By: Kuru Aravinthan
It’s been almost 25 Years since I was sitting by Lake Ontario with my son when he shouted, "Dad, run;” and started running to hide under a bush. I didn’t know why he was yelling, but I chased after him and eventually caught up with him. I asked him why he was running. Scared and shivering, he pointed out to the sky and said “Helicopter coming!” I looked up and there was a small black helicopter slowly passing by, and then I realized why he was so scared.
I tried to comfort him, “Oh son, don’t worry; this is not like the country where you were born, this is Canada. You don’t need to get scared when helicopters fly over you because they won’t shoot at you.” I watched as he slowly calmed down and he gazed at the helicopter as it passed by. “Nothing happened,” my son said with a surprised smile. During the civil war in Sri Lanka we faced many life-threatening incidents that are hard to forget. In Colombo in 1983, a mob looted and burned our house to the ground. We fled our home and moved to Northern Sri Lanka, where we hid with family.
We became refugees within our own country. Slowly, the internal conflict escalated to a civil war with aerial bombings and artillery shelling. Almost every day we had to run and hide in a bunker. We eventually took our chances and escaped Sri Lanka, thankfully attaining asylum in Canada. Unlike back home, we found that “freedom is free” in this country, and we’re able to walk anywhere without fear. Regardless of our religion, race, or what have you, we’ve never felt persecuted. That’s why I love Canada.
Because the Canadian education system provides second-language classes, I was able to get a job as an International Language Instructor at the Toronto District School Board. I’m proud that Canada encourages second-generation children to learn their mother-language and preserve an important part of their heritage. Today, I am constantly reminded of the freedoms and luxuries afforded to me by previous generations. I appreciate the freedom to express myself where I previously couldn’t. I appreciate our health care and support systems where I previously had none. I appreciate everyone’s curiosity to learn about my culture and identity.
As a Tamil, we were raised in the Hindu faith, and we celebrated Thaipongal, a holiday like Canadian Thanksgiving. As a Canadian, I am happy that the Canadian government not only recognizes this holiday but has also declared every January as “Tamils Heritage Month” in respect for the contributions our community has provided to Canadian society.
It was 25 years ago, by Lake Ontario where I came to realize how lucky my family and I were to have been granted the opportunity to live here. Sometimes we forget that the necessities of a good life – health, safety, education, and freedom – are things we in enjoy in Canada but are rare in most parts of the world.
When I look at the quality of upbringing for my children in Canada, it’s hard to ignore all of the things we take for granted.