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Thirty eight years ago, I decided to immigrate to Canada when my home country, Iran, adopted a new law mandating the wearing of the Islamic hijab.
A memo came to my office that all women must observe “the proper hijab” starting next Saturday, the first day of the work week in Iran. I had never dressed immodestly, but I was not going to cover myself in 1980 when Tahirih, an early believer in my Faith, removed her veil in the 1840’s!
Lucky for me, Canada was accepting immigrants and welcomed me with open arms. I was told that I would have no trouble finding work as a computer programmer and that I could choose to live anywhere in the “Great White North.” I chose Vancouver, and it is great but not white—instead, it’s green and lush and beautiful.
Vancouver did not disappoint. I had a job within a couple of weeks and settled into my new life as a single 24-year-old woman in a new country. A couple of years later, I married a Canadian and have raised my family in this beloved land.
Of course, it is never easy to settle into an unfamiliar place. I knew because I had done it before, as an exchange student for a year in Illinois farm country. I had also gone to a Seventh Day Adventist college in Beirut, Lebanon for two years, and I had finished my last two years of university in Riverside, California. Adjusting to new countries, languages, cultures and peoples is never without challenges—but it can also be invigorating!
I did not just work and get married and have children here in Canada—I consciously got involved in my local community. When my boys were in school and the school district was faced with racial tensions in the student community, I worked as a Baha’i volunteer to help deal with and resolve these challenges. My Baha’i community and I arranged for a Baha’i dance workshop to perform at high schools, performing dances dealing with racism and other issues challenging our youth. I helped arrange diversity camps for students among other vehicles for the education of our youth. I helped in the formation of a community-wide annual Unity in Diversity award, recognizing individuals and organizations for their contributions to building bonds of unity among diverse groups. I advocated for our community centers to become more accessible to the various cultures in our town. Service to my community at the local level became a major part of my Canadian life, and I tried at all times to serve with the aim of promoting the oneness of humanity, the Baha’i principle which my life had clearly proven to me.
I have also always believed in free will and consider it a gift from the Creator, which no one can take away from me. I have freely chosen to be a world citizen rather than be bound to any one country. My patriotism isn’t limited to one place, one set of borders that someone once drew on a map—instead, my patriotism is for the whole world.
I love Canada, and if you ask me where I am from, I’ll tell you: Canada. If then you look at me with doubtful eyes, I would tell you that I am originally from Iran, but I am now Canadian. Amazingly, in the process of moving to and living in Canada, I have not lost my love for Iran or any other country in which I have lived. I love the United States and the American people, their honesty and frankness. I love my American family. I love Lebanon and the Lebanese people—some of the warmest people I have ever known.
All of my globe-trotting has convinced me that “the Global Village,” a term coined by the Canadian thinker and futurist Marshal McLuhan in the 1960’s, has finally arrived. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, declared it in the 1860’s:
It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 167.
Canada celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the birth of its Federation two summers ago. On that July 1st, I was honored to speak in my hometown’s celebration and citizenship swearing-in ceremony for 60 new citizens. I ended my speech with the following words:
Today, you have begun a new adventure. You are becoming part of this magical experiment of building the Global Village. So, meet strangers, try new things and make new friends especially with those who are different from you. We all have an opportunity in this glorious country to re-invent ourselves, be new people, think in new ways, take advantage of our new-found freedoms and to create a country and ultimately a world free of prejudice, racism and biases of all kinds. What a wonderful adventure!
They say: “Home is where the heart is.” My heart is with this glorious planet, its every corner, every country, whether I have been there or not. The Earth is my home sweet home. It is yours, too.