Remembering Without Borders – What Remembrance Day means to me as an immigrant

Posted by Miguel Santa Maria & filed under Identity.

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Whenever Remembrance Day comes around, there are three things that come to my mind as a Canadian immigrant. One of them is already a given: remembering the ultimate sacrifices men and women made in times of war or military conflict. The other two things, on the other hand, are personal problems that unnecessarily complicate the meaning of the day.

The first problem is that, in the past, I’ve received snarky (or legitimately puzzled) comments, like “why do you care about Remembrance Day? You’re not from here.” Mind you, this happens very rarely and thankfully not on an annual basis. Also, if you met the one or two people who asked that, you would understand why their condescension is not limited to that single question.

The second is the problem of poppies. Though it is the primary symbol of this solemn day in our history, not everyone wears them. Now, no one is obligated to wear the poppy – people have their own ways of reflecting or honouring those who have suffered from conflict. However, thinking back to the two people that opted to ask me the above question, it leaves me wondering about those who actively ignore its importance. This is especially regarding those in my position as an immigrant who truly feel they owe nothing to Canada’s soldiers who laid down their lives for this country.

And here’s the mistake of anyone in shoes similar to mine who thinks this way. People tend to forget that Remembrance Day is not just about owing people something. It’s also not exclusively meant for the Canadians in uniform.

This is not going to be that piece that slams people for not making the effort to see their local Remembrance Day parade. It’s still a free country; people are free to care or not care as long as no one else gets hurt. That said, if you find yourself fitting the criteria of those described above, consider this a pitch as to why you should at least be a little less apathetic. This is especially if you are new here in Canada because, really, it should not matter at all if you are.

It’s true: I’ve only lived here for six years and became a Canadian citizen just a year ago. None of my relatives were here during The Great War when Canadian troops took Vimy Ridge in France. They also weren’t here to listen to the radio and hear about Canada storming Juno Beach in World War II. My grandparents did, however, fear for their lives in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation during that latter war, when cruelty like the Death March was occurring there. Speaking of the Japanese, despite being on the Axis powers of that war, the amount of civilian casualties during the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings is beyond tragic. And the cycle continues into the present day, be it 9/11 only a decade ago or civil war in Syria.

The point is simple: war is hell. It matters not where you’re from, when you were born, who you are, your race, your identity, etc. War ruins a tremendous amount of lives, and it does so in a tremendous amount of ways. Unfortunately, it also happens that soldiers – whether Canadian or not – are at the front end of that crude stick. Not only do they become victims like many other non-military personnel during those times, but they have to be the ones actively delivering that suffering as well. Most important of all is that they signed up for it. It takes a lot of will to do that, knowing immediately what you gain to lose or need to do unto others. All for the sake of protecting what they hope is the greater good.

Then again, there are also those who heed the call of duty with the intent to deliver unhinged cruelty. War crimes like the Holocaust or American troops abusing Arab prisoners prove that. Indeed, it’s hard to acknowledge any military sacrifice when dirt like that comes to light. Yet, it only makes Remembrance Day all the more precious – to acknowledge and ensure that we all try our best to avoid making the same mistakes.

So why should I, as an immigrant, still care about Remembrance Day? Because nobody strictly calls it “Canadian” Remembrance Day. Peace is not a sole responsibility – it is a collective one. The same thing goes for the pain and mistakes that follow such responsibilities. Thus, our appreciation for this peace, the denouncing of wars, and the recognition of anyone that endured those conflicts – by choice or not – should go beyond borders or generations.

With that in mind, I personally do not blame anyone being passively indifferent to the meaning of this important date. It is natural for everyone to want to keep their minds on something a lot less depressing. Yet, it makes a world of difference to – even for just a few seconds – at least learn from the burden many others endured, and that many continue to endure, to ensure we maintain peace of mind, no matter our national affiliation.

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