Whenever Canada’s national anthem is played, be it on television or live, I get emotional, with eyes welling with tears. Canada has been my home since 1972. Born in Zanzibar, growing up in Dar es Salaam and making home in Calgary has been my story Out of Africa.
The day I became Canadian citizen was the best day of my life. Here I was with my young family, proudly holding Canadian flags and singing my newly-memorized national anthem, envisioning a happy, wonderful and prosperous life ahead. Yes, Canada, I haven’t been disappointed.
This Canada Day, I want to express my thanks to this country which opened its doors to Uganda Asians who were fleeing from dictator Idi Amin’s brutal regime. This was the first time that Canada allowed 6,000 non-white immigrants. Those of us who lived in Tanzania and Kenya at the time took Amin’s action as a wake-up call to leave before we faced a similar fate. The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Shia Ismail Muslims, who was a great friend of the then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, facilitated the entry of Ugandan Asians, followed by those from Tanzania and Kenya. Canada received hard working Ismailis and others who have always been loyal to the country of their adoption.
I am pleased that unlike my younger brother, a medical doctor, I didn’t choose to go to the United States. In words of President Trump, I, a “shithole” immigrant from Tanzania, chose a safer, peaceful, safer Canada over the violence-friendly U.S. for permanent residence, helping in my own small way to build bridges, not walls, among different races.
I was disappointed and upset when I didn’t get my first newspaper job in Canada because I didn’t have the so-called “Canadian Experience.” Several years of senior editorial experience and British journalism training were considered worthless. Another personal setback was when I was called, “Paki, go home,” on the main street of Edmonton, one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in Canada. I chalk these incidents to experience of a new immigrant. On the other side of the scale, I am appreciative and indebted to numerous Canadians who have been helpful and welcoming to me and my family.
I came to Canada as a 29-year-old young man full of enthusiasm, energy, aspirations and with only $1,000 in my pocket, and a two-year-old son and a wife to begin a new chapter in my life. I have spent more years in Canada than in the country where I was born, Tanzania. Asians from East Africa were fortunate that, thanks to British colonial policies, we had good western education, allowing us to assimilate easily. Canada received well-educated, professionals fluent in English and familiar with Canadian values and staunch beliefs in core democratic principles.
I am grateful that Canada has allowed me to practice my profession in journalism and enabled me to achieve my ambition of being the only mainstream weekly newspaper owner of colour in Canada, publishing for a quarter century. Being Canadian fortunately has been consistent with my Ismaili faith, beliefs and practices of volunteerism. To be Canadian is to feel compassionate for others, especially for those who have had to flee the country of their birth and seek a better, new life for themselves and their children. To be a Canadian means to help other immigrants and refugees settle with ease while enjoying freedoms of speech, religion and association.
The recent events of anti-racism and brutal treatment of Blacks and indigenous people by police have obviously placed a new responsibility and obligations on us as Canadians. We cannot allow these inhuman and tragic incidents to continue. No Canadian should feel comfortable and not do anything about it. George Floyd’s death in the United States at the hands of police officers has not been in vain as it has sparked tremendous outpouring of sympathy, demands for action and reform of the justice system. We must capitalize on these sentiments and public awakening to bring the needed reforms.
As Nelson Mandela put it, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
The pandemic has given me the time to think and evaluate what it means to be a proud Canadian. Canada is one of the most successful examples of pluralism and a welcoming country to refugees and immigrants seeking a bright future. The challenge before us is to help those Canadians who have been disadvantaged and who do not seem to live life to their fullest extent. We have to cultivate a tremendous sense of community and get involved in numerous opportunities for voluntary service that are available.
As citizens, we are part of a group with legal and political rights within that group. At the same time, we should not forget that with these privileges, we also have some obligations because a nation is only as healthy as its individual citizens. As good citizens, we have to contributes by being productive and active in our community.
As good citizens, we also have to be patriotic, brush up on the country’s history, stand up for what is considered to be wrong and defend those who cannot defend themselves, show camaraderie with fellow Canadians by volunteering and making donations to charities, proudly singing the national anthem whenever you get a chance and this Canada Day, fly the Canadian flag as a sign of duty, obligation and thankfulness for living in such a great country.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist and author of Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.