The picture was captured almost 8 years ago, and I may look completely confused/incredibly sleepy but I can promise you my mind was on full alert (maybe I was just mad about my eyebrows).
In all seriousness though, I was overwhelmed with patriotism; about to permanently and officially call Canada “home”.
The political situation of the country I was born in was beyond dangerous in the year 2000, when we fled. And as Christian Iraqis, we were, and continue to be, a minority group in the Middle East. Factoring in the American invasion and the corruption within governance and everything in between, Iraq was not cut out for a good life.
You can find further insight of our story here in an article that was published by Inside Toronto a couple years ago.
We immigrated here from Africa in 2005, after my dad had worked in the United Nations for a couple of years. Here’s a biography post I wrote for more context.
That makes it almost 13 years ago, today. I vividly remember staring down from the airplane minutes before landing; pure white. I didn’t know what it was. On this Winter afternoon in the month of February my brother would ask, “Is that vanilla?” because we had never seen snow.
He had worn 5 layers on that plane trip, and refused to take any of them off until we reached a heated hotel room in Canada. Alan was the cutest little kid. Naturally though, I hated him; we were kids and I didn’t want to share my TV time with him because Treehouse was everything.
Now when we were young, I didn’t think being Iraqi would make us different. I barely knew what the word “background” meant when people asked me where I was from – I literally thought it meant your desktop background (screensaver) because my brother was obsessed with technology and that had an influence on me. But I mean you can’t blame a 7 year old for not considering the colour of her skin and the way her eyes aligned as an item of importance to justify behaviour, creativity, or personal value and worth in general.
As children, we behaved according to the nature of being human, oblivious to the importance of differences, or to some people the divise characteristics of differences.
My first day as a student in a Canadian classroom was bliss. I would go home to tell my mom all the rules I was excited to follow because I hadn’t felt so much love and respect in one classroom. The walls were all vibrant with affirmations, “God created you unique.” “You are capable of whatever you put your mind to.” “Love is patient. Love is kind.”
It was like visiting a house of possibility every day.
Welcomed in this place, I was given the opportunity to learn, to live, and to breathe without the fear of a bomb falling on the wall with all those affirmations taped on them.
I learned by seeking shelter from one country to the next that there is beauty in every single place and in every single people. I’m writing this today, on Martin Luther King Jr., Day, because I feel compelled to talk about how often our nationalism makes us feel exclusive. I love my roots, and I yearn to learn more about them, but I’d hate to let my pride for my ancestry take over the power of my empathy. There must be some sort of balance, if that’s what I can call it?
I should not be proud of what I am given rather I should be proud of what I can do with it. That is exactly what Martin Luther King Jr., did.
Being proud of your roots means you are grateful for the culture that unites you with others like you, sure. Being proud of your roots should not mean that you are grateful for being born one way rather than another. Whether it’s people who think immigrants should not be welcome here because their roots branch out a certain way. Or whether it’s one people against another because of the different-looking flowers the other may grow.
To the people who are fearful of outsiders, I was an outsider and you let me in. Consider how the world was a foreign place to you as a baby taking your first breaths outside your mother’s womb, but your family welcomed you.
Canada has given us the opportunity to live a life our parents probably never dreamed of. We are able to help people in ways today that were once beyond our imagination. I’ve learned what actually makes us more alike in the midst of tribulations; that we are all humans seeking to be loved, heard, and ultimately accepted.
I am a citizen of this world. You and I may have skin that colours us in one way or another but my humanity trumps my nationality.
Let’s be proud of being global citizens; people on this planet hoping to progress the world. Choose to be a global citizen. Earth is a beautiful place already, so let’s not change it. Rather, let’s better it. We have the spirit in us to make tomorrow greater than today.
What really tests your courage to let the walls down?
The way you express love in the face of hatred.
The way you forgive despite the hurt you have endured.
The way you accept others without fear that you will be overpowered.
I hope I become a global citizen to the fullest, looking past physical differences and dwelling in the blood and heart that makes me human.
“The tensions are not between the races, but between the forces of justice and injustice; between the forces of light and darkness.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
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