A mother recounts her own fathers exodus from Palestine in a letter addressed to her son. Dear Gabriel is an inter-generational exploration of home, homeland, displacement and the desire for peace...
Gracia Jalea Dyer takes students to Centre Histoire
This May I led a group of foreign exchange students from Germany, Austria, and Mexico on a tour of the Montreal Life Stories’ Nous Sommes Ici exhibition at the Centre d’histoire de Montréal. The students are currently taking a class on Montréal Arts and Culture at John Abbott College and were invited by their teacher Katie Green to visit the exhibit. After an introduction to the exhibit and the Life Stories project the students were given a list of questions to consider as they visited the space.
The questions were as follows:
1) What is a refugee? Who is a refugee?
2) What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?
3) How much do you know about your family history? Who taught you this history?
4) How does your family’s history influence who you are as a person?
5) What makes a city feel like home?
6) If your city was a person, how would you describe its personality?
7) What are misconceptions that people have of your home country or city? What would you do to change people’s misconceptions?
As they moved through the exhibit I was struck at how interested and engaged the students were with the life story interviews that they saw. In addition to gaining a greater understanding of Montréal, its history, and the personal life stories of Montréalers featured in the exhibit, the students also reflected upon their own personal family histories and the impact that the arrival of immigrants and refugees have had in their home countries. Over the course of the day they shared stories from their own family histories, and a few of the students expressed a concern for a growing resistance against refugees and immigrants in their home countries, particularly in light of the current economic crisis in Europe. Many of the German students, who have studied the Holocaust extensively as part of their education, not only in history class, but in literature, religion, art and in many other subjects as well, said that they knew the dangers that such sentiments could lead to. It was their hope that such attitudes, steeped in racism, would change. They were also confident that many young people, such as themselves, do not share this position, and that in time, through education, these views will cease to exist.
It was a very powerful experience to see the students taking what they saw and heard in the exhibit and use it as a starting off point for discussions on such topics such as – racism, refugee rights, immigration, nationalism, citizenship, diversity, multiculturalism, generational differences, and the importance of knowing one’s family history. I can only imagine that this dialogue and exchange is what the curators imagined when designing the exhibit.
All in all the discussion was rich and the exchange of ideas was meaningful, not only for the students, but for me as well. I learnt a great deal from them and was extremely grateful for their willingness to be open and to share their personal experiences, observations and opinions with me and with the whole group.
- Gracia Dyer Jalea