Happy Thanksgiving! A Lebanese immigrant’s journey to freedom and safety
Rima Azar, Western Standard, October 7, 2023
This Thanksgiving weekend, I have deep feelings of gratitude and love for Canada, my adoptive country.
My background: I was born in a tiny, sadly problematic yet beautiful Mediterranean country — Lebanon, one with multiple armed conflicts since its creation, including a bloody civil war between 1975 and 1990.
This was followed by other wars, economic hardship and even a massive double blast in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020 — for which no-one was held accountable.
Indirectly or directly, those feelings also serve as a tribute to my parents for having brought my family to Canada’s safe and welcoming arms on June 17, 1990. The youngest of the family, I was seventeen years old that warm spring day.
My parents miraculously survived the explosions despite the heavy destruction to their apartment but my niece and brother-in-law were both injured. We were lucky to have my mother with us until this past August when she died suddenly. My mother, Robine Fiani Azar, passed away at age 83, a woman whose life and legacy was filled with both love and wisdom.
Over the past years, whenever I was worried about my family, who returned to Lebanon and who faced conflicts, explosions and an economic crisis described by the World Bank as the world’s worst since the 1850s my mom used to say the following: “What can we do? We do not choose our birth country.” She most probably meant to say Lebanon has always been on the brink of a war or of collapse. We were born there and it is what it is.
I guess it is somehow like our biological family or date of birth. We do not choose to be born. In the same vein, we cannot choose our parents and place of birth respectively.
Of course, Robine was right, but thankfully for me, and with much gratitude to her and my dad, I feel blessed because I chose Canada. I have fallen in love with it, embraced it and have been welcomed by it.
Over the past thirty-three years, I have lived in, studied and earned a living in three different provinces. Canada was welcoming to me, as it is to old immigrants like myself and newcomers. So were my fellow Canadians, regardless of the location or the official language.
This said, it takes time to adjust to a new country at all levels, including its weather, languages, accents and traditions. But I will always vividly recall the day I consciously decided to be rooted in it. It took place two years upon my arrival to Québec.
When I landed in Montreal in 1990, I soon felt that I was Canadian. As a permanent resident, I immediately had all the duties and rights of my fellow Canadian citizens, except voting.
As a human being, I felt respected, welcomed, and valued by both the province of Québec and Canada at large.
As a female, I felt lucky to live in a place that values equality between men and women. Concretely, this means having the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities. The sky felt like the limit, especially with my parents having provided me with roots and wings. Indeed, if I love personal freedom, it is because of my mom.
Fifteen years later I moved to Toronto and that time it took me all of two weeks to feel Torontonian. Later, when I left Ontario to accept a tenure-track position at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, it only took me two days to feel “Sackvillian” as well as a proud New Brunswicker. Ever the bad cook, I nevertheless managed to create a seafood chowder that led to my friends telling me I was officially a Maritimer.
Among Canada’s historic values, what I appreciated the most upon my arrival was freedom. I mean freedom of thoughts and of expression, in addition to personal freedom and agency.
Unfortunately, freedom is sometimes taken for granted until we realize, that if we do not keep defending it for all, it can be easily eroded. That is why we must always be on guard for our Canada, for one of the most beautiful countries of the world.
To be sure, I am biased by my patriotic love and gratitude, conditioned as I am by early-life experiences in the chaos of Lebanon.
But my love is now “organic” as well. How could I not be touched by its natural beauty and grateful for all the opportunities it offered my family and me? I have been blessed to discover many of our country’s beautiful parts from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. I dream to visit the rest of Canada’s provinces and territories. Even after three decades, I still find our winter charming.
For all these reasons, Canada, with all that it has to offer, will always remain first in my heart. From my heart to yours, my dear fellow Canadians, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. May you all be well.
Rima Azar is an Associate Professor of Health Psychology at Mount Allison University, and a Senior Fellow at the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy. Dr. Azar is also a contributor to the Aristotle Foundation’s book, The 1867 Project: Why Canada Should be Cherished—Not Cancelled, edited by Mark Milke.
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