This post is personal to me. It's not about cold, abstract politics. Nor is it about personalities, graft or corruption. No, this post is what it means to be degraded. Degraded not for who you are as a person, as a father, as a husband, as a son. Not for what you have accomplished in life or the people you have touched along the way. No, this degradation is solely based on your place of birth.
While Newfoundlanders like to be seen as friendly and hospitable, there is an ugly side. People born outside the province, who move to the province, are referred to as "mainlanders" or "come from aways" (CFAs is the common term used). I have even heard the term "foreigners" used. The terms are not meant as playful labels. They are meant to separate the newcomers from those born in the province, and the implication is these newcomers are somehow inferior.
My first experience with this prejudice occurred during a political convention of the PC party in St. John's. Sitting in the audience, and taking in my first political convention here, it was a time of real excitement. Joining me was my wife who, along with me and my family, had uprooted our lives out west to return to my roots (more of that later). On the stage was a gentlemen named John Dinn. I didn't know him from Adam, but he was a MHA and I was eager to take in what he had to say. He began talking about Canadians and then he said the words that struck my heart: "but we are better than them". The crowd roared with approval.
In one short moment I was instantly alienated from the people of my forefathers. In that one instant I realized that there was a poison in the water. A need to look down on others for a sense of superiority. A deep routed, commonly cherished place to retreat where at least among ourselves there were those beneath us. I have come to believe, through life experience, that those that look down upon others are compensating for something lacking in their own soul. A sense that without that common arrogance we might just vanish as a people. The opposite of pride. A great inferiority complex. That to make ourselves strong we must keep others down.
I was shocked, and remain so, that the Newfoundland I was brought up with in family stories was so tragically different. You see, my people come from here. In 1820 my great-great grandfather emigrated to Newfoundland from Tipperary, Ireland, along with many others at that time. His name was Micheal O'Meagre. He settled in Bonavista Bay, and had three sons. Two sons, Catholics, married Protestant women in Greenspond, and were banished from the family - such was the religious intolerance of the day. The third son, my great grandfather, married a Hollohan from Summerville, settled on Burnt Island, and fathered a large family.
Times were hard then, and the two eldest boys went to Montreal to work in construction. In 1907, while returning from Summerville to Burnt Island, my great grandfather William Maher (as the name had been changed to) and a Kelly were struck by the boom of his schooner, knocked over board, and their bodies were never found. My great grandmother struggled to feed her daughters after that, and they all moved to Montreal to join her sons - my grandmother being the youngest. They struggled, and yet they persevered.
I never knew my grandmother to ever look down her nose at another. She was a strong woman who spent her life looking after her family. She was quiet, wise and kind. The tragedies of her life, including losing her father at a young age, never broke her spirit or poisoned her temperment. Her stories of Newfoundland, and the family were always tempered with humility. Her pride came from deep within, and never at the expense of another.
It was with her spirit in mind that I moved to Newfoundland - in my mind returning to my roots, my ancestral home. Nothing prepared me to be seen as somehow unfit or inferior. Nothing prepared me to hear the anguish of my children as they suffered daily ridicule at school for being "dumb mainlanders" or "CFAs". Nothing can really prepare you for that kind of society-sanctioned hatred. Even in my own harbour. A local had asked to tie off his boat to my dock, which of course I agreed to. As is the case, we struck up our usual conversation. The topic switched to my children who had finally had enough degrading and moved back west with their mother. I explained to him why, and to my shock he began laughing. It was funny in his mind, as he explained, that Newfoundlanders were the butt of "Newfie" jokes, as he put it, and now the shoe was on the other foot. In disbelief I untied his boat. The sickness of deep hatred and contempt weighing heavy on my soul. Somehow, a victory could be stolen from the suffering of children?
My point in writing this blog is to shed a light. That hatred and false pride produce nothing but poison. Poison to the personal and collective soul. That Newfoundlanders can be proud of who they are without demeaning those that, by choice, become Newfoundlanders themselves. That there is no magic being born on these shores, but rather what is contributed while we live on them. That no society is of a pure blood strain, and emigration has always been a fact of life throughout Newfoundland's 500 year history. Without it there would be but a place. The pride and place that Newfoundlanders seem preoccupied with comes from lifting people up, and not tearing them down. A truly proud people are not disdainful of others, but welcome them as equals. This is the Newfoundland I hope to see. I say this as a Newfoundlander.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)