The phrase “come from away” shows Atlantic Canada’s best and worst.
There is the positive Come from Away, the new Canadian musical that is now on Broadway and a 2017 Tony Award winner. It’s the true story of Gander, Newfoundland, a small town that welcomed 38 diverted flights and 7,000 passengers from around the world when the 9/11 attacks closed North American airspace.
“Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships,” say the writers.
And there is the negative “come from away,” describing the common Maritime attitude that was highlighted candidly in the Ivany Report and echoed by community leaders as one of the reasons integration is difficult for newcomers in Nova Scotia: there are “negative attitudes and even racism when it comes to welcoming new people into our communities and hiring people ‘from away.’”
Nova Scotians also rallied together to welcome diverted flights on 9/11 and more recently Syrian refugees. This is at a time when the Western world is facing a rise in nationalist, anti- immigrant, Islamophobic, and neo-Nazi attitudes. We’re seeing a great tide of dangerous misguided hatred and discrimination but fortunately we are relatively far from the worst of it.
The axiom “your perception is your own reality” puts it plainly. I refuse to accept the notion that because of a few unwelcoming loud voices and negative elements newcomers cannot be successful here. There are several examples of newcomers’ successes despite this. It boils down to the newcomer’s perseverance, persistence, abilities, and risk tolerance.
How hard was it raising money to relocate and immigrate?
How big was the investment to move here?
How high were the risks you took to take this chance?
How emotionally challenging was this decision to go away from friends and family or your supporting network?
How challenging was adapting to the weather, the language, and the new culture from your own?
If you’re in Nova Scotia reading this it means that you had the right answers for most of these questions.
Some would consider their immigration decision a success story on many levels personally and professionally. Others may think they’re not much better off than they were at home, but their kids and family are and definitely will be in the future. That it is a worthwhile sacrifice made for family.
Immigration can be for a social decision, an economic decision, or both. I immigrated from a place that didn’t protect equal rights or basic liberties and freedoms. It was a priority to move to a place that takes those things seriously.
Sometimes it surprises me to see trampling on rights in Canada like I first saw in my homeland. But such abuses are uncommon. And we’re free to question it, talk about it, address it, and try to fix it.
Studying philosophy gave me one of life’s “aha” moments as an immigrant; I read Thomas More’s Utopia that proposed an ideal society.
It emphasized egalitarian principles of equality in economics, government, and justice regardless of social background, ethnicity, or gender. It preached economic freedoms as the fundamental right of every human to be able to control their labour and property.
What I thought is that this old masterpiece is near reality in Canada today. We’re free to work, produce, consume, and invest as we please.
We all know about the uncertain global economy and how Canada’s demographics compare to the world’s largest countries. Having more immigrants and creating a more welcoming environment is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a must-do strategic decision if we want to keep our prosperity and way of life, creating sustainable economies and communities.
I recently contributed to The Century Initiative, with its vision of a “competitive global nation of 100 million Canadians unified by diversity and prosperity.” It highlights the importance of strategic population growth, the need to change the old closed and protected colonial patterns with an open global social order.
I am a “come from away.” It’s a fact that I can’t change. I have no issue with it. I do not feel any less because of it. I’m from away, but Canada is now my home.
You are home now. Act accordingly!