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Starting over from scratch

1 November 2007 at 09:04 | 783 views

Canada’s Governor-General reflects on what it means to be an immigrant and a woman.

By Her Excellency the Right Honourable MichaŽlle Jean

I was thrilled to learn that Women’s History Month 2007 is dedicated to women immigrants, especially as this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Citizenship Act.

The woman who stands before you has experienced the immigration process and she would like to speak to you from the heart.

I am from here, but I spent my childhood in another place.

And I have some happy, warm memories of that childhood.

But there are other memories too, memories that have left scars that cannot be seen. The neighbours who were burned alive. The friends who were arrested, never to be seen again. The streets we had to use to elude the authorities, to hide, or to save ourselves or our loved ones. The panic and fear that would grip us in the middle of the night. The escape - however unavoidable - to another, unknown, country.

How do you forget that? How do you push aside memories of another life, a life that has to be buried forever in order to be able to look to the future?

Starting over from scratch. That is what we did, my family and I.

Uprooted from her island home, with two children she had to raise alone, my mother rolled up her sleeves. She took odd jobs, accepting them with dignity, and was able to build up her strength and her resources to provide us, her daughters, a better life, far from the massacres and injustice.

My story is not unique. Countless immigrants who come to Canada share the same story.

Like so many others, my mother left everything behind so that we, my sister and I, could grow up in total freedom.

From her - from her journey, her choices and her courage - I learned that I did not have to live in fear or violence.

From her, I learned to never lose faith in my abilities. To carve my place as a woman - as a black woman - in a white society.

From her, I learned to always have hope, no matter what.

I found in Canada a place of unparalleled freedom. I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am to my mother for giving me this chance at life, nor will I ever take it for granted.

I have embraced every opportunity that this country of unlimited horizons has offered me.

The opportunity to get an education.

The opportunity to pursue a career I love and to be autonomous.

The opportunity to have dreams as big as Canada itself.

And the opportunity to devote all my energy and passion into serving my fellow Canadians.
The women who come to Canada from other countries enrich our understanding of life and the world on a daily basis. As do Aboriginal women, whose ancestors have inhabited this land for thousands of years, and whose unique perspective enhances our vision of the world.

The women immigrants who come to this country bring with them their insights, their opinions, their ideas about freedom, and their own struggles to overcome the obstacles that keep them- even in today’s world - from achieving autonomy and reaching their full potential.

In this country, where women have fought for and won their right to grow - as the Persons Case reminds us - and where they continue to carry the torch of equality, it is essential that we be sisters, allies, role models and sources of inspiration to one another.

At the start of the third millennium, I see feminism not as a battle between the sexes, but as an attempt to win our inner freedom, which must be achieved so that we are better able to think, speak and act.

Think. Speak. Act. Say yes to life. Go as far as our dreams will take us. Take risks. For ourselves. For those following in our footsteps. For the future and for the world.

As I said a few weeks ago at a forum here at Rideau Hall on women and leadership, the future of humanity and our hope for a better world rests on women’s shoulders.

To empower women is to empower society itself. I saw it with my own eyes in Africa, where the future of an entire continent depends on the daily efforts made by women.

The battles we have fought and continue to fight to ensure that our rights are respected are in themselves an affirmation of human dignity and are helping to put a human face on all of humanity.

Aung San Suu Kui is fighting one such battle today, alongside her fellow Burmese.
Democratically elected in 1990, she has been under house arrest for the past 11 years.
This woman - a woman of extraordinary fortitude and character, a woman who has won the Nobel Peace Prize - sees the essence of revolution, no matter what the cause, as a revolution of the spirit.

In 1995, in a pre-recorded message for the Beijing Conference on Women, she said that the increasing strength of women’s power in the world only makes humanity more just, more open and more tolerant.

The women we are honouring this morning are living proof of that.

Politicians, teachers, researchers, journalists, artists, militants: they represent the driving force for equality in civil society.

Through their actions, ideas and determination, they are making profound changes in society, in the example of five famous women, thanks to whom we are recognized as persons.

Mildred Burns, Shari Graydon, …laine Hťmond, Wendy Robbins, and Muriel Smith, as well as this year’s young recipient, Viviane Astudillo-Clavijo: may the example you have set encourage other women - as well as men - to continue the work that you have started and pursue your desire for justice in their own lives and in their own way.

Thank you.

Photo:The Right Honourable MichaŽlle Jean,Governor- General of Canada.

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