Passages: Welcome Home to Canada

BOOK: Passages: Welcome Home to Canada
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© Westwood Creative Artists 2002

Michelle Berry, “Between Two Thanksgivings” © 2002 Michelle Berry Ying Chen, “On the Verge of Disappearance” © 2002 Ying Chen Brian D. Johnson, “From the Lighthouse” © 2002 Brian D. Johnson Dany Laferrière, “One-way Ticket” © 2002 Dany Laferrière Alberto Manguel, “Destination Ithaca” © 2002 Alberto Manguel Anna Porter, “A Canadian Education” © 2002 Anna Porter Nino Ricci, “A Passage to Canada” © 2002 Nino Ricci Shyam Selvadurai, “Conversations With My Mother” © 2002 Shyam Selvadurai M.G. Vassanji, “Canada and Me: Finding Ourselves” © 2002 M.G. Vassanji Ken Wiwa, “An Inventory of Belonging” © 2002 Ken Wiwa Moses Znaimer,
. with a Future” © 2002 Moses Znaimer

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.

Doubleday Canada and colophon are trademarks.

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data

Main entry under title:
     Passages : welcome home to Canada.

eISBN: 978-0-385-67482-9

1. Authors, Canadian—20th century—Biography.   2. Immigrants—Canada—Biography.

39 2002   
810.9 0054   
39 2002

The contributions of Michelle Berry, Ying Chen, Alberto Manguel, Dany Laferrière, and Shyam Selvadurai first appeared, in somewhat different form, in
The Globe and Mail

Published in Canada by
Doubleday Canada, a division of
Random House of Canada Limited

Visit Random House of Canada Limited’s website:



Canadian constant. From the first European settlements along the banks of the St. Lawrence, successive waves of immigration have shaped the fabric of Canada. Our political institutions and the importance we put on the values of community and order flow largely from the arrival of the country’s first political refugees, the United Empire Loyalists. Canadians’ sensitivity to minority rights is an extension of the compromises and complexities of balancing—for the better part of 250 years—the competing interests of French and English, Catholic and Protestant immigrants. In the twentieth century, the movement to create our much-valued social programs such as medicare and social assistance grew out of a Prairie culture shaped in part by Canadians of Eastern European descent.

The interconnections between immigration and the history of Canada are obvious. The fundamental
challenge for Canada and Canadians is to see how immigration is shaping our society and values today, and in the future.

We are a country on the verge of transformation, a watershed of not just demographics but of how we think and feel Canadian. In the coming decade, the majority of Canadian citizens will be first- and second-generation immigrants. This majority will consist not of a single mono-cultural group as did, say, the earlier waves of Anglo-European immigration, but of people who have come to Canada from the world over. They will leave jobs, loved ones, and entire cultural frameworks to journey to this county. In Canada, their languages, traditions and values will mix with each other. The only common thread binding these disparate cultures and individuals together will be the experience of being immigrants. At the most basic level, what it means to be Canadian will be an extension of what it means to be an immigrant.

Passages to Canada
provides a much-needed window on the contours of this new, radically immigrant identity that is reshaping Canada. While the authors who contributed to this volume come from diverse backgrounds, are at different points in their lives, and express a range of feelings about life in Canada,
they share a common mindset. Each has made an epic mental journey. Their respective passages to Canada have made deep impressions on how they think about identity.

As is to be expected, all of the contributors to
Passages to Canada
write powerfully about living with the memories of a lost homeland. Their present-day identities are haunted by the sights and smells of city streets a world away, the caress of a grandfather long dead or the desolation and boredom of a refugee camp. This collection also brings to the fore a sense of the difficulty of integrating into Canadian society. All the contributors feel, at some point in their passage to Canada, the alienation of being an immigrant. Inclement weather, taciturn customs agents or some jarring cultural oddity of Canadian society combine to press on them the identity of an outsider.

Yet it is in this very feeling of otherness that each of the authors finds his or her connection to Canada. By virtue of being an immigrant, they discover in Canada creative freedom and individual autonomy. The broad cultural or deeply personal confines of the identity they left behind in their country of origin have the power of memories only. In Canada they have the ability to construct a sense of self that
acknowledges the past but is also open to a present where multiple identities are at play. Being free from a single dominant cultural identity allows them, as writers, to explore and dissect the cultures of their homelands and their adopted country in new and unexpected ways.

Canadian society as a whole needs to be attuned to the question of how to construct, on the model of its recent immigrants, a strong civic identity in a world of rapid change. In the coming decades many of the hallmarks of our identity—medicare, an independent military and even a common border with the United States—will be radically re-worked or abolished. Drawing on the example of recent immigrants, Canadians need to learn to thrive collectively in the absence of a dominant identity based on shared cultural institutions and ethnic memory. And indeed, thanks to how immigrants think and live their multiple identities, Canada shows every indication of sustaining an open, vital and questioning civic culture in an era of intense globalization and value change.

Passages to Canada
is much more than a book about immigration. The stories that make up this collection are about universal human truths: the different ways we search for belonging and how we
ultimately become reconciled to the lives we create. In final analysis,
Passages to Canada
provides a dose of wisdom that helps us make sense of where we’ve come from and what we want to accomplish, both as individuals and Canadians.

BOOK: Passages: Welcome Home to Canada
2.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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