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Montreal Mosaic

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When I started my career as an English language arts teacher, I had been a speaker of the language for barely a decade myself, and still had trouble with idioms or the use of correct prepositions in a sentence. I was, nevertheless, the bright-eyed, opinionated, naive young woman ready to teach English literature and composition to secondary four and five students, most of whom were barely half a decade younger than myself. Füsun ATALAY.jpg

I lacked the outward credibility or the wisdom implied by greying hair or wrinkles around the edges of my lips. To compensate, I was full of enthusiasm, energy, fervour of youth and the naiveté of professional innocence. I was determined to teach everything I knew to generations and generations of youngsters passing through my classroom doors. I'd be fair, I'd be just, I'd treat my students equally, and I’d fulfil all of their academic needs. In my naive eagerness to get on with the noble deed of educating young minds, I presumed that all of those young minds came from a background like my own.

That was the scope of cognisance of my audience. At the heels of that speculation followed the noble call that they be taught the perfect writing, spelling and punctuation; the command of compound, complex and compound-complex sentences in their expository, literary and argumentative essays; the understanding of underlying themes in Macbeth, Julius Caesar and King Lear; the use of symbolism, metaphor and imagery in Butler, Keats, Pratt and Moore.

This was my call in life, and I was trained and ready to answer it. Life seemed to be just as it should be then, but why shouldn't it to someone as naive as someone like me?

Now when I look back to those days as a young Turkish-Canadian who wasn't even aware of her own personal identity, I know there was one question I could not answer: Who am I?

This is a question that has daunted the many immigrant youth of my generation. I am a tail-end Baby Boomer, uprooted by my parents from my mother country, at the dawn of my adolescence: A period when one starts developing one's sense of identity and self-esteem. That's when blooming friendships begin to gel and stretch into a bonding future.
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I was uprooted from my friends, ways of life, and traditions, and replanted in a city where I did not speak either official language. Yet I was expected to continue my life and education as a regular student in a strange environment, picking up from where I left off in Turkey with my Turkish curriculum. Furthermore, my parents expected me to carry on their values, which were continually clashing with what I was being exposed to at school and a society very different from the one I'd known.

I overcame with hard work and determination the language barrier and pursued my childhood dream of teaching. The identity crisis, however, has not been easy to resolve. I was expected to marry within my faith and culture; I did not. I hoped that the union of two different backgrounds would give birth to a new, fresh identity I could call my own. Instead, my hopes backfired and created rifts between my parents and my family.

I was a confident and good teacher, yet inside - a lost child – neither a Turk, nor a Canadian, but a young woman without a country or an identity I could call my own. I buried my head deeper in the sand, devoting myself to raising my son and daughter, and to teaching my students. In the process, I learned from hundreds of boys and girls from various ethnic backgrounds passing through my class room that what makes a good teacher is not only the knowledge she can impart, but the humanity she's willing to show and share with them.

For most of my life I felt like neither a complete Canadian, nor as a total Turk. My personal quest towards defining my identity has been slow and long, because I view life as a pilgrimage towards self-discovery. Thus, the path I travelled has been more important than the destination itself, because it allowed me to learn and grow from my personal experience so that I could reach out and hopefully share my own story.

Montréal is a city to love. I love its unique architecture, its English, French, Chinese, Italian, Haitian, Portuguese, Greek, West Indian, Vietnamese, European, multicultural character. I love that it is not as large and as spread out as Toronto, and is elegant with a flare of the European. We suffer harsh winters and much snow; but we make up for all that with festivals and follies because Montrealers have joie de vivre and the passion to celebrate life.

Fusun Atalay Book.jpgSince my family's immigration forty-five years ago, I am the only one who remained in Montréal. Perhaps I stayed because of my academic tenure, perhaps more so because of my deeply ingrained need, born out of an itinerant childhood, to release roots in a place I can call home. I was making up for all the years when I moved as a child because of my father's career, and therefore I felt as if I did not fit in anywhere.

In Turkey, I missed friendships that extended beyond two years. In Canada, I wasn't allowed the normal social life of a young girl because of my parent's strictness. I lived on the periphery of life: reluctant to get attached and painfully aware of the possibility of parting again.

Only when I understood why I chose a stationary life over the further adventure of travelling, and raised my son and daughter, releasing roots in a city they could call home, could I also find my own personal place. My journey has been slow and long, but now I know who I am, and I'm proud of it. It took me four decades to shout in joy: I am a Montrealer and I am proud of it!

Füsun Atalay's website