While the ordinary immigrant is at the center of heated public debates, in most cases he or she has no voice. We talk about him without him and ignore everything about his reality.
Published at 1:10 am. Updated at 6:00 am.
With her luminous essay “We, the Others,” published this week in French, columnist and author Toula Drimonis first wanted to pay a personal tribute to all those ordinary immigrants with extraordinary lives who, in the shadow of controversy, form the heart of Quebec hit.
The idea for the book came about after her father's death on November 29, 2014, she tells me. His name was Panayote Drimonis. A Greek immigrant from a very poor background fleeing poverty. Thanks to the family reunification program, he left his suitcase in Montreal in 1963 with $50 in his pocket.
In Canada, Panayote became “Peter.” His only possession was a suit bought on credit, which he quickly had to pay back with his first salary as a diver. Above the sink where he began washing off his debts was a warning: “If you drink anything, I'll blow in your face.” »
In 1965 he opened his first small restaurant. It was located on the corner of Avenue du Mont-Royal and Avenue Henri-Julien, directly opposite the family apartment where Toula was born the following year. “The restaurant where the photo on the cover of my book was taken was called Le Coin Blanc. Isn't it extraordinary that an allophonic Greek chose a French name for his snack long before Law 101? »
His father was not one of the immigrants valued by a policy that tends to measure an immigrant's worth by his or her immediate contribution to the country's economy. Nor was he one of the migrants celebrated for their extraordinary achievements, emphasizes Toula.
Why should it be necessary for the immigrant to invent a vaccine, be a sports star, or go to the front lines during the pandemic to have value? Doesn't he have the right to a banal life like everyone else?
As mundane as Panayote Drimonis' life in snack bars smelling of steamed hot dogs may be, that didn't stop him from being part of the immigrants Quebec needs with his estranged wife, Ourania. People who get up early to feed the city and keep their hearts racing. “Like in Gérald Godin’s poem Tango de Montréal,” says Toula. In her book, she quotes this poet and politician's hymn to immigration, immortalized on a mural in front of the Mont-Royal metro station, not far from her father's first restaurant:
The old heart of the city
he would still hit
thanks to them
PHOTO MARTIN CHAMBERLAND, LA PRESSE ARCHIVE
The poem Tango de Montréal by Gérald Godin in front of the Mont-Royal metro station
While her parents worked long hours, Toula had to learn very early to fend for herself with a key around her neck. Until she was ten, she couldn't remember seeing her parents relaxing at home. “When I think about my childhood, the image that comes to mind is my parents, who were always tired. »
Beyond the very touching personal story that allows us to better understand the sacrifices, challenges, concerns and diverse loyalties of immigrants and children of immigrants, We, the Others is intended to be a plea for pluralism and a warning: the political rhetoric that which occurs all the time The immigrant who becomes the scapegoat or “other” and waits for a visa to gain access to an inaccessible “we” is a threat to social cohesion.
“It’s not just in Quebec,” the author specifies. Not specific to our time – his essay also contains some eloquent historical memories in this sense.
As an allophone journalist and columnist who writes about Quebec politics, Toula is often falsely accused of Quebec bashing. She is made to feel like a Quebecer on probation.
We ask her why she always talks about Quebec… “I’m a journalist from Quebec! I follow the news here, it's normal that I talk about Quebec! Why should I talk about Saskatchewan? »
Although she loves the French language and Quebec culture, we also find it suspicious that she initially writes in English and not in French – her third language, which she learned herself because she lived and went to school in Greece from then on of 10 years and did not return to Quebec until his early twenties.
And as soon as she talks about immigration, she is told that Quebec is a very welcoming and very generous society… which she doesn't deny. “That's true!” She writes it in black and white in her book: “The quiet and boring reality that most commentators don't bother to write about is that we generally hear pretty well.” Quebec is a fantastic place to live and people of all linguistic backgrounds treat each other with respect, love and kindness. »
Which doesn't stop her from worrying when she analyzes the often reactionary speeches on immigration from the Legault government and certain commentators. Let's remember the hurtful and false statements made by former immigration minister Jean Boulet during the last election campaign – he stated that 80% of immigrants go to Montreal, do not work, do not speak French or do not adhere to the values of Quebec society. Or that of François Legault, who reiterated that admitting more than 50,000 immigrants would be “suicidal” for Quebec and the future of the French language (before making a U-turn after the elections).
Even if excuses or withdrawals follow, comments that constantly associate immigration with a threat are not without consequences, remembers Toula Drimonis.
Words have weight. Also the way we discuss immigration issues.
“At the moment, too many commentators and politicians are suggesting, often indirectly, that “real Quebecers” think a certain way, vote a certain way, have French as their first language, etc. This is a dangerous argument that creates a hierarchy in society and a creates a category of second class citizens. »
We, the others
Published on January 30th