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Rhapsody in Quebec: On the Path of an Immigrant Child

Rhapsody in Quebec: On the Path of an Immigrant Child

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Rhapsody in Quebec: On the Path of an Immigrant Child

Longueur:
264 pages
3 heures
Sortie:
Apr 1, 2017
ISBN:
9781771861038
Format:
Livre

Description

Born in Hungary in 1975, Akos Verboczy moved to Montreal at the age of 11 with his sister and mother, an esthetician, who learned that in Canada women were willing to pay a fortune ($20) to have their leg hair brutally ripped out. His story begins in Hungary, where at the age of nine he learned that he was a Jew too—"half-Jew" to be more accurate. Unlike some who emigrated from Eastern Europe, Verboczy has no particularly beefs about life "behind the iron curtain." He lands in Montreal as James Brown's Living in America plays and Rocky knocks the Russian communist boxer flat in Rocky IV. The good guys he had learned to like were now officially the bad guys. Once in "America" he discovers that he will be going to French school—after all it is Québec—, but then he learns that Canada is the only "place on the planet where there's no prestige in speaking French." In fifty vignettes and tales that belie all the clichés about immigration to Québec, he depicts the experience of embracing a culture and a people who are constantly obliged to reaffirm their right to exist.
Sortie:
Apr 1, 2017
ISBN:
9781771861038
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur


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Rhapsody in Quebec - Akos Verboczy

AKOS VERBOCZY

RHAPSODY

IN QUEBEC

ON THE PATH OF AN IMMIGRANT CHILD

Translated by Casey Roberts

Baraba Books
Montréal

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Translation © Baraka Books 2017

© Éditions du Boréal, Montréal, Québec 2016

ISBN 978-1-77186-102-1 pbk; 978-1-77186-103-8 epub; 978-1-77186-104-5 pdf; 978-1-77186-105-2 mobi/pocket

Book Design, ePub and Cover by Folio infographie

Cover illustration: Bruce Roberts

Editing and proofreading: Robin Philpot

Legal Deposit, 2nd quarter 2017

Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Library and Archives Canada

Published by Baraka Books of Montreal

6977, rue Lacroix

Montréal, Québec H4E 2V4

Telephone: 514 808-8504

info@barakabooks.com

www.barakabooks.com

We acknowledge the support from the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) and the Government of Quebec tax credit for book publishing administered by SODEC.

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TABLE DES MATIÈRES

FOREWORD

WHERE I’M FROM

STEP ONE: START BY ARRIVING

WARTBURG BLUES

THE BOYS OF KÁRPÁT STREET

THE DREAMS OF MY MOTHER

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

FAREWELL MY COUNTRY

LIVING IN AMERICA

BACK TO THE FUTURE

THE LANGUAGES WE ARE

AN AMERICAN EPIC

FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE

MR. NICOLAS’S CLASS

THE TRIAL

NIGGER BLACK

THE HALF-JEW

WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES…

THE MAN WHO FAILED

STEP TWO: FIND YOUR WAY

EVERYONE NEEDS A SOUL MATE

GOD, WOODY ALLEN AND ME

THE GAZETTE

FRENCHEMENT BETTER!

THE ENIGMA OF THE RETURN

THE MUSKETEERS

ON QUEEN MARY

THE NOT-SO-NICE DANCE

1990

THE QUÉBÉCOIS

MADAGASCAR POWER

THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ

SNEEDRONNINGEN

HUNGARIAN RHAPSODIES

STEP THREE: ARRIVE AT THE BEGINNING

THE LIFE BEFORE US

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DEPUTY RETURNING OFFICER

THE WORDS OF A MAN OF HIS WORD

MONEY AND ETHNIC VOTES

THE TIME OF THE BUFFOONS

THE HUMAN ZOO

LAND OF OTHERS

MULTICULTURALIZATION

THE PERFECT FOREIGNER

MONTREAL TANGO

NOUS

RUSALKA

THE SHIT RAINS DOWN ON MY HEAD

THE GRAND SEDUCTION

THE BANALITY OF EVIL

MON PAYS (MY COUNTRY)

WHERE ARE WE HEADED?

WHERE ARE WE HEADED?

