Lest We Forget
November 30, 2011
Zhenyi Li, Associate Professor
Remembrance Day is a Canadian tradition. I didn’t know it before. But I dearly “bought” this tradition much quicker than many other “new” Canadian traditions after my immigration. I don’t see any value in Halloween. I feel tired in pretending, tricking, or horrifying – which is not scarce in my original culture. I chose to immigrate for a community that advocates honesty, integrity, and respectfulness. To some extent, I may not need Thanksgiving so much because my original culture is never short of festivals for family reunion and gluttony. However, I like the value of being grateful to other people and our mother nature embedded in Thanksgiving. Therefore, my family celebrates Thanksgiving by sending thank notes to friends and civil servants without a week-long struggle for finishing a turkey. Canada Day is special to us because there are not many countries in this world believe in multiculturalism and welcome immigrants. Victoria Day hardly means anything more than an extra day off work to me. I saw the Queen when she visited UBC. I visited her palace in London. I still do not “buy” this monarchy tradition. Furthermore, I feel pity for her and her family members permanently losing their personal lives. Born to be a queen means no free choice of career. It is different from self-choosing to be a public person in politics, media or sports. Christmas and Easter are neither unique in Canada nor celebrated by all Canadians – although “traditionally” they set up the longest vacation break in our calendar.
Every year, in Canadian-Chinese media, print or online, there comes a debate on whether Chinese should wear poppies on Remembrance Day. Some Chinese lost their family members in the Korean War. They said that they did not find internal peace to show respect to the Canadian soldiers who might have killed their relatives. Some Chinese, on the other side, argued to act like a Roman once in Rome. I don’t think either side really get the idea of setting up and celebrating Remembrance Day. And I think that is the reason every November there comes this debate.
I did not experience a war in person. But I have seen so much on how violence and hatemonger destroy our community, relationships, and even personality. My high-school classmate, Xu, disappeared after June 4th, 1989, from Tiananmen Square, where a peaceful dialogue did not take place. My university classmate, Lin, left his wife and posthumous twin daughters in an ordinary day for him in his office at World Trade Centre in New York – though an extraordinary tragic day in human history. My IIC learner, Petri, told me how desperate life could be in a country refusing communication and mutual respect after her voluntary work in Burma. My former colleague, Belcastro, could not sleep when his son was in the field of Afghanistan with other Canadian men and women. My research project on refugees in Canada taught me how much difference a welcoming community could make to the lives of these people, who were not respected in their motherlands.
Therefore, I think Remembrance Day is set for us to value peace, respect life, and pursue intercultural dialogue and understanding. It is not which team one chooses to cheer for. It is not which nation we come from or stand for. It is a day for us to remember we are all human beings. It is a day for us to notice how ugly we have turned the Earth to be. It is a day for us to remember that we could have been the same, if not more, greedy for power and resources by neglecting freedom, happiness and lives of the others – just to arrest Xu, crash Lin, or disturb the lives of Petri, Belcastro, and refugees in Toronto and Vancouver.
I write these also as a case study on how a person “joins” a tradition when I am writing my dissociation from tradition theory. In my case, I made different choices in front of “new” traditions I came across in Canada. Remembrance Day fits well with my personal values so that I become a devotee of it. On another end of this continuum, Halloween cannot convince me to “join” so that I dissociate even before associate with it. Canada Day is in the middle though closer to Remembrance Day so that I could be a late departure majority member. Victoria Day is empty of value to me so that I might be an early departure majority member. Again, time does not matter so much here. I often feel Remembrance Day has been long time in my heart although I have only known about it for less than ten years. Halloween was introduced to me more than 20 years ago when I was in China. Lin is no longer in this world. But he is vivid in front of my eyes. Time flies but also freezes. Like the poppies remind us in Flanders field.