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Quebec is my home too…

- An allophone’s perspective

I came to Montreal at the age of 5, right in the middle of the huge 97’ ice storm. For someone who had lived in a hot temperate weather like the one in Nepal, this was quite a welcome I received. In my 5-year-old eyes, the snow, the ice and yes, the cold, were things that were majestic - this was how Quebec welcomed me and it’s a welcome that I still haven’t forgotten today, 15 years later. Yes people complain about the cold and the snow but to me, it was never a source of complaint –it’s part of Quebec’s magic and still today, there is nothing more beautiful in my eyes than a cold December day, watching the snow swirl down from the comfort of my kitchen, sipping hot cocoa (and yes, I do realize that many drivers out there, including my parents, disagree to this!)  

  - An allophone’s perspective

Written by: Prativa Baral, Montreal, Published on: 10/4/2012

I came to Montreal at the age of 5, right in the middle of the huge 97’ ice storm. For someone who had lived in a hot temperate weather like the one in Nepal, this was quite a welcome I received. In my 5-year-old eyes, the snow, the ice and yes, the cold, were things that were majestic - this was how Quebec welcomed me and it’s a welcome that I still haven’t forgotten today, 15 years later. Yes people complain about the cold and the snow but to me, it was never a source of complaint –it’s part of Quebec’s magic and still today, there is nothing more beautiful in my eyes than a cold December day, watching the snow swirl down from the comfort of my kitchen, sipping hot cocoa (and yes, I do realize that many drivers out there, including my parents, disagree to this!) 

Today, more than 15 years after my initial welcome, I still live in Quebec and call myself a Quebecer. I essentially grew up here and Quebec is my home – it’s where I grew up, went through my teenage years and where I am at university right now. It has shaped me and built me into the woman that I am today- and so yes, I want Quebec to flourish and I do call myself a Quebecer at heart.

How can that be, you may ask. Well, I, my friends, am part of the ‘generation 1.5’. Everyone knows how tough and challenging it is for new immigrants to get settled in a new place: the language and culture barriers, being away from your family and from everything you’ve ever known  were all things that my parents had to laboriously go through and overcome. But what about the kids? Those that were born in another country but grew up here?  What do they think of Quebec?

I was kind of surprised to realise that most people don’t know what it’s like and so I, as a member of this generation 1.5, will tell you a little piece of my story. Having my parents go through so much undoubtedly changed me- it wasn’t just adapting to a new country and city that was hard on my parents – it was also the fact that their degrees from Nepal were essentially useless and that they had to restart from the beginning: learning French, taking courses, finding jobs etc. all had to be done while at the same time, raising a family. Just seeing all this was hard for me so I can only imagine how tough it actually was for them – yet despite all this, we stayed here. So many families that we knew back then moved to another province as soon as they discovered the huge language barrier. My family however found something so beautiful and so homely that kept us rooted here – and so we stayed.

I started school and French became my 2nd language – Nepalese being my 1st. Still to this day, I firmly believe that French is one of the most beautiful languages on Earth and I am so grateful to have had the chance to grow up surrounded in it. So much so, that I actually work as a part-time French-Nepalese interpreter for various organizations today!  I essentially think of myself as a Quebecer and when I’m out and about during my day, I don’t think of myself as any different than Quebecers who were born in Quebec. This is why it always shocks me when people hear me speak in French and are surprised that 1) I can speak in French and 2) that I don’t have an accent. This rarely happens in Montreal but when I am called for work out-of-city (in St-Jerome, Joliette or Sherbrooke for example), it’s a pretty frequent thing. Don’t get me wrong- it’s not an antagonist tone that I hear; quite the opposite in fact! People are flattered and impressed that I can speak it so well and I’m happy to receive the compliment even though a bit of confusion reigns in me – I went to school here, I grew up watching Ramdam and Annie Brocoli, reading Les Filles de Caleb and listening to Gilles Vigneault and Celine Dion – so why the surprise?

So it stings a little, especially during electoral campaigning, when I don’t feel as if I am being represented or that I matter. I hear so many things from so many different people. “Immigrants that can’t speak French shouldn’t be allowed to live in Quebec” – well my family and I couldn’t speak French when we first arrived and look at us now. “Immigrants should be assimilated” – assimilation has such a negative tone to it and I don’t like it being used on us. It’s not assimilation that immigrants require; any family who wants to settle in Quebec will eventually learn the culture and the language for the most part; it’s inevitable. Just by living in QC and by being exposed to schools, work, the festivals, the people etc., you become a Quebecer and there is no need, in my mind at least, to enforce rules and to pass laws to force people to absolutely learn French for instance. It has quite the opposite effect I believe – the more you force something on someone, the less they’re likely to want to do it – Psychology 101. “Assimilation” or rather the ‘fitting in’ part comes naturally when you settle down in a new environment….

My point is not to convince anyone that I am a Quebecer (something like a defence mechanism has taken over in me ever since the election fever hit Quebec for some reason) – that I am sure I am.  But I wanted to make some of you understand that Quebec is my home. And as for the whole debate about preserving the Quebec identity, well, if anyone understands what preserving identities and keeping roots alive is like, it’s the immigrants; it’s us, the generation 1.5.  Take my family for instance- yes, I’m a Quebecer but I’m also Nepalese -my Nepalese roots are part of who I am and it would be silly to try to get rid of them. In fact, it’s because of my Nepalese roots and my home in Quebec that has made me so much more understanding and more compassionate to the whole preserving the QC culture movement. By having two different ‘identities’ so to speak, I am more accepting of others and more willing to put myself in their shoes to understand their point of views. Yes, I live in Quebec but if anyone told me to stop speaking Nepalese or to stop celebrating various Nepalese festivals, I’d be offended and more than that, downright disgusted. Yet at the same time, I know that I can’t go to school and expect to be taught in Nepalese. The idea is to find a good balance – and my family and I have found that in Quebec. My brother and I are trilingual and a half (the half because I took a year of German in Cegep and my brother took a year of Spanish in high school) and we owe this to Quebec.

Quebec, in my eyes, is my home – I accepted it as being such and it, in turn, accepted me – all of me: both my Nepalese side and the Quebec side. I’ve been here for 15 years now – and the sense of loyalty I feel for my province is not something that I can turn off. It’s a part and parcel with my identity. I may not be unilingually French, my grand-parents may not have gone to school where Sisters taught them and I may not speak ‘jouale’ perfectly or even at all – mais je suis quand même une Québecoise et Québec est ma province à moi aussi! Here’s hoping that Quebec is as welcoming to new families in the future as it was to me 15 years ago!

Written by: Prativa Baral, Montreal, Published on: 10/4/2012


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