Also available from Baraka Books

FOREWORD

"There are as many ways to be

a Quebecer as there are ways to love this place"

One might think there would be something off-setting and discombobulating about writing a foreword for a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading, yet didn’t wholeheartedly agree with, but that wasn’t the case at all.

Reading Akos Verboczy’s book left me entertained, moved, on my toes, occasionally aggravated, and more than once questioning and reassessing a few things I previously took for granted. In other words, it felt exactly like living in Quebec.

His journey as a young Hungarian Jew who emigrates to Montreal with his family at the age of eleven, his linguistic and educational trajectory as a child of Bill 101, and his gradual transformation into a full-blown, proud, and committed Quebecer is one that I identified with – often intensely, and occasionally not at all.

Anyone born into an immigrant family, wrestling with the constant push and pull of what has been left behind and what needs to be firmly established anew, understands the unique challenges of navigating the otherness while battling it out with the same – both in one’s own cultural and linguistic community and within Quebec overall.

Unlike Verboczy, I was born here to first-generation Greek immigrant parents, and a few years later I returned to their homeland. My formative years were spent abroad. I am not a child of Bill 101. I didn’t learn to speak French because I was mandated to. I learned it because to live in a place and not understand or speak the language of the majority would have been absurd to me. Not speaking French would have condemned me to a life in a linguistic and cultural ghetto, to life as an outsider, forever looking in. And I wanted in.

The overwhelming majority of immigrants do, as well.

While the author and I may disagree on our partisan politics, our definitions of what constitutes integration, and the PQ’s ill-fated Charter of Values, we both consider this place home. We both agree that the survival and the celebration of the French culture and language are essential and primordial, and we both identify as Quebecers more than we will ever identify as Canadian.

Despite constant linguistic insecurity in this province (some justified, some questionable) my impression is that Bill 101 has succeeded in what it set out to do; ensuring that the French language remains dominant and the public language, face, and voice of Quebec. Contrary to popular belief, you will find few Quebecers (regardless of background) who disagree with that.

The recurring problem we have here is that we don’t often make room for the moderates to be heard, while we allow the voices of division (on either side of the linguistic fence) to speak way too loudly. By doing so, we continue to allow ourselves to be defined by our stereotypes and clichés, which, in turn, allows politicians of all colours to manipulate us as they see fit. It’s frustrating to watch play out.

When, the day after Jacques Parizeau’s death, I wrote a column urging Anglophones and Allophones to get over his dreaded money and ethnic vote line, uttered in frustration after the ’95 referendum defeat, arguing that one sentence (as unfortunate as it was) couldn’t possibly define someone’s entire political legacy, I was praised by French media. I was subsequently invited on to the French-language TV program 125, Marie-Anne where I was – very politely – treated as a slight oddity. I came home that night to three hundred more followers on Twitter and messages from francophone Quebecers who seemed so grateful that an Allophone understood their point of view. In sharp contrast, I was treated as either naïve or a traitor by most Anglophones and Allophones.

The following week I wrote an op-ed for the National Post, defending Montreal actor Jay Baruchel’s move to Toronto and the comments he made about life there being easier, which were seen by most French media as a personal affront and a betrayal of Quebec. My role and image were suddenly reversed, as Anglophones and Allophones rushed to share it, ex-pats called to commiserate, and Francophones, once again, saw me as just another Anglophone who didn’t get it.

The above scenarios have been repeated ad nauseum in my professional life as a columnist and pundit, as I often find myself defending Quebec’s point of view to the rest of Canada, while pointing out the often-opportunistic identity politics and blame game I see play out in our local media. It’s an often slightly schizophrenic existence, but I like it.

Verboczy writes with a clear-eyed, caustic, tongue- in-cheek tone when he discusses the quid pro quo nature of immigration. He makes no qualms about the why’s. A perilously low birth rate and an aging population make it necessary for Canada (and by extent, Quebec) to open their doors to people who are seeking better opportunities here.

In a tone devoid of any sentimentality he describes his slow but steady transformation into a French-speaking, PQ-card-carrying, separatist Quebecer. While sharing his story he also challenges traditional notions of plurality and diversity being automatic virtues when we discuss immigrants, and he does so with wry wit and fair observations.

He has fun pointing out the discrepancies, the biases, and the hypocrisy inherent in social and political movements – even when he’s occasionally guilty of a few of his own. He justifiably mocks Quebec’s cultural communities’ tendency to vote in predictable Liberal patterns, yet often fails to turn that critical finger inward and question why that is.

