Where are you from?

Over the past 13 years, I have represented clients from more than 100 countries. Each case is an opportunity to learn about different cultures and backgrounds. We get to know all the personal details of our clients and we are privileged to be invited to our clients’ family celebrations. When I first meet clients, they often ask, “where are you from?” To an extent, it makes sense to answer the question and share my background, as they share all the details of their history. At the same time, we want to focus on helping our clients and I prefer not to spend a lot of time talking about myself. For this reason, I have decided to write this post. So if you are interested in my background, read on….

If you listened to my TEDx talk on YouTube, you will know that my father sponsored my mother through a Spousal Sponsorship application. They met at International House at the University of Chicago where they were each pursuing a PhD. During the Vietnam War, my mother was actively involved in helping American men evade the draft.When they moved to Canada, they settled in Edmonton, Alberta where I was born and raised.

My father’s family has strong roots in Ontario. My family on that side goes back at least 5 generations. Beyond that, they have not kept track. My paternal grandparents lived in North York and, in the early 1900s, they owned Idywylde camp in Ontario. Personally, I never went to camp but my father has many fond memories.

My mother’s side is more complicated. Her parents are from Kansas, USA. Her mother was the eldest of 10 children and she grew up on a farm during the depression. She joked that she walked to and from school uphill 10 miles everyday. We would, of course, chide her that it is impossible to walk uphill in both directions.

My maternal grandparents both graduated from the University of Kansas, where my grandfather completed his medical degree. After they married, my grandfather worked at Johns Hopkins University where he did research on finding treatments for chemical weapons. During WWII, they were worried the Japanese would send balloons with anthrax and my grandfather worked on a cure. Afterwards, they moved to Red Wing, Minnesota where he had a general practice in medicine and he worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

We are not sure when my mother’s family arrived to the USA. Her mother’s family is originally from France, going back 3 or 4 generations. Her father’s family did not keep good records. There is running speculation that we may have African blood based on how easily we tan.

My sister did a genetic test from one of the online services. According to that test, she is 95% European with ties to Italy, Scotland, England and France. The other 5% is from other parts, including north Africa.

Now it gets more complicated. When I was growing up, we had exchange students from Japan, Brazil, Thailand, Switzerland, South Africa and many other countries. I consider these students to be part of my extended family. My Brazilian exchange sister Tachi, for example, died from leukemia and it affected the whole family. When I was in Bangkok, I stayed with my Thai exchange brother.

After graduating from high school in Edmonton, I was an exchange student on AFS in Ecuador where I completed a high school diploma in Spanish. I still have strong ties to Ecuador and my exchange family. During that time in the sun, I will say that my skin darkened and, after a while, I looked “latino”, possibly due to African blood on my maternal grandfather’s side. To this day, I feel strong ties to Latinoamerica.

After university, I moved to Japan and spent 3 years in Asia. It was a wonderful time where I learned Japanese and traveled throughout the continent. I would say that my time in Japan has greatly affected my sense of identity to the point that I joined the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) – Western, as an honorary member. I am not, of course, Asian Canadian.

As you can read from the above, my family has strong ties to many parts of the world. My wife’s family is from Romania. My sister married a British/ Indian citizen with family in Switzerland. My cousin married a Panamian.

I love learning about different cultures and exploring esoteric parts of our planet. I love to venture out and take the paths less traveled. I have moved 24 times and lived on 4 continents. Now that we are settled in Winnipeg, I love helping people come to Canada.