(August 22, 2009) – I was returning from a short road trip to the U.S. to attend a friend’s wedding.
This is a routine question that the border officer asks every person presenting a Canadian passport to enter Canada.
However, answering this question made me experience flashes of memories and intense mixed emotions that have lasted with me till the day I’m writing this article, a week after he said it.
I immigrated to Canada four years ago, and just recently celebrated my Canadian citizenship.
This past trip to the U.S. was my first carrying the Canadian passport.
I immigrated as a skilled worker, and so I feel about my Canadian citizenship the same way I feel about my PhD – I’ve worked hard to earn it because Canada’s immigration laws welcome highly skilled immigrants.
Hence, I feel entitled to be treated equally in the same way as other fellow citizens who were born in Canada. After all, no one chooses where to be born, but I chose Canada as a country to settle in and now call it home.
I always think about the question of “homeland” and “belonging to a place”.
I was born in one city (City 1) decided by my parents who had the luxury to choose where their offspring would be born.
I grew up from birth in another city (City 2) where I completed all my education till university.
I have childhood and youth memories in each of these cities.
So, I feel that I belong to each one and that I am entitled to what each city has to offer its residents.
I belong to City 1 because I was born there and it is my parents’ home city.
I belong to City 2 because of my memories, friends, and education.
But, as I was finishing university, neither of these cities had what I was longing for – to live with dignity, stability, and being valued by society because of my contribution and not my family name.
My family name (paternal and maternal) is very well-known and respected in both Cities 1 and 2.
When I used to visit City 1, I would be treated like a princess because of my family name.
I have cousins who even tell me that I would be hired as a Dean of Science if I ever decide to go back and settle in City 1 because I have both, the PhD and the reputable family name.
For City 2, both of my parents are known in society because they belong to the hardworking class of foreigners and contributed for over 35 years to the service and education sectors.
Yet, in my pursuit of happiness and peace of mind, both cities didn’t have what I was looking for.
City 1 lacks the political stability that most people living in Western countries take for granted, and City 2 lacks the laws that respects rights of foreigners to settle and retire without having to return to one’s “homeland”.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention money because I would be employed in both cities in high paying jobs should I decide to live in either.
Some would say (and they do), that having money compensates for political instability and ill-treatment of foreigners.
I beg to differ, not because I think money is unimportant, but because I believe that as a human being, I deserve more than a paycheque at the end of the month.
I believe that the significance and value of human life is non-negotiable and should not be labelled with racial, religious or political terms that strip off its sacredness.
I also believe in the value of work and positive contribution to society and one’s own development, irrespective of one’s race or religion.
Hence, it was not satisfying for me to live in City 1 and feel that my life is constantly threatened and know that it’s my family name that is more important than my contribution in getting what I want.
It was also not satisfying for me to continue to live in City 2 after graduation knowing that my value as a working class foreigner will mean nothing when I am old enough to retire.
So, “Where is home, Ma’am?”, – for me it is the place where my humanity, dignity, choices and contributions are acknowledged, respected and valued.
So far, I have found in Canada what I was looking for, despite the sacrifices that all immigrants have to make for establishing a new life here.
It is exciting to be a new Canadian citizen and I thank my fellow citizens who congratulated and welcomed me to the larger Canadian family.
Dr. Hind Al-Abadleh is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University and became a Canadian Citizen in March 2009.