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As an Immigrant, Stompin' Tom Connors Made Me Feel Canadian

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Late last night, Canadians lost a patriotic and passionate Canadian in Stompin' Tom Connors. Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted how "we have lost a true Canadian original." I lost the one Canadian who introduced me to the Canada I know and admire today from afar.

When I first moved to Canada from Ethiopia via Zambia I was confused and frustrated about my adopted country. I felt I would never be welcomed and that I would always be an outsider. The country felt too cold to venture outside, the people I found to be too reserved and the national sport -- hockey -- confusing at best. I felt lost.

I watched CNN and followed American politics and listened to American music. I wondered why Canada did not become an American state. I felt Canadian music was not as good as that of the Americans.

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Then I discovered Stompin' Tom Connors by accident on MuchMusic. He was bold and spoke for the underdog mirroring everything I admired in a similar American artist, Bruce Springsteen. Listening to his music was almost like watching CBC -- learning about our best in our diversity. Through his music, I learned about Canada and its wonderful and unique Canadian talent. "The Hockey Song" was my favorite even though I was never a fan of sports in general. "The Black Donnellys" and "Sudbury Saturday Night" became some of my favorites. By listening to his music, I also discovered the music of Tom Cochrane, Jim Cuddy and Blue Rodeo, Neil Young, K.D. Lang, Kim Mitchell and The Tragically Hip.

I spent hours listening to the music of Connors and studied the lyrics up close. They touched me and encouraged me to be familiar with the country that I intended to spend my lifetime in. His music became one of many milestones in my life.

He would often complain about the lack of patriotism from other Canadian artists. He felt Canada was "the most underwritten country in the world" in terms of patriotic songs. I was not surprised when I discovered how much he was disappointed in Canadian artists moving to the U.S. for fame and called them "border jumpers." He even gave back many Juno awards in protest.

He felt "the Junos should be for people who are living in Canada, whose main base of business operations is in Canada, who are working toward the recognition of Canadian talent in this country and who are trying to further the export of such talent from this country to the world with a view to proudly showing off what this country can contribute to the world market."

When controversy erupted at the Junos over Bryan Adams and the Canadian content question, I also took the argument that Tom Cochrone needed to be honoured. I felt he was more Canadian and used the same argument that was given by Connors. I admired the fact that Cochrone had his music written and produced in Canada.

In his farewell letter to Canadians, he wrote how "It was a long hard bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with its beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world." He continued -- "I must now pass the torch, to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future."

Two years ago, I was on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. In an exchange on activism and politcs, I gave an example that impressed the host. All of a sudden he paused and remarked, "I am impressed -- I can not believe a young Ethiopian knows all these."

I knew all those because I learned about my Canadian history from great Canadians such as Stompin' Tom Connors. They made me feel Canadian -- lost in the magic of our wonderful citizenship.

In his memory and celebration of this wonderful Canadian, I will respect his wish and donate to the local food bank. I hope all Canadians will do the same.