Huddled Masses Yearning....

Introducing the reforms he intends to make to immigration laws in the U.S., President Obama referred to the Statue of Liberty. "We didn't raise the Statue of Liberty with her back to the world," he said, reminding listeners of the pride with which the U.S. used to accept immigrants. But now, with the masses huddled along the southern border, or surging across it, not to mention those who arrived even decades ago and have been huddled somewhere outside the law, pride has turned to fear, to anger.
 Immigration is a problem for many first-world countries, especially at receiving locations where newcomers have to be processed, housed, given medical care. Political parties that favour stricter immigration laws are on the ascendance not only in the United States but also in Britain, France, Austria, and Switzerland. Italy struggles to deal with literal tides of Africans rolling in with the sea after perilous journeys. Nevertheless, war, gangs, tyrants local and national, withering poverty, and climate change refugees continue to replenish the stream of those who risk the very lives they are trying to better in boats, with the infamous coyotes, with gun toting vigilantes who take it upon themselves to patrol borders. You can't blame a person for wanting to improve his lot and the lot of his children, and in time, once the considerable tangles are sorted out, receiving countries are inevitably enriched. The language problems that plagued their parents are something the second generation - some of them stand-up comics - only joke about. You get your Apple Stores in which the only similar characteristics among staff are the red t-shirts with the white apples below faces of various skin shades and features: One old white guy, many young south and east Asians, a couple of blacks, a man who might be related to Mohammed Morsi. Nearby, across from the central branch of the Vancouver Library, whose collection includes books and journals in 16 languages - from Arabic to Vietnamese - there is a two-block stretch dominated by ethnic restaurants, including Ebi Ten Japanese fast food, SK Mediterranean Restaurant, Coco Noodle Express, Rolls Kitchen, Pasta and Pizza, Belgian Waffles, Creative Felafel, Orange Julius, Chopped Leaf offering rolls with southwest, Bankgok, Greek and Mexican fillings; also Japadog, Curry Fusion, Papa Beard Cream Puffs. And that's just one side of the street. While there has long been a TNT Market on the outskirts of a gentrifying Chinatown, with Chinese junk food and a huge seafood department, and teetering stacks of pre-wrapped sushi to go, there is now the H Market, with Japanese and other Asian specialities as well as cornflakes and ice cream and a well stocked produce department a block from the city's main intersection at Georgia and Granville Streets.
Immigrants en route to Italy.
     Typical Vancouver. In Canada, one out of five people are immigrants and the largest percentage comes from Asia, although 200 different ethnic origins were reported in the last census. To those who worry about a national identity when the population is composed of so many nationalities, it's a leap to accept that our diversity IS our identity. But the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who fostered Canada's multicultural policy during his time said,
     "National unity if it is to mean anything in the deeply personal sense, must be founded on confidence in one's own individual identity; out of this can grow respect for that of others and a willingness to share ideas, attitudes and assumptions. A vigorous policy of multiculturalism will help create this initial confidence. It can form the base of a society which is based on fair play for all."
     And offers plenty of eating out choices. My daughter recently fantasized about living in a small town. She wants a quieter life, but doesn't think she can give up ethnic food. Funny how acceptance starts with taste. How the effects of immigration are something we often experience first by literally swallowing them.
     Two images from one day: The owner of the local Chinese restaurant, Ming, hand in front of her mouth, embarrassed as she struggles with the unfamiliar pronunciation of English words during a tutoring session. Later, I unwrap a new computer that also began its journey in China.

(From the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, second stanza)

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
- Emma Lazarus

Chez Nous!

Two images continue to flicker in my mind: a small woman with greying hair poised on a cliff top above the Atlantic on a day so sparklingly luminous that the sea below might be the Caribbean. The green field where she stands is dotted with tiny daisies; slender, wild Margeurites sway in the taller grass behind. Below is a pocket of ochre sand where swimmers are taking advantage of this warm mid-May day. The woman points to the plant-choked trail her family used in the summers to get to the beach. She spreads her arms: Chez nous, she declares. Chez nous! This is us, the family's home; the parcel her ancestors were granted when France accepted 78 of the Acadian families that had been expelled from Canada, been taken prisoner by the English and spent 8 years in an English prison; victims of the ceaseless battles for power in that era between the French and the English. This happened almost 250 years ago and Maryvonne LeGac's family has remained on Belle Ile ever since.

The other image is of Maryvonne standing on the ramparts of the citadel at Le Palais, camera in hand, watching the drapeau Acadian, which hangs higher than the French flag, waiting for it to catch a breath of air and flutter out so that I can see the yellow star on the field of blue. "Bouges, bouges," she commands, to no avail. Later that same evening, at a meeting of the Acadian Association of Belle Île sur Mer,  the flag came into it again as a smaller version resisted the tape she was using to stick it to the wall behind the desk where she would preside over the annual meeting. President for nearly twenty years, she is an energetic advocate for memory. Earlier, as we came through the museum at the citadel, the back way, we encountered a group of French pharmaciens and a guide who was giving them the short version of  the Acadian history on Belle Île. She couldn't let him continue. He was getting his facts wrong, and so she broke in and rattled off a description of the expulsion, or Grand Dérangement, as it is known, the distribution of the expelled and the final arrival of the 78 families at Belle Île in 1766. The group spontaneously applauded her when she finished.

The sad story of the Acadians inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's classic poem Evangeline, and the wonderful novel Pelagie-la-charette, by Acadian writer Antonine Maillet. Evangeline is the romantic account of lovers separated by the Grand Dérangement; Pelagie is an epic tale of the return to Acadie. Despite Homeric-type challenges, some did make their way back, thanks to the strength of the fictional  Pelagie, a woman upon whom Mme. Legac might have modelled herself. The work she has done on behalf of the Acadian association won her the prestigious Médaille Léger Comeau last year.

Although it is the recollection of suffering that unites them, the story of Acadie has a happy ending. The Belleilois Acadians ended up with a lyrical place to live and raise crops and children and live out their lives. Some left voluntarily, to find more opportunities for numbers of the children in their large families, and peopled Louisiane, where they are known as Cajuns. Many of them have never left Belle Île, or have left and come back, bringing husbands or wives, inviting friends.  After the meeting near the Le Palais Mairie Saturday evening, after toasting one another and the occasion with sparkling wine, everyone repaired to a nearby crêperie for a feast of Coquille Saint Jacques, rack of Bell Île lamb, and crêpes piled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. A table consisting of  many Granger's, one of the original 78, broke out in song often during the meal. Everyone stood for the anthem of Brittany, and everyone joined in for:

"Viens voir L'Acadie, Viens voir le pays. Le pays qui m'enchante..."

A sign I saw at the Musée du Nouveau Monde a few days later, at La Rochelle, noted that Le Grand Derangement produced an effect opposite to what the English hoped for; instead of destroying their spirit, the trauma reinforced the Acadian sense of identity. A happy ending indeed.

Parfois je manque ma langue!

Here I am super-stimulated by my francoĥone environment, loving the excellent course I take/suivi - intermediate level French, designed for immigrants -- all kinds of opportunities to let myself be immersed, meaning I could watch TV in French at night,  listen to Radio-Canada in the morning. The latter I often do, but in the evening I feel too tired and lazy and find I miss the easy pleasures of my langue maternelle, my native tongue, langue literally meaning tongue. Does one have to live in Québec to understand the importance of language to identity, to the comfort in being oneself? My goal is to become truly bilingue. What a pleasure if will be if I can achieve that, enlarge my identity, my sense of self, the comfort I might feel in les deux langues officielles. What a country we have!