This thesis concerns Rwandese emigrants living in Quebec, Quebec, Canada, and the relations between them. It is based on 7,5 months ethnographic research in Quebec. The Rwandan diaspora in Quebec is constituted of individuals who arrived at different moments from the 1980’s onwards, for different reasons, and these factors are part of what influences their relations today.
Both media and academia have shown a great interest in Rwanda and the Rwandese, especially since the genocide in 1994. However, the biggest focus has been on finding the reason for the genocide and the ethnic division that was at its root. Little attention has been given to the diaspora. The aim of this thesis is to draw a nuanced picture of the Rwandan diaspora, by linking the identity negotiations within the diaspora to individuals’ understanding of the history and politics of Rwanda; showing how attitudes towards the contested spaces of history and politics in Rwanda, affect the social relations of Rwandese living in Quebec.
The fundamentally different ways of interpreting the past in Rwanda, is creating a schism in the population, both in Rwanda and abroad, and the Rwandan government’s policies aimed at the diaspora makes it an agent in shaping the diasporic reality. This is manifested in the two Rwandese organisations in Quebec, CRQ (Communauté des Rwandais de Québec) and AMIRWAQ (Amicale des Rwandais à Québec), whose goals and activities are similar. Whereas CRQ is cooperating with the Rwandan High Commissioner in Canada, AMIRWAQ does not want to affiliate with the Rwandan state. This is the space that needs to be navigated by the Rwandese in Quebec, and how this is done differs based on their own political and historical understanding, which is affected by their own experience of this history.
The pain connected to the genocide brings survivors and others are able to share these feelings, together. Those who feel unable to share this pain, loses an opportunity to be part of a very strong community of Rwandese.
Drawing on perspectives in anthropology on classification, social and collective identity, diaspora, collective memory and ritual, this thesis tries to give an integrative picture of the social sphere of Rwandese in Quebec.
Through life stories and interpretation of the rituals of commemoration of the genocide, and wedding celebrations, what it means to be Rwandan in Quebec is explored.