Border Issues

Another one of my former EAL students recently received her Canadian citizenship and I'm so happy for her.  Applying for a passport will be the next step.  It’s been a long and tedious journey. Dealing with bureaucracy takes tenacity and patience.  Her new-found Canadian pride reminds me of how fortunate I am to have a passport and to not have border issues … at least not with most countries.  Borders around the world seem to be growing in importance.  How did that John Lennon song go?

 “Imagine there's no countries/It isn't hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too."

My mom's family: fresh arrivals in Winnipeg 1953

Winnipeg attracted many European immigrants back in the late 1940s and 1950s. I remember the term DPs quite well. It wasn’t a positive label. DPs, often Eastern Europeans, came to Canada after the war to avoid repatriation to the USSR.  Resettlement in our overcrowded city was marked with language issues and financial strains. 

My mom’s family experienced decades of homelessness and went from displaced people, (as kulaks) to migrants (as orphans), to refugees (fleeing war), to forced labourers (war reparations) to migrants again (to Germany) to Permanent Residents (in Canada), to full citizens (in Canada). 35 years of not belonging. 

At the former border between East and West Berlin

This rootlessness probably started back in the 1860s when my great-grandparents migrated from the Gdansk/Danzig area to settle in newly opened farmland of the Volhynia area. In Volhynia they stayed long enough to establish not only villages but an infrastructure filled with schools, churchs and business.  They stayed enough years to call Volhynia home. 

Then in the 1930s, Stalin forcibly ‘resettled’ kulaks into Siberia and other remote areas. (See Red Stone)  A few years later, family in pieces, my mom and her siblings crossed the border from Soviet Ukraine into East Prussia (explored in Broken Stone). Later, in 1945, she crossed the border back into the USSR.(Crow Stone) A 1947 travel visa let her travel to Soviet-occupied Frankfurt an der Oder. She then needed to do an illegal border crossing into Western Europe, where she registered as an official ‘refugee’. 

She had no documents to prove her birthplace. The refugee category allowed her to obtain eventual German citizenship and further, an opportunity to immigrate to Canada. It took her until 1964 to get her Canadian citizenship. (A scene in my new book!) She was so proud of her Canadian document and of her new passport.  

I cross international borders without much worry except about the carry-on liquids I carry.  Passports are keys to safety, to opportunity and to new lives.  As long as there are borders, we will need passports to unlock the gate.

Now our country has new waves of immigrants, wanting only peace and freedom. Seems simple.


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