I recently had the privileged to go with my girlfriend to her citizenship ceremony. I was reminded of something that I had forgotten. The pride and gratitude we should all feel about being Canadians.

It felt surreal sitting in that court room full of people from all corners of the world. All the immigrants, soon to be Canadians, were excited and proud to pledge their alliance to Canada. As I looked around at their excited faces, I recollected that I too once share that same expression. Over time, I assimilated so much that I took that feeling for granted. On this day I was grateful to be reminded.

The video they played for the applicants showed what it means to be Canadian. I was brought to tears.  I felt such gratitude to be part of this great nation.

For many of us who are immigrants being Canadian means the opportunity for a better life.

For those of you who had the privileged to be born here, it may not mean the same.  So let me give you an insight from the heart of an immigrant.

Being able to call Canada my home it’s not a given, but a PRIVILEGE.  

I escaped from a war-torn country in search for a better life.  The simple pursuit of one’s safety it’s something that may be foreign to you.

My children who were born in Canada, enjoy the freedom to walk the streets at any time and feel safe. They have the ability to pursue their dreams with no limitations. Unlike me in my home country, my children have the ability to speak their mind without repression. My children and every Canadian has a voice and a vote to make a difference in what happens to their country. I did not have that.

I was born and raised in Nicaragua until I was seventeen.

Life growing up in Nicaragua was different than it is here in Canada. I was riding my bike on the streets one moment, and the next moment I was running to a shelter because bullets were flying on the streets.

In Canada, we have the privilege of going to the supermarket to buy whatever we choose and want.  In the early 1980s in Nicaragua, there were food and supply rations.

My family of six could only buy one bar of soap, one pound of sugar, two rolls of toilet paper, a case of eggs and a pound of rice each week.

Let me ask you a question.

The last time you were with your friends and said goodbye, did it ever cross your mind that you would never see them again?

In Nicaragua, it was not uncommon to see your friends one day and never see them again.  Growing up in Nicaragua, it was common for people to disappear because the government believed they were supportive of the opposition. The lucky ones made it out with a beating or prison term. The unlucky ones are still missing to this day.

Many Canadians either enjoy their cottage or a friend’s cottage during our beautiful summers.

Imagine you at a cottage one weekend, and you receive a call that your house and everyone else’s in your area has been burnt to the ground.

You rush back to find devastation, charred wood and a crater in the ground of where your home once was. A bomb took out your house and the entire neighborhood.

A scene from a Hollywood movie, right?

Not for me.

In the blink of an eye, my family and I lost all of our possessions.

I won’t even get into the gory details of how my three brothers were kidnapped and beaten before being rescued.

And then, like an angel from heaven, an opportunity from Canada appeared.

In 1987, Canada was the only country to have an open door policy for Nicaraguan refugees.

My family and I came as refugees seeking political asylum.

I came to this beautiful country, Canada, with nothing, but a dream.

I came to a foreign land that welcomed me, a stranger, and asked me to make it my own.

Canada gave my family the opportunity to start fresh.

There are no words for this humane, generous, and courageous act that Canada offered.

It’s true, Canada is the land of the free.  Canada is the land of limitless possibilities and opportunities.

I read a story that beautifully illustrates my point.

A man comes to America from Europe searching for a new life.  One day, he walked into a cafeteria to get something to eat.  He sat down at an empty table and waited for someone to take his order.  He waited for about 20 minutes, and of course, nobody ever came. Finally, a man with a tray full of food sat across from him and told him how things work in a cafeteria:

“You start at the end, and go along and pick out what you want to eat.  At the other end, they’ll all tell you how much you have to pay for it”.

After many years in Canada, I can say with certainty that things work as the man said in the cafeteria. You can get anything you want as long as you’re willing to pay the price.

Canada gives you all the opportunities, and you can pick and choose. You can even get success. But you’ll never get it if you wait for someone to bring it to you.

You have to get up and get it yourself!!

I am reminiscent of how true that analogy of the cafeteria is.

I did not wait to have someone take my order.

I got up and worked 15-hour days under the table in a factory with my mother to food on the table. I later worked as a top sales person for Dylex, one of Canada’s top retailers.

I saved enough money to put myself through University, and I earned a Masters in Criminal Justice.

