Tuesday December 22, 2015

Canadian refugees pay it forward

One of the most enduring stories of 2015 is the plight of Syrian refugees. Canada has pledged to accept as many as 25-thousand by the end of February. Three Canadians share their stories of landing as refugees and why they've decided to pay it forward and sponsor Syrian refugees now. Rosalinda Paredes was forced to flee Chile with her family during the brutal Pinochet regime. Danny Ramadan is a Syrian refugee and Volunteer Coordinator at Qmunity, an LGBTQ community centre in Vancouver. And, Marianne Thuy Nguyen is an architect and design consultant who fled Vietnam in 1975.

Web extra: Danny Ramadan's Facebook post "I'm From Now"

As a recent refugee from Syria, Danny Ramadan is often asked where he's from. It's an innocent question but he hears it so often, he was provoked to write a response. Here is his Facebook post, entitled, "I'm From Now".

You have an accent, where are you from? 
You ask me so casually, and I stumble upon the answer.
Honestly, no matter what I tell you, I will always be "not from here".
My country is nowhere to be found within your imagination.
I'm born to the wind, broken since birth, hoping to find a factory of sorts that bridges me back to reality.
- No, but you have to tell me, where are you from? 
You think it's an easy answer, drunken stranger? 
It's a difficult question to begin with.
Why would I share with you my childhood stories.
My first love. My first kiss.
The tree I used to climb on and the little school I used to go to?
Why would I share with you my grandmother's Rice and Milk?
My aunt's Melokhieyeh - a heavenly food, and with the right squeeze of a lemon? Awesome. 
As is the shawarma of Al-Qasser at 2 am?
Why would I share with you these visions, when your first reaction would be to say: 
- Syria! Oh, it must have be a horrible place.
War overshadows summer trees.
It eats away the outskirts of Damascus and poisons the jasmine smell. 
It burns away my tastebuds and unhinges my shoulders.
When "I" say "Syria", we actually imagine two completely different things:
Your drunken mind imagines an endless desert, a war, a bearded terrorist and a veiled woman.
My stretched mind remembers the mountains around Damascus, like a ring holding the city still....
It remembers the voice of Fairouz in the early Friday mornings....
It remembers the alleyways of Bab Toma and the corners of Mezzeh. 
The taste of Arabian coffee lingers in my brain, while your brain can only imagine the destruction and the death.
In your head, no matter what I do, my country is an illusion, it's a concept.
My memories are beyond your reach, drunken stranger. 
So leave me be. 
Stop asking me where I'm from. 
Even if I replied to your inquiries, you'll never know the true answer.
I'm from now! 
I'm the son of THIS moment, right NOW.
Vancouver is my home.
And if you don't like this answer, that's YOUR failing, not mine.

Web extra: Rosalinda Paredes narrates her mother's poem, "Cantos Lejanos / Faraway Songs"

Day 6 - Dec 26 - refugee panel collage

(left to right) Marianne Thuy Nguyen, Danny Ramadan and Rosalinda Paredes. They all arrived in Canada as refugees, and are now sponsoring Syrian refugees.

Rosalinda Paredes and her family escaped from Chile and arrived in Sarnia, Ontario in 1975. Her mother, Teresa León  Paredes, spent many days alone, writing poetry, while her seven children were at school. "Cantos Lejanos" or "Faraway Songs" is one of her poems, narrated here by her daughter, Rosalinda.