It is hard for me to find the right words but I guess I can start off with Happy Birthday, you look damn good for your age. I was born in this country exactly 28 years and 6 months ago, the first Canadian born member of my family. My family had moved to Toronto from South Africa in 1987 with maybe $1000 to their name. They made this move in hopes of a better life and more opportunities for the family. It was hard to know back then, but it was indeed the right move.
After a few years of finding their feet in Canada, my brother had the freedom of studying whatever he wanted at school, my parents had the freedom of starting their own business, I had freedom to roam around my neighbourhood safely, something uncommon in South Africa. All of the dreams that they sought out in Canada was starting to become a reality.
Growing up I had the chance to follow dreams of my own. I made an incredible group of friends, I played competitive tennis, I studied interesting classes at school. Eventually I moved to the United States to pursue my tennis career and even received a full tennis scholarship to school in America. I got my first job as a news reporter in Texas. Yet Canada was always my home, and after a few years of exploring other places, it was time to return home.
Living in America, I was always asked why I loved Canada, what made it so special to me? I didn’t quite have the right words to say. It was an indescribable connection that made this place my home.
Maybe because it had blessed my family and myself with so many opportunities. My dad became a successful director and was able to provide a life from my brother and myself. My brother graduated top of his class in chemical engineer from the University of Toronto and went on to become a professor at the University of Victoria. I, myself traveled around representing Canada at various tournaments as a competitive tennis player. Yes, Canada had sure blessed our family with amazing opportunities.
Maybe it was the fact that Canada made me feel safe. I heard these horror stories from life in South Africa. Countless robberies, and shootings, and violent acts. Yet in Canada I felt safe and secure. Like I could walk down the street alone and not have to fear for my life. Something that I think I take for granted, but something that many places in this world do not have.
Maybe it was because Canada opened up my eyes. It is so multi culture and so welcoming, it taught me about acceptance, about sharing, about peace. I never grew up understanding discrimination, hatred, violence.
Maybe it was your exterior beauty. Your mountains, oceans, landscapes. Your exciting cities, your wildlife. There is just so much to explore, to see, to do. There is no where else in the world like you.
I had the chance to follow my dreams, to pursue my goals. Something I too think I take for granted because how many countries still don’t allow women equal rights. Would I have been able to study broadcasting and become a sports reporter if my family had stayed in South Africa? Who knows, but what I do know is that here in Canada no matter what I dreamed for myself, I was given the chances, the education, the opportunities to follow those dreams.
Canada thank you, thank you for the lessons, thank you for the opportunities, thank you for welcoming my family with open arms. Thank you for your hospitality, your safe neighbourhoods, your history, your beauty, your peace, your love. For allowing me to leave, but always letting me back.
On your birthday, I hope that every single Canadian takes a moment to say thank you, because I know there are many just like me, first generation Canadians who were given a chance thanks to you.