I worked hard every day of my life. I co-founded my first company, Embanet in 1995, sold it in 2007 and co-founded my second company, Magnum Opus Group in 2009.

I am now living my dream and the life I always wanted.  I have two beautiful daughters, an amazing family, and a great life. I get to do what I love most each day which is to write.

Yes, Canada is indeed a great country!

This wonderful country, otherwise known as Canada, gives you the tools and the opportunities.  It’s up to you to get up and go down the line in the cafeteria of life so you can pick and choose what you want.

Like myself, many of you are here from countries which suffered from civil upheaval. Many of you have escape racial persecution and even genocide.

Many leave their native countries for economic reasons in search for a safer future.

Thanks to this peaceful country, Canada, we enjoy freedom from political and ethnic oppression.

We are not imprisoned for supporting a different political view. We are not beaten for demanding a better life. We are free to express our views. We have the power to vote in free democratic elections. We live in a country where our voice and choice does matter and makes a difference.

I am amazed and proud when I hear statistics that one out of every five people in Canada is foreign-born.  More than 250,000 refugees and immigrants come to our country every year in the pursuit of a better life.

How many places in the world you know where we celebrate differences are as much as here?

We have the gift of joining a new country. We maintain our cultures, costumes, and traditions without discrimination. We can say we are proud Canadians. But also say we are proud Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Indian, and Filipino. It is amazing that in Toronto alone we have 140 languages and dialects spoken.

Canada is one of the most tolerant and accepting countries I have ever known.  I have never seen such respect for ethnic diversity as I have in this beautiful country. There is genuine respect for all human dignity and appreciation of others.

Canadians are friendly and welcoming.  I have traveled the world, and wherever I go, as soon as they hear I am Canadian their reaction is always the same,

We love Canadians; they are the friendliest, most polite people in the world.”

Canadians are unique in that we let people get into our lanes when we drive without pulling the finger.  We are the only people who apologize when someone else bumps into us.

Canadians are notoriously known for saying “sorry.” We seem to apologize for everything and anything. It’s funny.

Since today, July 1st it’s the day in which we honor 150 years of this incredible country, I wanted to remind us of a few blessings

We have free health care.

We enjoy free primary and secondary education. Did you know Canada has one of the most educated populations in the world? It is due to our subsidized post-secondary education and the many student loans.

Our maternity leave is 50 weeks paid compared to only 12 weeks in the United States.  Countries like Nicaragua, do not have any of those benefits.  At least not during the years I was there.

We dominate in hockey, and the Maple Leafs are beloved around the world.

We don’t have capital punishment. We do not own guns.

We are ranked among the top 8 most peaceful countries in the world.

We are accepting of unconventional families.  Canada was one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage.

Due to our diversity, we have the best cuisine in the world.  Best poutine, best Chinese food, Greek food, Italian food, Indian food. The list goes on.

Apparently, we are funny too! Some of the world best comedians are Canadians: Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Eugene Levy (hilarious), Martin Short, Seth Rogan, and John Candy to name a few.

Some make fun of our flag and our national symbol. Our national symbol, the beaver might be a rodent, but it is not an ordinary rodent. The beaver is a humble and industrious creature. The beaver never stops working to create his living.  This is very symbolic of our culture. Our flag is a leaf, but it is not just any leaf.  It proud stands for peace, bravery, and unity.

Whether you got here by birth or by choice, be proud to be Canadian. We are all here together in the land of opportunity, freedom, and peace.

I am proud to be one small piece of this mosaic of color and culture that forms our great nation. I hope you are too.

God, please keep our land always glorious and free! Canada we salute you with gratitude on your special day. In appreciation, we will always stand on guard for thee!

Happy Canada Day!

From a nine-year-old:

What does it mean to you to be Canadian?

“When I think of Canada, I think of women´s rights.  In so many parts of the world, women are misunderstood.  Here we are allowed to vote and to have businesses of our own.  We have the privilege to choose WHEN and WHO we marry.  In so many parts of the world, girls are married at age 9 and do not have a say in who their parents choose.  I do not think this is right.   I love being Canadian because here we all have rights to express how and with whom we want to live.  Gay people, for example, can express and live their feelings in the open without fear of being hurt.  Yes, I think that’s all I have to say.  I like that we, women, have rights in Canada.  Thank you.”

Emma Feldberg