March 2003
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March 21: A day, a memory, a day of reflection
By Remzi Cej, Holy Heart High, St. John's, NL

Dear reader,

Please be warned that side effects of reading this article may bring a feeling of sympathy for myself (which I understand where it comes from) and a feeling of wanting to contribute to your community, teach them about what March 21st is really about.

In case you aren't familiar with the day, let me quickly summarize the origin of the International Day against Racial Discrimination. On the third week of March in 1960, an apartheid pass laws protest in South Africa was interrupted with casualties of 69 people killed by the government forces because they demanded justice and fair treatment. Years passed before the long–awaited 1966 came, when, in their General Assembly, the United Nations proclaimed March 21st as the International Day against Racial Discrimination. We in Canada have celebrated the day since 1989, when the Canadian Heritage begun its annual national promotion of the day.

Before I came to Canada, I didn't quite understand what racial discrimination meant. Perhaps I wasn't familiar with the phrase because I've grown up in a setting where my life was discrimination itself, and where my peers' actions were discrimination examples against me, my friends, my family, because we were different. Our differences weren't as clear as the race/colour, since living in Kosovo meant not seeing many coloured people. However, the neighbourhoods we lived in, stores we shopped in, schools we went to were clearly distinct, just because we were Muslim Albanians, and Serbs were Eastern Orthodox. I later on understood and comprehended that religion was one aspect politicians were successful in using to discriminate against an ethnicity. They succeeded in Kosovo. That is the reason my parents and I were forced to leave our home, among hundreds of thousands of others.

After coming to Canada, I was asked to help with a poster board on my country and a possible dance. I was so delighted to know that people are interested in knowing about my home and where I come from, and want to adopt my country's musical heritage. In the beginning, we had so many people join in the group that we had to split the group into two parts. I think those days were my best memories from my first couple of weeks in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. The best part came when we performed.

It was March 21st. I had butterflies in my stomach. I didn't know that March 21st is the day when most of the local and regional junior and high school students were coming to watch the joy of being in Canada, among other cultures. There were hundreds of students who came only on that day. The next day, another high number came. I was positively overwhelmed and filled with emotions when I gave my speech about my opinion on discrimination. It was incredible knowing that here, I wasn't going to have to pretend I speak perfect Serbian to get a bottle of Coke. Knowing that I could be free to tell people about my culture at that day made me love this city and this country. The eagerness of students wanting to learn whether or not Kosovo had snow in wintertime, their laughs when they tried to learn how to say "Hello" in Albanian, and giggling faces when I'd put my elliptical "plis" that opened my eyes to accepting others as they are. It made me think once again about how we are all the same, no matter what the differences are. As Michael Constantine said, in my favourite recent movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, "we're all different (kinds), but in the end, we're all fruit." It was an incredible beginning of life here, and an incredible microcosm of multicultural Canada.

As I took my lunch break, I took a walk around the booths set up by other people, to promote their countries. Nyake, from Sierra Leone, had traditional clothes on, showing the local students what the treasures of his home country were, as he pointed at pictures of vast warm beaches and tropical trees. I must say, I had to fantasize about the place itself, since St. John's had already had about 6 feet of snow by then, so Nyake's pictures made me imagine I was running on the beaches of West Africa. Just next to his booth was the setup that Eugena had made on Russia. She talked about Matrioshka (which I used to call Babushka before I found out), the traditional doll-like toy that keeps opening into smaller and smaller doll-like round boxes. I could sense a bit of nostalgia as she spoke about things that teenagers do for fun in her home country.

By the time my lunch break was over, a new group of students came in, and different concert performances started. Drum groups from South America, the Multicultural Choir of elementary school-students, poetry readings in native languages of the students and different songs were performed. Our dance group came out in the end. The choreography that I adopted from traditional Kosovar dances was being performed by my friends who were from all parts of the world. It was an indescribable feeling to come from a pessimistic life of having lost everything to a culture of acceptance and joy. My mom, who came to our evening performance, let out a tear as she watched dances of memories that were brought back.

I've been choreographing dances for my dance group since then, and it seems like there are more and more people joining every year. I am only grateful for being here, and being able to share my culture with others, without a fear of having police knock on my door, saying that I promote "illegal patriotism and separatism."

I am free, and March 21st is one of the many times I remember this. I hope this gives you a better idea of what March 21st means to me. Hopefully, it will have an effect on you.

This article was meant to give you a sense of belonging and patriotism for our multicultural heritage and respect Canadians like you have for it. The side effects might be triggered by the complete understanding of the article.


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