my immigrant story

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I am an immigrant. My family moved to Canada from England in 1967. We arrived in time to celebrate our new country’s 100th birthday. This week will mark our 50th anniversary in Canada.

My parents were young when we came. I was 8 years old, my brothers were 6 and 12. We travelled with a suitcase each. We left behind many personal possessions and our entire extended family; grand-parents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

My father had a job waiting for him in Winnipeg, at Bristol Aerospace. The company was recruiting employees from Great Britain at the time. But, there was no family to welcome us. No house to go to.

The first shock was stepping off the plane into -30 degree weather. We were dressed for the damp cold of England, but not for the snow and bitter, “dry cold” of the prairies. We checked into a motel, and my parents spent a week walking up and down Portage Avenue looking for an apartment. Most apartments had “no children” policies. They finally found one, and scrambled to buy some basic furnishings and winter clothing for us all.

I remember those first weeks and months well. Food tasted awful. Even brands that we had in England somehow tasted “off”.

I was teased in school for my clothes and my accent. Once, my teacher asked me to share what school was like in England, I described how the early years were called Infants and Juniors.

“Infants???”, she said. “That’s what we call babies over here!”

Maybe teachers weren’t as attuned to children’s sensitive natures back then. I was crushed.

And then there was the home sickness. We try to convince ourselves that young children are resilient and able to adjust to new situations and surroundings. This may be true for some. It wasn’t for me. I missed my home, missed it terribly. I missed my friends. I missed my family, especially my grand-parents. I cried at night, and dreamed of being back in England. When I woke, I wished I could go back to sleep and return to my dreams.

I hated the immigrant experience. And yet, my parents freely chose to move us, during a time of peace, and to a country that generally shared a similar culture and language. They did it to improve our life, and for better opportunities. It was a good move.

My parents’ childhood was vastly different.

My mother and father were both born in Poland. Their families were exiled to Siberia during the Russian occupation at the start of WWII. When the USSR became allied with England against Germany, the Poles were free to leave Siberia. My grand-fathers joined the Polish army. My parents, their sisters (my two aunts) and my grand-mothers travelled south (a story all its own) to spend the rest of the war years in a refugee camp in Uganda.

After the war, because my grand-fathers had fought with the allied forces, the families were given the choice to emigrate to Canada, England, or Australia. Both families chose England, since it was closest to Poland. My parents spent their later school years in British schools, learning English as quickly as they could.

In England, we sometimes experienced the dual prejudice of culture and religion. Poles spoke with an accent, ate strange foods, and had unpronounceable names. Catholics were those families with too many children. Believe it or not, we were considered “that Catholic” family in our white, protestant neighbourhood, and we were only three children.

Being Polish in Canada in the 1970’s wasn’t always easy either. It was a time of Polak jokes and other racial slurs.

Today, I am proud of my Polish heritage. I am proud of the courage and sacrifices of my grand-parents and my own Mama and Tato. I am grateful for the life that they have given me, and continue to do so.

And, I am grateful to live in a country that strives to embrace diversity and celebrate multiculturalism. A country that continues to welcome immigrants and provide sanctuary for refugees.

I am grateful – and proud – to be a Canadian.

trumpian truth

washington-cherry-treeWhen I was growing up, every Canadian kid knew the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree. Boy chops down tree. Dad asks him who did it. Boy, knowing he faced certain punishment, bravely admitted his guilt. Boy grows up to be the first president of the United States of America.

The moral of the story wasn’t difficult to grasp. Telling the truth, even if it might hurt you, is a sign of good character. It is the kind of good character that is not only exulted in famous leaders of the past, it’s an example for all of us in the present. Good countries are built on the good character of their leaders and their people.

Some truth is subjective. I live my life based on certain religious truths that aren’t shared by all, but there are moral truths that are generally accepted. Truths that are necessary for the common good, and are reflected in our laws. It is wrong to steal from your neighbour. It is wrong to kill each other. It is wrong to slander another. It is wrong to lie.

Our justice system is based on the premise that the truth must be told in courts of law. Oaths are taken as a sign of allegiance to a country, a government, or a group. Vows are a sign of fidelity and love in marriage. None of us are perfect, but we have to believe that the person speaking the words will act on them to the best of their ability. The basic belief and need for speaking truthfully is foundational in our governments, societies and in our families.

