Why Canada? An Immigrant's Answer

An Immigrant's Answer to the Question That Syrian Refugees Arriving in Canada Are Bound to be Asked

Why Canada? An Immigrant's Answer

An immigrant to Canada answers the "Why?" |

January will mark the ninth anniversary of my immigration to Canada with my husband. Nine years of answering the question "But why here? Why Canada?"

The Syrian refugees arriving in our country these days may not be expected to address such a question for obvious reasons, but I'm certain there will come a day when someone detecting a foreign accent will innocently pose it and they may or may not be prepared to respond. I'd like to offer my own answer. And I'm going to be completely honest this time.

Sometimes the reasons for a choice don't become entirely clear until after you've made it and experienced the consequences. I knew that I was scared of raising children in a country that exists in a constant state of war or threat of such and where military service was mandatory. I knew that "Canada" (the generalization used to describe Toronto, in our case) was peaceful and that the nature was magnificent. I knew about the health system. I visited and knew that people smiled at me when I met their eyes on the street. I knew that my husband and I had two couples of friends who had already moved here. These friends became a permanent fixture in my attempt to provide a satisfying 'why' to curious, polite or small talking strangers and acquaintances who would ask me about our reasons for choosing here.

The two couples of friends is where my answer usually forks. Sometimes they become a means of painting a social scene. It was easier to move somewhere where you had close childhood friends. Effectively family. Sometimes my answer forks  differently. We knew they loved it, we visited, loved it too - the end. Or the beginning, as it were.

While all of this is true and it's infinitely easier to have friends in a new country than to not have them this was not the reason we chose Canada.

When you choose to immigrate and uproot your family - often leaving an integral part of it behind -- the decision is usually not driven by a plus sign but by a big, hovering, far more present, minus sign. My reluctance to stay, irrational as it may have been, was the deciding factor. The destination of our relocation - secondary.

When I moved here nine years ago, I concocted a palatable answer to address the question asked by so many but I didn't really know why Canada. Yet.

Being a newcomer is often a blinding state. You wear your inner world on the outside and constantly project it outward. As a newcomer you often see Trumps everywhere. You do your best to blend in, conform, not stick out like a sore thumb but your loud and obnoxious inner Trump always calls you out on your difference and inadequacy. It takes a while to silence him but when you do you start noticing that the expression "cultural mosaic" that you've been hearing since day one is not just a nice theory but one of the pillars of the society you live in. I notice it even more since my children joined the educational system here. I was worried, for example, that celebrating Hanukkah, will make them feel different. It took me a few years to understand that the cultural mosaic structure of our society, as reflected in the educational system, doesn't simply assume the existence of many different and wonderful differences but practically obliterates the term 'different' altogether.

In a blurry photograph from our citizenship ceremony you can see me grinning as I wave a little Canadian flag. Expecting a formal ceremony and being treated to a heartfelt and personalized one instead I was overcome with joy. When he introduced himself, Judge Norman who presided over the ceremony, talked about his descent as a Metis and shared parts of his personal biography giving the generic information we memorized to pass our citizenship test a name and a face. He then asked that before we're sworn in we each stand up and announce the country we're from in the language that is our mother tongue and so, unexpectedly, we were given a platform to honour the other part of our identity instead of archiving it or disposing of it as the melting pot approach might suggest. Wouldn't it be great if I could tell them all of that when they ask me 'but why Canada?' 

Canada is a choice that provided me with the future I was personally looking for while honouring my roots and respecting my past. My grandfather's family was wiped out in the Holocaust. I grew up, like all other Jewish children in my country, on stories about World War II. I can't help but think of MS St. Louis these days. That ocean liner, carrying 908 Jewish refugees from Germany that was turned away twice on the eve of World War II eventually providing its passengers with the very shaky shelter that Europe could offer at the time. I'm so grateful that Canada, once again, rather than focusing on the differences was able to see the similarities between its citizens and those of other countries and provided them and me with the ultimate Why.

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