To my immigrant parents,
When you arrived in Canada in the early ’80s, little did you know you had already given me and my brothers one of the greatest gifts a parent could give. You chose Canada.
Like many immigrants headed west, you were driven by your own set of dreams and circumstances. Dad, for you it was the opportunity to leave communist Poland. You knew that barring a run through minefields or rowing a boat to Sweden, heading abroad to pursue an education would be your best shot at escaping and moving forward in life, It was a way to avoid winding up like your parents’ generation ― bitterly stuck in a country with few opportunities.
Mom, you left the only home you knew in Warsaw (flanked by both my grandmothers) to join a man you fell in love with during an excursion among the lakes of Masuria. You didn’t know what the future would hold for the two of you, but you similarly aimed to gain an education in the west and forge the future you wanted for your family.
I know it couldn’t have been easy leaving for a country whose culture at the time was as different from Poland’s as it gets. As the Solidarność movement struck its first blows against communism, it must have felt an awful lot like trading one uncertain future in for another.
But let me tell you, it was worth it. When my brothers and I were born in Toronto, you welcomed us into a world of opportunity made possible by your courage and determination.
“I had the choice to be who I wanted to be in this world, however I chose to define that.”
Thanks to the risks you took, I had the promise of an affordable education. I had the right to hold employment in a viable economy. I had the privilege of living in one of the world’s most progressive and socially inclusive countries, and eventually move to one of the world’s most diverse cities.
I had the choice to be who I wanted to be in this world, however I chose to define that. I had a shot at the life I know you always wanted for me.
Losing your roots in the great melting pot
And I know that things could have been different if I were born elsewhere. We got a taste of what could have been when we moved to the suburban United States for my formative years.
As I would come to understand, being an immigrant in some places around the world is about assimilating ― losing your roots in the great melting pot. I shrugged it off at the time, being a kid and all, not entirely comprehending the societal forces urging me to forget my first language and crave the acceptance of my peers.
Only now do I realize that for you, as adults, it must have been so much harder than I would ever know to hold on to your ways of life (and from what you have told me, I am in awe of your resilience) while fighting for jobs, for education, for your family. I can imagine it was very lonely being an immigrant (then twice over) in a country that prides itself on people falling in line.
“The thing that makes this country great is that your otherness didn't make you (or me) less than – in fact, it just made you more Canadian.”
Things aren’t perfect for immigrants in Canada, either. Far from it, as evidenced by recent Islamophobic election campaigns and reactions to the refugee crisis. But for all the sacrifices you made to create the opportunities I have now, the one thing you never had to sacrifice was your culture. And that’s amazing.
Like many immigrants that came to Canada, you had a community or neighbourhood waiting for you, no matter your background. A place you could speak your language and keep your traditions without worrying about being singled out. A place you felt welcomed.
The thing that makes this country great is that your otherness didn’t make you (or me) less than ― in fact, it just made you more Canadian.
You never had to hide your Polishness ― and I will never have to, either.
On this uniquely Canadian day of thanks we are reminded that our country is a nation of immigrants, many of whom took risks similar to yours to create a better life for themselves and their children. And, like you, they came to the right place.
I am proud to be Canadian. I am proud to be Polish. And I am proud to live in a country where those two things are actually one and the same.
Mom, Dad ― thank you for taking a chance on Canada.
Born And Raised is an ongoing series by HuffPost Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories ― join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at email@example.com.
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