Living in a place where two linguistic minorities (French-speaking Quebecers within Canada, English-speaking people in Quebec) feel they constantly need to have their backs up against the wall can be exhausting.

This perpetual sense of victimhood, of survival, of needing to constantly reassert ourselves or risk being assimilated into the hodgepodge of a multicultural stew of a country that continues to struggle to define exactly what it is and what it stands for, often creates unease, tension, anger, frustration, and animosity on all fronts. In our struggle for self-respect and self-determination we become more focused on defining ourselves by what we reject, instead of what we embrace. It needn’t be so.

Everything that takes place in Quebec has always fascinated me. This energy that is both clash and coaction, both collision and cooperation, creates something palpable that, if properly nourished and cared for, produces magic.

Unlike Verboczy who sees downsides in the politics of diversity and the celebration of multiculturalism, I revel in it. I believe it’s our largest strength if harnessed properly. I’ve come to accept that there is no one universal right experience of being an immigrant and becoming part of this place. There is no one size fits all.

I also recognize it often takes more than one generation for an immigrant to identify with another culture. Patience is a virtue when it comes to both the person knocking on a new reality and the person opening that door. It’s something we all should keep in mind as attitudes towards immigration (both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada) seem to be hardening.

Quebec can be just as susceptible to opportunistic identity politics as the rest of the world. Anti-immigrant tensions fuelled by ignorance and fear of the other remain a contentious issue that politicians easily and maliciously manipulate on their determined quest for easy votes. The irrefutable fact, however, remains that bilingualism rates have increased with each generation and a French Quebec continues to remain a forceful political, linguistic, and cultural presence – both within Canada, and perhaps as a separate entity down the road.

It seems that French Quebecers continue to underestimate the love and loyalty Allophones and Anglophones have for Quebec, while Allophones and Anglophones continue to underestimate Francophones’ openness and desire to be embraced.

One doesn’t need to reject the other to be part of the us. Diversity, multilingualism, and multiculturalism are attributes, not albatrosses around our collective necks. Younger Quebecers, raised in a post Bill 101 era, comfortable in their bilingual duality and often-trilingual existence have access to the world in a way that previous generations did not.

While I don’t fear sovereignty and, unlike many Allophones and Anglophones, don’t consider it as a betrayal of Canada but a very legitimate conversation to have, I’m also not emotionally attached to the idea. Quebec is home to me in a way Canada will never be, but, unlike the author, I hope for a day that Canada will be truly bilingual and bi-national, fully cognisant of its history, fully respectful of Quebec’s role in it.

In the meantime, I applaud and welcome the book’s translation into English. More conversations like these are needed and more books on what it means to be a Quebecer need to be written in both languages and read by us all.

Racial and gender equality, and respect of real diversity and inclusiveness will be the challenges of the future – and they will affect all of us, regardless of background. Static and stale notions of what a real Quebecer is supposed to look like, act like, speak like, vote like, feel archaic to me.

Acceptance means finding common ground, evolving and moving forward together, and ultimately, understanding that – in so much as we ensure the French language and culture continue to thrive – there are as many ways to be a Quebecer as there are ways to love this place. Akos Verboczy’s story provides one fascinating example.

Toula Drimonis, February 2017

To my mother, who at my age,

left her country to come to mine.

Where am I from? recited Kornél to himself, intoxicated by the espresso and lack of sleep. Where everybody’s from. The purple cavern of a mother’s womb. I too started out from there on an uncertain journey, and neither destiny nor destination are stated in the passport.

Dezső Kosztolányi, Adventures Of Kornél Esti*


* Dezső Kosztolányi, Adventures Of Kornél Esti, translated by Bernard Adams. New Directions Publishing, 2011.

WHERE I’M FROM

Where’m I from? I thought you might want to ask, you seem like that kind of person. You should know that I’ve been ok with it for a long time now. When you come to a foreign country, with a foreign name, and a foreign accent, you naturally become an object of curiosity. True, you could have waited until we had at least taken our seats and glanced at the menu, but don’t worry about it, I’d be glad to try to give you an answer.

