Once An Immigrant is a personal look at one immigrant family settling in Canada in the ‘50s: The family is mine, and our story is laid bare (in my case, literally, but just for a second). My family’s journey is not everyone’s — it couldn’t possibly be — as with every new immigrant to our country comes a new story.
Our stories are diverse, but since finishing the documentary, I think there are some universal truths that apply to the Canadian experience.
We are all immigrants in Canada.
Any Canadian who tells you they are “pure Canadian” or even “more” Canadian than you is talking like a movie star who’s forgotten their original hair colour. We all came from somewhere else.
We all have baggage.
In fact, "Baggage" was a title for our documentary until we realized it sounded kind of cranky and we changed it. We were, of course, thinking of literal baggage that people bring, as well as emotional, racial and religious baggage.
Example: As my father’s country Poland was persecuted by the Germans, and my mother’s Ireland by the British, I inherited a certain animosity toward the Queen and the Teutons. I, however, had much less resentment toward them than my parents did. My kids have virtually none.
This is what happens to a Canadian: we throw away unneeded baggage. (We also try to recycle, but in this case we make an exception). The extinction of prejudice and bias may take a generation or two, but we’ve found it’s worth it.
We are all one in mind, different in body.
Walk down the street anywhere in Canada and you will see different faces. Look closer and you will also see different races, religions, same sexes (or not) holding hands and pushing baby carriages. This is also supposed to happen to Canadians. We call it: “Just getting along, eh?”
Multiculturalism and inclusivity are our strengths, not a liability.
Any Canadian worth his maple-syrup-stained-lapel flag will tell you that the food, art, distinctiveness of cultures, mix of cultures or orientation and beer, floats our collective boat.
We are joiners.
Our history starts with First Peoples. Then the French came. Then the British. Then a whole diverse lot of people from all over the world arrived who actually wanted to call our cold little corner of the earth home.
Our recipe for success grew from tolerance of more than one group — and the acceptance and wealth of a mélange. We are only as good as the sum of our parts and only as weak as our weakest link.
Immigrants will likely call their country of origin ‘home’ — maybe even to the end.
And that’s okay with us. And good for the travel industry! Mind you, when they do take that trip "home," they usually return with a new appreciation of Canada. So remember: If it’s your parents reminiscing about “home,”they might just be remembering the country they left behind years ago. Things have changed since then (and so have they).
If you are the first-born Canadian child of immigrants, you’ll be driven to succeed: This is highly encouraged by and for all Canadians, especially by their first generation parents! In fact it might be the first thing you hear when you become Canadian.
Canada is not utopia.
But I have travelled to 32 countries in my lifetime and, from what I see, it’s the best thing humans got going these days. Most especially, like my dad says, we have the WILL of the people to make it better. As immigrants, many of us are happy to get a “do-over” here in Canada.
One of the best things about Canada is the land we have.
Escaping to the country is a rite of passage: buy a tent, rent a lakeside hotel room or cottage for a few days. They are available at all price ranges. You’ll see what we mean! The peace, loon calls, and fresh air will make your heart swell for Canada! Promise. This is Canada’s secret and you will now share it.
If you hear the term ‘Canadian values’ what we mean is that immigrants are a value to Canada. You belong here.