I would like to dedicate this article to my mother, Aida, who found joyous eternity on Easter Monday, after gracefully suffering with vascular dementia. She had just celebrated her 85th birthday with a birthday cake and family five days before.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says: 'There, she is gone!' there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: 'Here she comes!' And that is dying." (Henry van Dyke)
My parents moved from the Philippines in 1957, my dad having been accepted for an exchange program so he could train first as a family doctor, then moving on to be a surgeon. When they arrived in San Francisco with two suitcases and some cash each, they ended up sleeping in the airport, having missed their connection to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They got there the next day.
They found they could not afford to rent anything on Dad’s salary, and Dad ended up living at St. Michael’s Hospital rent-free as a surgery resident. Mom signed up to train as a lab technologist so she could also live rent-free, but unfortunately in another hospital. Eventually, they found an attic room where they could afford to stay. Dad would collect all the old newspapers in the hospital, filling out every possibility of a crossword puzzle contest, trying the win the jackpot that he never did.
And so was the beginning of another immigrant story, just one of millions, but one remembered fondly, with lots of laughs that were so hard, we cried.
We left Milwaukee, moving from place to place (St. John’s, NL, Jersey City, NJ and Ft. Oglethorpe, GA) as Dad would go from job to job, ending up in Rome, Georgia, where seven hills protected the small city from tornados. What I remember of Rome are the friendly nuns at St. Mary’s Parochial School, singing in the choir at Christmas concerts, and how good the food was in the cafeteria.
It was nicer in the Catholic school than the public school in Ft. Oglethorpe to the north, and than Public School #17 in Jersey City. Every morning before school started we pledged allegiance to the United State of America.
In 1968, my parents, my sister and I finally settled back in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where my mom’s brother and his family lived. My father decided to leave surgery behind, specializing in tuberculosis, and there was a job opening at the Sanitorium in St. John’s. My uncle was an anaesthetist, and my aunt a pathologist. We were the second Filipino family in St. John’s, after my uncle.
At St. Mary’s, we were warned it would be very cold, and that we would see igloos. On the first day I got to school in grade 6 there was a French test, and I got 3 questions right: blanc meant white, orange meant orange, and rouge meant red. I got my name right, too.
Not a great start, but my classmates were so nice and friendly (some of us are very good friends to this day), and it was nice to have cousins (our two families were each others’ only relatives in North America). We really liked being in Newfoundland; however, there were no igloos.
We have lived in Canada since 1968, becoming naturalized Canadian citizens in 1975 (with the exception of my younger brother who was born in St. John’s). With the 150th anniversary of Canada this year, our family choosing to be Canadian has made me reflect upon what that means to me today.
With very few exceptions, Newfoundlanders have struck me as innately colour-blind. They don’t seem to notice, and certainly don’t care about colour. This contrasted sharply with the “colored” washrooms I left in Georgia. (We Asians were considered white.) A colleague of mine, also of colour, was recalling his family moving from Ireland to Hamilton, Ontario for him to start a chronic pain fellowship. His wife and daughters were so excited they didn’t want to leave.
Unlike when they arrived in Ireland, they didn’t get treated like exiles looking for something. People treated them as regular people and were happy to have them come. The first day at school, the girls were also greeted with warm Canadian hospitality, not suspicion. They wanted him to take a job in Canada; that was in their first week here. So they have stayed.
Canada still has far to go. We haven’t resolved the indignity delivered to our aboriginal people. And not all people are welcoming. We cannot be complacent, nor can we sit on our laurels. Still, collectively, we aspire to welcome and respect diversity. Canada seems comfortable and secure in its skin.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. “John 14: 27”
What does the world give? How does the world deliver peace, seek peace? Why did Jesus contrast himself with the world? They can’t be the same.
Peace would come from a sense of security. Having enough money would bring peace of mind. Peace would come from feeling safe. Locking our doors at night, being careful where and when we go for a walk or a run, and not going alone – these things would bring some peace of mind. Don’t talk to strangers. Our parents pound that into our heads. That should make us safer and bring us peace. But the thought that truly something can still happen is always there.
You can never have enough money. How much is enough? It is so easy to become distracted by money. More than a means to an end, it has become its own commodity.
You can never be too safe. Owning a gun is the solution; learning to shoot accurately and quickly will make things safe. More is better – one in the bedroom, one in the car. More can’t hurt.
Who can be trusted? Can people of colour, or of different faith be trusted? They don’t think the same way; they’re not to be trusted. Why let them in at all?
The only person I can trust to succeed, to survive, to feel safe, to find peace is myself. I trust myself to find the money, the power and the right friends to feel safe, feel secure, to find peace. I trust myself to achieve my own destiny; I do it my way, and find whatever means to satisfy my goals to achieve my success, to find peace and security. I’ve got to do what’s right for me.
Isn’t it sad when some people forget “In God We Trust,” the motto on every coin?
Has God’s peace been forgotten? What happened to “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid’? Are we witnessing the failure to heed Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Clearly we are witness to a world leader who leads with fear.
"You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3).
Canadians feel encouraged to aspire to something greater – to be more generous, to support social justice, to be hospitable, whether it is striving for our greater God, or our greater good. We are confident that because of our moral compass we will be a better country and a better people.
We cannot allow that confidence in ourselves, our institutions, our God be eroded by forces that trivialize our aspirations and try to create fear that would undermine that confidence.
"May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations." (Psalm 67: 1-2).
“Canada, Leading the Free World” (New York Times February 4, 2017) – could we be the agents of love, goodness and mercy to the nations?
I love Canada because we truly have that potential.