All good parents try to instill the importance of telling the truth to our children. One of my kiddies tried to get off the hook by saying, “I wasn’t lying. I was only kidding!” We stressed over and over the importance of honesty whether it was a pre-schooler’s spilled juice cup, or a teenager’s evening plans.

When trust is broken, it takes a lot of work to regain it. How can we trust a person if we can’t trust what they say? This was a basic lesson for all children to learn.

And yet, here we are. The first days of the new American administration are showing that President Trump feels no greater urgency to tell the truth than did Candidate Trump. His staff faces the media and unabashedly speak of “alternative facts” and how their boss’s opinion is based on what he believes is true.

Sadly, there is some truth to this. If I restricted my facts to alt-right news media, Trump’s speeches and twitter account, my view of what is true would be completely skewed from what it is now. I would believe that the USA is a dystopian wasteland, a carnage of poverty and violence. I would blame the “other” for all my misfortunes, and feel free expressing my fear and hatred of cultures that don’t mirror my own white, Christian world.

Trump’s “truth” is not my truth but it is, sadly, shared by many. Politicians are elected by people who agree with the agenda and platform that the politician presents; their truth. Trump is now acting on all the promises he made, promises that seemed so outlandish that saner minds were convinced they would never happen. So, in this sense, Trump was not lying.

Governing requires discerning for the common good, and good discernment requires careful exploration of all the facts at hand. And, here is the danger. As with his horrible “birtherism” movement, Trump’s truths are not based on objective facts. He isn’t a fan of intelligence briefings. He bypasses inconvenient statistics and makes up facts on the fly. He flings numbers around that can’t be proven, just to inflate his own ego. He bullies and threatens anyone who questions him, especially the media, and is already silencing federal employees and departments.

Put simply, Trump’s truths are based on lies. No amount of doublespeak, word spinning or doctoring can hide the simple fact that the man will unabashedly ignore objective facts if they are counter to his version of truth.

If Trump had chopped down the cherry tree, he would have probably pointed his finger at the kid next door, the one from the family with a questionable back-ground. You know, the ones who shouldn’t be here in the first place. All this while still holding the hatchet in his tiny hands.

prophets take to the streets

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Now, more then ever, prophets are needed to stand by and hold the new leader(s) to task. Like biblical prophets of old, women and men are being called to make life hell for leaders who ignore the down-trodden while languishing in comfort and plenty. Prophets are needed to preach mercy above judgment, compassion over tyranny, and economic fairness before unbridled wealth. (catholic dialogue, November 14, 2016)

I spent January 20th in a funk. A deep funk. I avoided the news, not wanting to see or hear the inauguration of a man I had already spent too much energy loathing; too much time writing about. What more was there to say? Hope was a fleeting dream. The world seemed a darker place.

Then came January 21st.

I had read about the planned Women’s March with excitement, but couldn’t shake the pessimistic funk. It would probably be fewer than expected, I thought, giving more reason for the new president to gloat over his victory.

I cautiously opened up my Twitter account early in the morning. It was already filled with positive energy. Stories and photos circulated from around the world. The news began pouring in of larger than expected crowds. I watched with pride as women and men gathered in Winnipeg to show solidarity with marchers in the US. I regretted not being there myself.

I read tweets from women and men I followed in Rome, Boston, Washington and beyond. I felt like I was there. I rejoiced as the crowds grew. I breathed a prayer of thanks as the protests remained peaceful until the end. It was a glorious example of non-violent resistance.

Some naysayers, pointing to the more aggressive signs, criticized the lack of politeness of some marchers. Really??? This was especially ironic, considering the lack of respect and basic manners of the person the marchers were protesting against. Besides, the days of women as meek and mild handmaidens is long past.

I thought the signs showed brilliant creativity and humour.

Satire is one of the most effective political weapons. Being laughed at can often deflate egos quicker than anger.

Others criticized the seeming lack of a unified message in the marchers. This, I thought, was one of its greatest benefits and a lesson to be taken to heart.

Solidarity amid diversity is a powerful tool. The gathering of many smaller voices into one great call for change CAN make a difference.

The big question being asked now is, what next? I believe that the Women’s March has laid a strong foundation for speaking truth to power. Hopefully it will energize and affirm many more women and men to take on the mantle of prophet, to poke and prod those in power to ensure that they work for justice and peace for all.