My community, my town – Strathmore – is sponsoring a Syrian refugee family. I am excited to be a part of their new lives, even if it is just in contributing to fundraising efforts like the upcoming Christmas Concert or extending a hand of friendship. I am so proud of those in my community who have stepped up selflessly to work on the behalf of people they don’t know.
We know a little more about the family now; they are educated professionals with children, travelling with elderly parents. I think about them often, worry about them and what they will face in our community, when I see such hate and fear-mongering bandied about casually on social media groups for Strathmore. It breaks my heart. I know I’m not alone.
Dear Syrian Refugees,
Welcome to Canada. Welcome to Strathmore in particular. I’m very glad you are able to join us here.
I, too, was an immigrant to Canada, though it’s harder for people to tell because English is my native language, and I’ve slowly lost my “southern” accent that so many teased me about when I first moved here. Also, my skin is white, so people automatically assume I’m safe. Maybe this is because I’m a woman, because heaven knows white men are perpetrators of an awful lot of violence.
At any rate, my journey was undoubtedly much easier than yours has been. For that I am sorry, because no one should have to suffer prejudice and indignities based on xenophobia and racism. I want to apologize for the things you may have heard from other white Canadians. They do not speak for us all, just as radicals and terrorists do not speak for all Muslims.
I do know what it means to lose everything and leave your life behind to start in a new place. Our tragedy was just a house fire. I used to think of it as a horrible devastation. We lost everything but the car in the driveway, the clothes on our backs and the animals I was able to get out of the house before the fire department wouldn’t let me back in. Now, I know that it was also one of the best things that ever happened to us, because it changed our lives and our minds, and we are all the better for it. We did not have to flee war. We did not have to run on foot across miles and miles of unforgiving land. We had a community that opened it’s arms to us and cared for us and we were really so, so lucky. But what I want to express is that maybe Strathmore can be that community for you. We moved here after our fire. We made friends, we started over, we grew to love it here.
I hope that for you, as well.
There is hope here. There are people who welcome you here, including myself and my husband. There are people here who offer friendship and support. You are not alone. You are not unwanted. You are not less-than. You deserve a second chance. You deserve respect. You deserve a good life.
My heart breaks for all of the refugees who have fled Syria amidst the horrible atrocities happening there. Every day I look at photos and stories on social media and wonder why people are so angry at you and fearful of you. You are us. You are just like us. I don’t fear you. I don’t hold anger in my heart. I know that you hate terrorism as much as anyone else – it’s why you are homeless, looking for a fresh start, looking for a place where you can feel safe. Where you can feel at home. Where you can find joy again, where you can live again, where you can find friends and a new family to embrace you. Tears roll down my cheeks because I wish I had more money, more resources, more of a means to help those who are suffering.
But what I have to offer is my open arms. If you like to read, please come to our local book club. If you like to write, our local writer’s group welcomes you. I belong to both of these and know the hearts and minds of the members. We’d love to have you. And if you ever need a friend, I’m here.
Welcome to Canada. Welcome to Strathmore. Welcome home. Here is to a fresh start. Here is to finding safety again.
With Love and Respect,
One of your new neighbors
P.S. – If there is one thing I would ask of you, it’s that you try to find forgiveness in your hearts for the people who are being so cruel to you during this, likely the hardest period in your lives. They are coming from a place of ignorance and fear, and perhaps one day they will be terribly ashamed of their actions, much like the people who were against the civil rights movement in the US during the 1960’s. But whether or not they find shame, redemption, change their ways… I ask that you forgive them anyway. For you. I know what it means to carry that feeling of shame because someone else has spoken badly of you. I know what it means to have people hate you because of something someone else said. I know what it means for them to throw hateful words in your face and not know what to say. And I know that forgiving it and letting it go means peace for you. Treating hatefulness and ignorance with love is the most powerful thing you can do to heal your own heart. Don’t forget, but forgive. Because you deserve a heart full of peace.
For those near and far who disagree with me, please remember this: