Raj Subramaniam – Markham, Ontario
I have always wanted to take a moment to write about this great country, and today seems like the perfect opportunity. I know many who cherish this land and hold tremendous pride when carrying our Maple Leaf, however, I would like to take a moment to share my experiences coming to this country and what it has meant to me. I always get goosebumps holding the flag and while saying “I am Canadian”. My whole body chemistry gets excited when I write the word “Canada”. The amount of pride that I have when I roam around other countries with my Canadian passport is something I can’t describe, but something that one needs to experience.
It is so upsetting to see first, second, third generation Canadians speaking against Canada for their own political interests. Sometime, it makes me feel so sad thinking that someone whose own parents were born in this country can still spew such venom when speaking against one of our land’s policies or institutions. Like each of us, we have our flaws and so does our entire system. But, that does not mean we are perfect; neither is the country. Unfortunately, our past history, blunders, and mistakes pose themselves as obstacles to overcoming our past and celebrating this great country.
I am Tamil-Canadian. Came to this country on a specially arranged Ministerial permit with family (technically as a refugee). My dad was political asylum claimant in Canada. I along with my family had been internally displaced 10 times in my so-called homeland, Sri Lanka. I was only 14 when I arrived in this country. I was a refugee running from not only the Sri Lankan government’s occupation, but also the Indian Army who had come to our island in the name of peace but then started to hunt us down like wild-animals. The Indian army had been recruiting members of the TNA (Tamil National Army) to work as their pawns and I was on their recruitment list at that time.
I was in the eighth grade when I lost most of my friends. The majority of them were killed by the Indian Army who had come to SL in the name of peace. In 1986, I lost some of my friends and their families who had lived across from my house in Jaffna.
The following year, we made the wise call to listen to one uncle who had knocked on our door and asked for us to leave with him since the Indian Army was moving from their installment at Jaffna Castle. It was mother’s decision to follow him, and I credit her for being the reason that I am alive today to share this story. We took the bus to the end of the Jaffna Peninsula where we boarded smaller boats to seek refuge in Islet, a safer area which bore less tactical significance to the armed combatants.
When the dust settled, we moved back to Jaffna. I realized that most of the friends that I had once known had vanished. I went to the famous Jaffna Hindu College, where I partook in a Hindu ritual ceremony for all the bones found in the Jaffna Hindu College’s playground. Apparently a multitude of the students were killed and then burned in the playground. Among the dead were missing Tamils, who had been raped by the Indian Army. Thankfully, our family had been fortunate to escape prior to the massacre. In reflection of these events, I am sure that very few Canadian-born citizens would be able to draw personal parallels to such tragedy.
Before the Indian Army’s savage intervention, we had been victims of our very own government – the Sri Lankan regime. In 1985, we had been living mostly in bunkers. My grandmother used to sit in front of the bunker, and would tell us that if any shell exploded it would be on her. She always demonstrated extraordinary courage in an effort to protect the rest of us. It was a daily occurrence during this period to hear the Tamil fighter’s horn signals from Jaffna. At this time, it was not only the LTTE cadres, but many unaffiliated fighters and smaller organizations battling against the SL government’s oppression. At the bunkers, we would set-up lights, a mini library, and of course we’d also prepare some dry fish to eat if we were stuck there for a prolonged period of time. Sadly, many people died not only from the indiscriminate shelling but from snake bites, since the bunkers proved to be a safe haven for these slithering creatures. Nonetheless, enduring the economic blockade was the most challenging experience – critical foodstuffs and necessary medicines were banned
Many times I had seen my neighbors’ homes destroyed by shelling from the Jaffna camp and I would join a group in going out to recover the victims and help lift their lifeless body parts into the trucks. It was heartbreaking and very emotional experience, especially for me since I was still a young teenager. The “what if” question would always cross our minds… “What if the Sri Lankan military had launched its artillery from one inch behind?” We would have been the victims! Fortunately, we were blessed with luck and lived to see another day. Sadly, others were not so lucky and lost their lives before being able to tell their stories.
We came to this country and faced innumerable struggles. It was by no means an easy feat to pull ourselves back together. We were real refugees, and genuinely blessed that Canada had accepted us. I along with my siblings struggled to learn English as a second-language. It wasn’t easy… and on top of that we had to deal with racism from almost all of the other ethnic communities. I was bullied almost daily by even my non-white peers. It was really hurtful and made me angry.
To our credit, my siblings and I persevered and all of us completed our undergraduate degrees here in Canada. To have achieved this success, I thank my parents for their sacrifices and the Veterans who have fought with heart and soul for Canada. If Canada had not been there for us, we would have been killed off.
Today, I have three beautiful children, all of whom are citizens of this great country, I have tried my best to raise them with a deep-rooted love of country, to be upstanding citizens and patriotic. Nevertheless, I have my reservations in doing so. My worry is that like other children born in this country, they may be blind to what the rest of the world looks like, and end up taking Canada for granted. This is where people like you and I need to speak out and share our other stories of pain and hardship, to inform our children of how lucky they are to be able to embrace their Canadian identity.
I see my children fail to clean their plates when they are done eating. It annoys me greatly. I always make a point to remind them of the ‘other’ world where children have no access to the most basic needs such as a single meal and water. Having such lovely meal in peaceful environment is truly a gift. We cannot let these young folk take it for granted. In addition, we must instill with them the importance of honoring those who fought for their freedom and made such significant sacrifices to defend this country against those who sought its annihilation.
I used to remember our first encounter with the Indian Army personnel. When they usually did spot checks on all of the houses, they would ask us “Why struggle when you have house, water, food and all that…” We would always want to tell them that we struggled for something that was NOT there – Freedom! The freedom, which I proudly enjoy in my country, Canada. The very freedom made possible by our veterans, our soldiers and their families.
I ask everyone especially Tamil-Canadians to teach your children about the significant contributions made by those fighting for our borders. Their ultimate sacrifices to secure our great country is why we are alive and doing well. If they have been not able to come to this land. Our children and our future generations needs to be aware of their suffering for our future.
Many of them asked what Canada means to me. After coming all the way here in Canada as refugee and running away to survive, the one thing that I learned the minute I landed in this great land is that ‘always’ stand up for your rights. This is the very message I tell those who were unable to escape SL to take forward. One day you may liberate yourselves, and upon attaining sovereignty, you must champion the principles of freedom and democracy, while respecting all peoples’ fundamental Human rights.
You may be a third generation Canadian – born on this soil – yet bear no love of country due to your ignorance. But trust me, the experience of people like I prove the fact that Canada is the greatest country on earth. I have experienced both sides, I know what it means to be Canadian.
On this Canada Day, I would like to convey on behalf of my family to the families of those who fought to defend, those who lost their loved ones in the battles, those who have their sons and daughters still at the mission, THANK YOU FOR your service. Yours, your loved ones’ sacrifices will never been forgotten.
Happy Canada Day – Bonne Fete du Canada!
Article By:Raj Subramaniam– Markham, Ontario