Eleven years ago, I hated the thought of going to Canada.

Eleven years ago, I was eleven years old, and a new immigrant. I had my mother, father, and three-year-old sister, and English to defend myself.

My family set foot in Canada at noon after a twelve-hour flight with Philippine Airlines, two weeks after 9/11. We didn’t get out of YVR until 3 pm. (Boy, were we lucky, since security everywhere and even getting in Canada was harder after that time!)

“Canada?” I didn’t even know what country that was…apparently, it was “new”.

We had a despidida (farewell party) a week before we left, but my father had a full disk in the video camera, so we only have photos to sustain our memories. The night before leaving, we did not sleep. We had friends and family over at our house. My 2 best friends were surprisingly allowed to sleep over, and we vowed to keep the friendship going forever! BFFs indeed.

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This was the night before the flight!

The morning we had to leave, we had at least 5 vehicles packed with friends and family (also our luggage). Everyone was in good spirits, yet it was a bittersweet moment, filled with “goodbyes” and “until we meet again”. We didn’t even know when that would be.

I jokingly-but-not-really told my family that I wish that we’d miss the flight, so we don’t have to go to Canada. At eleven years old, I was convinced that I had the best life ever: I was going to a private Catholic school, was surrounded by many friends, had both my Fetalino and Ramirez side on my side, got all the clothes, accessories, and all the cutesy stationery I ever wanted.

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Look at how young we were! This was a few minutes before we got on board.
I was told that I needed binoculars…this was during the days when I was part of the “Scientifically Inclined Students Club”.

I hated the thought of going to Canada.

I hated the fact that I had to go to a public school. I hated how everyone hated what I was wearing (umm, wearing Hello Kitty, and Power Puff Girls were cool during that time, in the Philippines, okay? They’re “signature” clothes 😉 ). I hated how I left my friends a year before gradding….from elementary. I hated how I’d no longer spend time with my cousins. I hated how Tita could no longer spoil me. I hated how Nanay and Tatay can no longer be just two doors down. I hated how I could no longer “beautify” Owa. I hated that we would now miss every major occasion, especially Christmas reunions.

Especially Christmas reunions!

Our first Christmas in Canada was the toughest. In Filipino families, Christmas is THE time of the year where the best of everything happens. Our families were celebrating with Secret Santa presents, laughing over “Meron o Wala” games, flaunting their holiday gear, and of course getting fat before the New Year. Meanwhile, we were dressed in red and “frolick(ing) and play(ing) the Eskimo way”…yet not even the fake Santa at my dad’s work cheered me up. It was not the same!

Do I still hate being in Canada?

Of course not! Canada has given us so many opportunities that my parents had promised me, but I was too young to understand then. Ultimately, I know they made the biggest sacrifice, leaving the place they’ve lived in for over 3 decades, leaving family and friends, leaving careers and other opportunities, and leaving dreams they might have had then, to move over to a foreign land where family means just me and my sister. In Canada, people with dreams, hopes, and aspirations are encouraged to chase after them. We’re given the opportunity that attracts immigrants like my parents to leave everything they have for something that they could have. It’s a gamble. I’ve seen it not work for everyone. Yet in Canada, we celebrate diversity, more than anywhere else I’ve ever been to. And I’m grateful to “our home and native land” for giving immigrant families like us the chance to start over again, or simply start.

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Our first Christmas in Canada at Papa’s work Christmas event

I’ve been to Manila four times since 2001. The first, in July 2004, when Owa passed away. Next, in August 2008, after graduating…this was our first trip back home as a family since we left (Papa didn’t join us in 2004.) The next one was in September 2011, when Nanay got diagnosed with cancer, and Tatay was so frail. Finally, just this year in June I went…for my best friend’s wedding, but also to break the cycle of only visiting during hard times. Every single time I visit, I grow a bit and bit more, and understand the differences/similarities between the Canadian and Filipino experience. Every single time I visit, there’s a strong sense of nostalgia, but also a wide curiosity of how the Philippines is like — I am a tourist. However, it also feels like every time I visit, it’s a final goodbye to a loved one.

I’d like to dedicate this post to those who’ve contributed to the best childhood ever, but are no longer there to hear me even say it:

  • Owa
  • Tita Flora
  • Nanang Reming
  • Uncle Tito
  • Nanang Luming
  • Tatay
  • Nanay
  • and to everyone else we’ve lost while being so far away.

Thanks to everyone who’s made my past eleven years in Canada so memorable, and for proving my parents right. We are here for our future, and I feel blessed that we were given this opportunity. Over the past eleven years, I have met those whom I’ve laughed with, cried over, bitched about, had a heart-to-heart with, talked on the phone with (remember when people actually TALKED on the phone!), had all-nighters with,  ….you’ve added to my story and turned me into the weirdo I am today (yes, you are a bit responsible). And you’ve made me feel that I could also call Canada home. And to everyone else, I have yet to meet or do those mentioned above with, good luck! But I have not forgotten my roots either — salamat po and until we meet again 😉

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3 thoughts on “Eleven years ago, I hated the thought of going to Canada.

  1. wow! wonderful, profound, nostalgic recount of 11 growing up and wizening – up years! great you did this synthesis! not everyone does or even is able to ! you are indeed, marvelous and a different cut! glad you see a balanced and holistic picture of your life and appreciate the blessings and lessons of your journey! hold on! there’s more to come and stay grounded as you persist learning, knowing, unraveling the real and best you! and grip the hands and whatever may be shared by those you meet and touchbase with along the way. there’s always much to learn and savor from everyone and everything, as long as we allow ourselves to be open, candid and most important: HAVE FUN!

    ENJOY LIFE! SAVOR YOUR DREAMS! PURSUE YOUR STAR!

    LOVE YOU ALWAYS,

    TITA

  2. A simple comment from Wayne Nowlan ” Justine’s presentation was absolutely beautiful. What an inspirational young woman she has turned out to be. She is a great Canadian. ” –

  3. this write-up of yours has indeed squeezed my heart ! such profoundness !!! the more that it proves that we made the right decision ….. coming to Canada was a right choice then…. for you and Bea ! you’ve gone a long way since then and has achieved so much at this point and again reached another milestone in your life … getting your degree in Professional Communications! Go On, Spread your Wings n Fly n as we always say ….. We’ll Always be the WIND BENEATH YOUR WINGS !!!

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