Recently, Robert and I toured the Maritimes. We went there to see our granddaughter, who’s attending Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
That city is also home to Pier 21 (Canada’s Ellis Island) and the Immigration museum that shows the immigrant’s experience when they land in Canada. It was a great place to visit, as it allowed me to do some research for another book I want to write. A sequel to a historical novel I’ve written and have yet to publish.
Inside the building is the wonderful Scotiabank Family History Centre with staff who will help any visitor with genealogical research. It doesn’t matter whether a family member landed at Pier 21 or Ellis Island or any other port in Canada or USA.
Immigrants and USA
While at the museum, I thought again about Trump’s ongoing rhetoric about immigrants. Since he began running for president, immigrants in the USA, and those wanting to go there have been under the spotlight and microscope. It’s become more difficult for those foreign-born to become Americans.
Every terror attack committed by an immigrant has fuelled American fear-mongers, even though mass shootings by their own far outnumber those by foreigners.
These naysayers are supported by the Fox News channel (and perhaps Russian hackers who want to mess with America’s democracy and what the Statue of Liberty stands for). Fox hosts and news anchors are quick to underline the horror and the potential horror that they believe is connected to immigrants, whether they are Mexicans, Syrians, or any other group hoping to find security for themselves and their families.
A Child of Immigrants
I’m particularly sensitive to this kind of rhetoric as I come from parents, who were both emigrated from Ukraine to Canada. Dad arrived with his mother when he was 2 in 1913, and Mom came with her mother and brothers in 1929 when she was 14.
They experienced a lot of prejudice but their parents worked hard (weathering the Great Depression); Dad’s three brothers fought valiantly in WWII; and all members of the family on both sides proved to be loyal, proud, honest, and hard-working Canadians.
Syrian Immigrants to Canada
I see the same spirit in the immigrants arriving in our country today. Our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, famously let in 25,000 new Syrian immigrants in his first year of office.
During our recent trip to the Maritimes, I saw a number of them working hard to make a home in their new land. Two young men sold sweets from a stall in the marketplace in Halifax, We saw two other tables at a different market in Mabou on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Again, they sold what they made. We bought a box of chocolates from one vendor. They were so delicious, I wish we had bought more.
All the immigrants we met greeted us with the warmest smiles. We left the markets feeling proud that our country had given them a home.
Knowing my own family’s immigrant experiences, I know that every immigrant’s journey is very hard.
The Tragedy of Prejudice
As a child of immigrants, I experienced prejudice and have written about it. I now know it was ignorance that propelled my fellow students and teacher to treat me with contempt.
Contempt breeds more contempt. Hate breeds hate, although having said that, I never felt hate, but I did feel sadness and loneliness. It’s no fun when you’re not being accepted by a group, by the society you’re hoping to be part of, because you’re seen as a threat.
A threat because of your name and the fact you speak the English language funny, or because of how you dress, or the colour of your skin, or your customs and your faith. And on and on.
The photo above is of one display case at the immigration museum. Someone had written on birch bark:
We walked the Gravel Path
Past the Sleeping Stalls
The Rock Fence
And Cryptic Stones
Like the Earth, Trying
To Discern Autumn
We Tethered Our Tongues
To The Wind and Wondered
Which Way Did The Ancestors Go?
Not All The Same
I wrote this blog post in hopes that more would view immigrants in a more compassionate way. Those who make the trek, leave the land they loved, want what we all want. A loving family, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and joy in our hearts. I’d like to think that more of us can stop and think and not paint all immigrants with the same brush.
I hope I haven’t turned too many off with my musings. The immigration museum brought all of this home in a big way. Well worth the visit.
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