I usually start wondering if something’s wrong when people don’t ask. Your discretion is admirable, but really, don’t hesitate, I see that you’re dying to know. It’s only in the third-person that I resent being asked, as in: Where’s this guy think he comes from? There’s plenty of room at our table, so please, come join us.

Feelings of vulnerability or impatience can be boulders in the path of a foreigner wanting to make something of his life in his adopted country. Being asked about your origins can start to feel imposing, but you might as well just get used to it. I even think it’s a good way to launch a conversation. I bought myself a remote starter. Where’m I from? Click! I push the button, and my answer is sent before I even think about it. It may seem like a long time and maybe unnecessary to have to wait five minutes while the car warms up, but it runs better if you do.

Well, good guess, but my family name isn’t Polish, it’s Hungarian. My first name has a sh sound at the end: Akosh. (What? You’re already playing word games? You’re so original!) People pronounce my last name however they want. No, no, I haven’t forgotten my mother tongue, I still speak it, but not that often: only with my family and on the increasingly infrequent trips back home.

So, yeah, I was eleven when I came to Montreal, and that’s when I first started learning French. Nice of you to congratulate me, but I didn’t really have any say in the matter. My religion? Umm, let’s see, how should I say this? I’m pretty Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wait to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I too found it hard to believe that a simple wire stretched around Outremont – I think the word you’re looking for is "eruv" – could have changed much in the eyes of God. And, I’m sorry, but I don’t know your high school music teacher who fled Hungary in 1956. But I’m sure he was great; it’s a common cultural characteristic where I come from.

There you have it. Now you know where I’m from, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know where I’m coming from. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions (because that, on the other hand, would probably irritate me).

I’m an immigrant, true. The term doesn’t bother me; the word describes a reality that happens to be mine. Just accept it that being an immigrant hasn’t really been something that’s been on my mind 24/7 over the years. And that coming from somewhere else, just like being from here, is neither a virtue or a sin, nor an interesting fact, nor irrelevant, in and of itself. The immigrant is not – by nature – a victim to be pitied nor a hero to worship, nor a person to be afraid of. But neither is he the same as everybody else; he’s not like you and me. Like you, I mean.

If they examined my DNA under a multicultural microscope, the genome would be a mix at once unstable and dissonant (think Elvis Gratton in a Pierre Falardeau film): Hungarian-Quebecois, judeo-christian, French-speaking, Eastern European – North American.

This formula is more practical than it might seem. It more than satisfies the criteria for equal opportunity programs and lets me cut ahead of you in the line waiting for the social status elevator while you deal with your guilt over how you have oppressed your (Hungarian) minorities over the years. It also gained me more than a few invitations to social events, forums and conferences, maybe even some jobs and scholarships. While you… don’t make me laugh with all the privileges you enjoy as a member of the majority…

I’m like other immigrants, but not like every other immigrant. I’m one among the million who have come to Quebec over the three decades since I came, attracted by the promise of a better life. The majority were chosen by Quebec as economic immigrants, others admitted as refugees or reunified with their families by the federal government. Some came as children, most of them were adults; some came by themselves, others as part of a couple or family. Some came with pockets full, others were destitute and counting on getting help from their families, the community or the government. Some spoke French, others not a word. Some came to embrace Quebec’s uniqueness, others came in spite of it, and still others could have cared less. Some were adventurers, others had a thoughtfully crafted game plan. Some stayed only long enough to obtain their passports, others never left. People ended up here by chance or by plan; often, a little bit of both. And they were all supposedly destined to enrich Quebec, financially and culturally, according to official propaganda and general consensus.

I’m no doubt one of the Saviours welcomed to Quebec to help solve your problems: your economy, the balance of political power in your dealings with Canada, your debt, your aging, your labour shortage and, of course, the fact that you’re closed to the world. That’s a lot of weight on my shoulders (and on others like me), and also represents a lot of promises made to the Québécois de souche.* There will be more than enough legitimate disappointments to go around later on down the road.

You certainly can’t blame that on me! I think that so far, I’ve done my part for the integration of immigrants in general and of myself in particular. And it seems to me that, quite frankly, you have too. But the line outside the American Dream boutique is stretching longer by the day, and it’s no surprise that for every person intrigued by identity and cultural politics, there is another who is troubled by how these politics play out on the ground.

The problems of alienation and increasing social, ethnic and religious tensions that confront

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