First aired on Strombo (19/10/11)
A politician whose Ismaili parents came here from Tanzania. A Holocaust survivor. An artist whose mother was a Chilean refugee. A Vietnam War deserter. These are four of the people that former governor general Adrienne Clarkson profiles in her new book, Room for All of Us. But that's not all they have in common — they are all immigrants to Canada, or the children of immigrants, and they have significantly shaped our country.
That's exactly why Clarkson chose to write about them. In 1942, Clarkson came to Canada as a war refugee from Hong Kong. She arrived at a time when Canada routinely rejected non-white immigrants. But that didn't stop her from becoming wholly, completely Canadian and changing this country for the better. From her time as a trail-blazing broadcaster at the CBC to her current work with the Institute of Canadian Citizenship, Clarkson has had a powerful impact on this country and how we view citizenship and public service.
"I am like all the eight people that I profile in my book," Clarkson explained to George Stroumboulopoulos in a recent interview. "I went through loss, and these are terrible stories of loss."
By loss, Clarkson is not only referring to personal loss, but also to the loss of a homeland and your identity. "This is, you lose your country and your place and everything you ever were to a war. Your country is occupied by somebody else or you lose it because in your country there is a dictatorship suddenly," she said. "Or you have to leave your country because there is no room for you there or your kind of person there."
Clarkson also felt compelled to tell these stories because she wants to change how Canadians view immigration. In a time of economic uncertainty and international turmoil, attitudes to immigration are becoming less favourable, and this is a shift that Clarkson strongly disagrees with. Despite our current troubles, she sees Canada as a prosperous and vibrant country, and this is something we need to share with anyone who wants it — or needs it. "When you get on the boat that's saving you, don't pull up the ladder behind you," she said. "I think it's important for ALL Canadians to never to do that."
Immigration is increasingly vital to the success of our country, Clarkson argues. And while it's easy to disagree with it ideologically, she believes that once you put a face and a personal story to immigration, it will be tough for Canadians to turn their backs on people who want to come here.
"That's why I had written a book like this. I want people to understand that no matter how unpromising the circumstances under which people come to this country, people can overcome them."
Room for All of Us: Surprising Stories of Loss and Transformation
by Adrienne Clarkson
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From the publisher:
"In this exciting and revealing personal inquiry, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson explores the immigrant experience through the people who have helped transform Canada.
The Canadians she befriends - whether an Ismaili doctor, a Doukhobor farmer, a Holocaust survivor, or a Vietnam War deserter - illustrate the changing idea of what it means to be Canadian and the kind of country we have created over the decades. Like her, many of the people who came did not have a real choice: they often arrived friendless and with a sense of loss. Yet their struggles and successes have enriched Canada immeasurably.Whatdrove them to become the kind of people they have become? What would have happened to them if Canada had not taken them in? What have they added to our national life us as we go forward in the twenty-first century?Room for All of Us is a tale of many destinies. Like W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants, Clarkson's book offers a richly textured,intimate and unforgettable portrait of a changing country and its people."