A former governor general hopes that her new book will give Canadians insights into the challenges facing immigrants to this country.
In Room for All of Us: Surprising Stories of Loss and Transformation (Allen Lane Canada), Adrienne Clarkson profiles several Canadians who overcame incredible adversity and managed to achieve a great deal. Eight are immigrants, and the ninth, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, was born shortly after his family moved here from Tanzania. There's a tenth profile of an Anglophone family with deep roots in the Quebec City area.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight, Clarkson emphasized that it's not a book about success; it's about overcoming setbacks.
"In order to get ahead, you deny a lot of trauma—or you don't deal with it," Clarkson said. Or, she added, it's not dealt with for the longest time.
She conceded that this was also true of herself. Clarkson's family left Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War, and she arrived as a refugee at the age of two.
Some of those profiled in Room for All of Us escaped harrowing circumstances in their home countries. Fred Bild, later a diplomat, was sent to live on a farm by his mother to avoid being slaughtered in the Holocaust.
John Tran, a cinematographer, left Vietnam on a boat and arrived with his family in Edmonton, knowing nothing of Canada.
NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan's family fled civil war in Sri Lanka when she was five years old.
Clarkson suggested that Canada's approach of "benign neglect" helps newcomers integrate over time.
"We are generally very kind," she said. "We don't want to hurt people and we don't make a point of making them feel bad, but we leave them alone. I think that's very important for acculturation."
Adrienne Clarkson explains why she wrote Room for All of Us.
The book opens with Nenshi, who has gone on to become one of Canada's most popular mayors after winning a surprising victory in the 2010 election. Clarkson explained that she wanted to start with the Ismailis, who escaped East Africa in the early 1970s during the rising pan-Africanist movement.
Many Ismailis traced their roots back to the Indian subcontinent, and moved to Africa during the colonial era.
The persecution was worst in Uganda, where Idi Amin ordered them out of the country in 1972 or face dire consequences. Then-Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau responded by welcoming the Ismailis to Canada, and many settled in the Lower Mainland.
Clarkson said that at that time, it was the largest influx of Muslims into this country. "They have an inclusive world view that has much volunteering in it," she added.
She described Ismailis as "a people of the diaspora", who've lived in Iran, Egypt, and South Asia. Clarkson noted that similar to European Jews and Chinese in Southeast Asia, Ismailis know what it's like to be under threat.
"They are very sensitive to that," she said.
The former governor general explains why she began her book by focusing on Ismailis.
She pointed out that Nenshi and some of the others in the book saw themselves as a "nerds" in high school. That didn't stop Nenshi's former classmates from rallying around his candidacy.
Adrienne Clarkson talks about Naheed Nenshi.
Clarkson also includes a section in her book on Corky Evans, a former NDP cabinet minister in B.C. Evans moved to the Nelson area to escape being drafted into the Vietnam War.
Clarkson was a television journalist for many years before becoming a diplomat and the governor general. "What I'm writing here is witness—my witness," she commented.
She recalled reporting on many of the events covered in her book. including the movement of draft dodgers into Canada, the exile of the Ismailis, and the arrival of boat people from Vietnam in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Adrienne Clarkson says it's important to remember our history.
She said that Canadian citizenship is based on the values of parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion.
"The eight people in my book come from places where they have been persecuted for those values," Clarkson declared. "These people, particularly, uphold these values."
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