian citizenship even though the Canadian government fears the economic impact of their refugee status. They are denied health care, access to Canadian education systems, and freedom of movement outside of the camp.
Although the camp is on Canadian territory, it is treated like a foreign nation and fenced off. Refugees are treated as prisoners in the enclave and left without a sense of home or connection to their own territory and culture. They are encouraged to assimilate, but not given access to the country that they are assimilating to. Everyone is given an RFID tag to prevent them from accessing Canada. They are aware that they are living as fugitives, forever homeless.
Within this environment, where refugees (especially young ones) are aware that compliance with Canada’s rules won’t actually benefit them or protect them in any way, so they seek out other ways to cope with their imprisonment, engaging in illegal activities just to survive in their exiled and imprisoned nation. Gilbert has to deal with the disconnection he feels with home, the need to bend the rules to survive, and his father’s compliance with rules that don’t benefit anyone in the Kiribati community. He is engaged in a struggle between maintaining a sense of Kiribati culture and family identity as he has become migrational like the birds his father studies.
To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/shades-within-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause/
To find out more about Kate Heartfield, visit https://heartfieldfiction.com