Read an Excerpt
Rudyard Griffiths -- Preface
Immigration is the great Canadian constant. From the first European settlements along the banks of the St. Lawrence, successive waves of immigration have shaped the fabric of Canada. Our political institutions and the importance we put on the values of community and order flow largely from the arrival of the country’s first political refugees, the United Empire Loyalists. Canadians’ sensitivity to minority rights is an extension of the compromises and complexities of balancing -- for the better part of 250 years -- the competing interests of French and English, Catholic and Protestant immigrants. In the twentieth century, the movement to create our much-valued social programs such as medicare and social assistance grew out of a Prairie culture shaped in part by Canadians of Eastern European descent.
The interconnections between immigration and the history of Canada are obvious. The fundamental challenge for Canada and Canadians is to see how immigration is shaping our society and values today, and in the future.
We are a country on the verge of transformation, a watershed of not just demographics but of how we think and feel Canadian. In the coming decade, the majority of Canadian citizens will be first- and second-generation immigrants. This majority will consist not of a single mono-cultural group as did, say, the earlier waves of Anglo-European immigration, but of people who have come to Canada from the world over. They will leave jobs, loved ones, and entire cultural frameworks to journey to this county. In Canada, their languages, traditions and values will mix with each other. The only common thread bindingthese disparate cultures and individuals together will be the experience of being immigrants. At the most basic level, what it means to be Canadian will be an extension of what it means to be an immigrant.
Passages to Canada provides a much-needed window on the contours of this new, radically immigrant identity that is reshaping Canada. While the authors who contributed to this volume come from diverse backgrounds, are at different points in their lives, and express a range of feelings about life in Canada, they share a common mindset. Each has made an epic mental journey. Their respective passages to Canada have made deep impressions on how they think about identity.
As is to be expected, all of the contributors to Passages to Canada write powerfully about living with the memories of a lost homeland. Their present-day identities are haunted by the sights and smells of city streets a world away, the caress of a grandfather long dead or the desolation and boredom of a refugee camp. This collection also brings to the fore a sense of the difficulty of integrating into Canadian society. All the contributors feel, at some point in their passage to Canada, the alienation of being an immigrant. Inclement weather, taciturn customs agents or some jarring cultural oddity of Canadian society combine to press on them the identity of an outsider.
Yet it is in this very feeling of otherness that each of the authors finds his or her connection to Canada. By virtue of being an immigrant, they discover in Canada creative freedom and individual autonomy. The broad cultural or deeply personal confines of the identity they left behind in their country of origin have the power of memories only. In Canada they have the ability to construct a sense of self that acknowledges the past but is also open to a present where multiple identities are at play. Being free from a single dominant cultural identity allows them, as writers, to explore and dissect the cultures of their homelands and their adopted country in new and unexpected ways.
Canadian society as a whole needs to be attuned to the question of how to construct, on the model of its recent immigrants, a strong civic identity in a world of rapid change. In the coming decades many of the hallmarks of our identity -- medicare, an independent military and even a common border with the United States -- will be radically re-worked or abolished. Drawing on the example of recent immigrants, Canadians need to learn to thrive collectively in the absence of a dominant identity based on shared cultural institutions and ethnic memory. And indeed, thanks to how immigrants think and live their multiple identities, Canada shows every indication of sustaining an open, vital and questioning civic culture in an era of intense globalization and value change.
Passages to Canada is much more than a book about immigration. The stories that make up this collection are about universal human truths: the different ways we search for belonging and how we ultimately become reconciled to the lives we create. In final analysis, Passages to Canada provides a dose of wisdom that helps us make sense of where we’ve come from and what we want to accomplish, both as individuals and Canadians.
Michael Ignatieff -- Introduction
We tend to think of immigration to Canada as a story of flight from persecution followed by the laying to rest of ancient hatreds. In this scenario, the new land becomes a haven in a heartless world, offering victims escape from mortal danger. There was ethnic strife, prejudice and open warfare. Here is acceptance. There history was a nightmare. Here history is a dream of civility. There victims endure their history. Here victims awaken and begin their history anew. This myth implies that the new land suffers from a deficiency of exciting history. But what native Canadians may live as dullness, our newcomers experience as a welcome deliverance.
This myth of escape has been a pleasant tale to tell, since it presents our country as an island of reason in a sea of fanaticism. This myth also flatters the newcomers, enabling them to present expatriation as an awakening from murderous irrationality.
But was this story ever quite true? Were we ever as welcoming as it makes us out to be? Now that old-world terror has struck at the very heart of the new world, are we quite sure that newcomers are leaving their hatreds behind?
Myths never take hold of the collective imagination if they are pure fantasy. This myth of welcome, together with the myth of hatreds left behind, has just enough truth to be believable. But the writers who’ve written up their passage to Canada both confirm and challenge these myths. In her account of emigrating from China, Ying Chen tells us that she did indeed find sanctuary here; but she would have us think hard about why Canada, the country of Bethune, should employ officials at its borders who could so frighten and intimidate one of its own citizens. Moses Znaimer, now an irrepressible leader in Canadian broadcasting, escaped the hatreds of his native Europe, but his memoir suggests that no one ever survives hatred unscathed; some people get to safety too late ever to feel quite safe again. He remembers the joylessness and caution of his parents, in their new home in Montreal, and now regards these features as the scars of survival.