My pride in being Canadian has swelled to new heights recently. As I watch the news of the terrible events unfolding around the world and we wait for the first plane load of Syrian refugees to arrive in Toronto, I feel a sense of pride and joy that we are opening our arms to people whose own country has been torn apart by war.
My daughter’s Grade 6 class is learning about the Syrian refugee crisis and so we had an interesting discussion about it. But it’s hard to explain to a child living in Vernon about the horrors of terrorism, and it’s hard for most of us to comprehend the devastation of having to leave everything you know behind.
I recently had a discussion with my dad about his memories of the Second World War. He was in kindergarten when it started and said one of his most vivid memories is the day one of his best friends, born in Vancouver but of Japanese ancestry, didn’t show up at school. To this day, my dad gets emotional when he talks about the event that saw all of his Japanese friends sent away to live in internment camps in the B.C. interior because they were seen as a threat.
That’s why I found it truly frightening when Donald Trump issued his xenophobic words about banning all Muslim people from entering the United States.
His words, which were greeted by cheers from his supporters, scared me. It’s easy enough to dismiss Trump as a blowhard with ridiculous hair.
But the fact is, many agree with him and if by some miracle he wins the Republican nomination and ends up in the White House, he will be able to say – and enact – even more frightening things. And by uttering those words, he has made it more difficult for Muslims everywhere to just go about their daily business, whether it’s worshiping at their mosque or popping out to buy bread at the grocery store.
Meanwhile, on this side of the border, we see what is happening in Syria and we are doing something about it. Local churches are raising funds to sponsor families and, by midnight tonight, 160 people will have landed by military plane at Pearson International Airport, with another flight arriving in Montreal on Saturday.
Over the years, we have made progress. We are more accepting. We are blessed to live in a country made up of all cultures, all faiths, all ways of life.
We are a large country with a lot of wealth. Yes, there are people in need who live in our communities, but we are also blessed to live in a place where there are actual social services in place, where our homes aren’t being blown up, where our children are able to attend school in safety.
The government has committed to bringing in 25,000 refugees by the end of February. It will not be easy for them. They are not only leaving behind their homes, their way of life, their families and friends, but coming to a country where many won’t know either official language, nor will they know the customs, the laws, the way of life, not to mention the bitterly cold winters.
And it may not be easy for us a nation. But how can we sit by and do nothing?
I love the diversity and multiculturalism of this country. I love that Vernon has both a Sikh temple and a mosque, not to mention countless Christian places of worship, and we are all free to enter any one of these places.
I am proud to live in a place that is welcoming those in need, just as my ancestors were welcomed as they stepped off the boat in Lunenburg, N.S. more than 200 years ago.
Because it hardly bears repeating that unless you are First Nations, your parents, your grandparents or your great-grandparents came from somewhere else.
– Katherine Mortimer is a reporter for the Vernon Morning Star, the Observer’s sister paper.