Monday, March 08, 2010

It was a big quake

Concepcion, Chile, from The Big Picture. Click to see a larger image.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The state of Canada

In the summer of 2006, when Lebanon was being bombed by Israel, those who could get out, did. Among them were a large number of Canadian citizens of Lebanese background. I sat beside some on the plane across the Atlantic -- as I was returning from Latvia at the time. This experience increased my anger with the Prime Minister's lack of concern about this illegal and inhumane bombing campaign and its effect on people he is responsible for and to.

Imagine my astonishment, then, when I was exposed on my return to loud complaints about these refugees when some of them -- I heard -- complained about the lack of response of their government to their urgent plight. It was strongly implied by some people that these were not real Canadians just holders of "passports of convenience." Others expressed the sentiment of "what do you expect, going to live in such a dangerous place?"

As an immigrant myself married to another immigrant, my perspective is quite a bit different, as you can imagine. That incident opens a whole raft load of issues; but at the moment I'd like to raise just one. What kind of country, I ask, is it that does not have a significant number of its citizens living and working elsewhere?

I don't really have to answer that question, because Canada is not an isolated country of that sort. Today, in the lead up to Canada Day on the first, the Globe and Mail is running a series of articles on the state of Canada and its place in the world. It is quite an amazing article and I recommend that you read it all. I will be back Monday for more. Today's installment, by Michael Valpy, has a lot to say about this issue of what makes a real Canadian. Not everyone will agree with this perspective, but it corresponds to many aspects of my own experience.

Here's what caught my eye in the article, with particular passages of importance bolded:
... Canada ... has arrived at multiculturalism Mark II and a generation of new adults who have moved decisively beyond nationalism to embrace a kind of transcendent planetary supranationalism. We are becoming the land of global citizens, by all accounts galloping out ahead of other advanced democracies.

It appears to be occurring within a broad consensus.

University of Montreal political philosopher Daniel Marc Weinstock, who studies globalizing cultures, says there is little evidence to suggest it is causing Canada problems. A recent Environics poll found nearly 70 per cent of respondents thought it was a positive thing for Canada's image that three million Canadians live outside the country.

Canadians comprise 10 per cent of the population of Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, more live as immigrant transnationals: maintaining a cultural and even physical presence in both Canada and the countries that they, or their families, may have left years earlier.

A huge majority of young Canadians - as well as a majority of all adult-age cohorts - say they want to live, study or work abroad, according to the same Environics poll done earlier this year.

Forty per cent of Canadians say they donate money to international charities. Twenty per cent say they send remittances to overseas relatives. An increasing portion of Canada's international trade comprises Canadian Diaspora entrepreneurs doing commerce with their original homelands.

I know that some Canadians, including friends of mine, will be ticked off by the notion of 10% of Hong Kong being "Canadian." "Passports of convenience" indeed! But the story is more complicated than one might imagine:

Queen's University geographer Audrey Kobayashi has studied what are now in some cases three generations of families who have moved back and forth between Hong Kong and Canada, for education, for business, for periods of residence.

They speak with Canadian accents - Prof. Kobayashi talks of being in Hong Kong business offices and hearing nothing but Canadian accents. They have deep emotional feelings for the land, a pride in Canada's public institutions, an engagement in Canadian affairs. Rooted in Canada, but from time to time living elsewhere.

I won't excerpt any more, but I will refer you to two other stories concerning former Chilean refugee Luz Bascunan and second-generation Indo-Canadian Radha Rajagopalan. Ms. Bascunan's story really speaks to me. I didn't come to Canada as a refugee, but I did come for a very specific purpose, to attend the best graduate program in medieval history in North America, and I thought I'd be leaving when that purpose was accomplished. When I was done, however, I found that I'd acquired a family, a family, I'll point out, which was divided between Canada and Latvia. I was living this version of the Canadian dream -- or at least the Canadian reality. (I think Canada's better at realities than dreams.)

I will end this piece by saying something about my own experience Nipissing University. The consensus of world outreach referred to in the article is evident here. The vast majority of our students come from Ontario, many of them from small places in the country or the suburbs. When they come to Nipissing University, the place seems quite diverse to them. I lived in Toronto for 13 years, and I have different standards of what counts as diverse, but I'm happy for these students, especially since they are happy about the diversity! And a great many of them want more: they are taking the opportunity to travel to other countries for study and then making a great success of it. University is supposed to be a gateway to the greater world and I'm glad we are fulfilling our function.

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