I was packing for a short trip around beautiful B.C. recently and I was reminded of something my brother, an immigration officer at the Toronto airport, said about the Syrian refugees when they came into Canada.
They had many layers of clothes on, and some walked awkwardly because of this, others once landing and being in the warm airport would start to remove the layers. The ride on the airplane must have been so uncomfortable bundled up and sitting on those airline seats, sweating, thinking about moving to a new country. New language, new food, different weather, what will the Canadian people be like. Will they welcome us or be mean.
Initially my brother thought they had so many layers on so that they would be warm when they flew to Canada in the winter. But it was not the case — layering themselves with clothes allowed them to bring more items.
Their suitcases, too, were filled with their life story.
Now imagine that as you look around your home you have to move to another country and leave your life behind, what possessions are your most meaningful that you will bring with you. I suppose in this situation you are practical and think housewares, etc. But what about your photos, special dishes, art that you have treasured, favourite books in your own language, a musical instrument that brings peace and joy. What would you bring? Items passed down from your parents or grandparents, your family history reflected in a special item.
We just downsized and gave up 1,400 square feet; it sounds so silly in the context of this article. We went through lots of our stored up belongings to sort through what is most important. Hours were spent going through containers that I have, filled with photos, art work, souvenirs of trips, concert tickets I have kept from my 20s. I didn’t want to let go of any of it. But I did. I was moving up the block not to another country, and not deciding what comes with me and goes into two suitcases.
This must have been the story for many Canadians over our history of building a nation with immigrants who chose to come to Canada and help forge a new life for themselves and their new neighbours. Arriving with one or two suitcases full of their life story.
I know many families who were immigrants to Canada and who are now citizens, working hard, contributing to this country and keeping their families safe
We are a great nation built with immigrants. Let us not pit new immigrants against our existing country’s poor. We don’t need to do that;
instead let’s look at how we support each group to be the best they can be.
Let’s give the Syrian families the recreation passes and introduce them to healthy living in Canada and let it be a small gesture of welcome. Let’s continue to work with our community’s families and individuals that need supports for daily living and more. Let’s work with the community agencies and services that are making a difference and need help. I have spent my lifetime working with families and we do not need to do this one vs the other, it causes more harm than good. Share the bread.
We are Canadians, we can manage both.
Happy Canada Day.
Michele Blais has worked with children and families in the North Okanagan for the past 29 years. She is a longtime columnist with The Morning Star, appearing every other Sunday.