There are few places in the world that ever had the multicultural-cultural current of Montreal in the 1980’s. The validation of French as the central language in Quebec and the growth of a wave of ethnic immigration made Montreal a wonderland of foreign-looking storefronts, languages, scents and restaurants.
Dino himself was born in Beirut, Lebanon to a Coptic Egyptian father and a Greek mother and lived in Cairo as a small child before the family moved to a Jewish neighborhood in the English part of town in the predominantly French city of Montreal. As French Quebeckers’ nationalist and separatist aspirations grew, the perchance justified antipathy to the English generalized to all non-Francophones. A political divide opened up along language lines and anyone non-French became an ethnic minority subject to a subtle and nefarious kind of discrimination. Nobody was killed, there was no ethnic cleansing, people were not taken into ghettos and gas chambers, but the subtlety of the discrimination is what made it so odious. Like a frog in boiling water, we all got used to the idea of being a second class citizen.
The historical justification was valid, after all, since the French had been treated poorly in similar way for nearly two centuries. History shows that the people who were once oppressed politically or economically, merely repeat the actions of their oppressors when they themselves come to power. As though one man’s oppression justifies the payback; but in Quebec it was like any political and economic oppression of a minority, just milder in intensity. The family had experienced in the decline of Christian Egypt after successive waves of Muslim tutelage. DIno’s great grandfather was a refugee from Constantinople during the Turkish slaughter of Greeks. Many of Montreal’s immigrants had left their homelands to escape injustices of variable degrees but the same essential flavor: one group seeking dominance over another. Quebec’s separatist leaders were only ever called out for their political bigotry by a small and marginal group of vocal radicals.
Back in the US, it took Dino some time to shed the notion of belonging to an oppressed minority. A white man in his thirties did not gain sympathy in Atlanta, where the black population had been so horribly discriminated against for decades. Casting oneself as an ethnic minority in Atlanta held virtually no currency in the cultural and racial context of America’s South. The worthwhile outcome of living in Atlanta for Dino is that it allowed the self-reflection needed to confront one’s own prejudices. Human beings seem to have an unfortunate tendency to define their group-belonging by exclusion as much as by inclusion. Dino’s observation would suggest a sense of place being one of the most important elements of the status of group belonging. Wars are fought over land with both people and resources being subsidiary considerations. Religion, ethnicity and culture add so much richness to the world, but it seems to be a central fact of the human condition that there is a tension between a desirable affinity for a particular group and the undesirable exclusion of those who don’t fit or agree with the principal values of the group.
Dino’s life trajectory involves numerous brushes with group identification, so it is central to his world view to be inclusive and not exclude. He also rejects labels which often serve as an inaccurate short-hand way of communicating ideologies, especially those which others apply to him, such as being liberal or conservative, devout or an apostate, a profit-oriented business man or a visionary altruist. None of these labels capture the subtleties and contradictions of human existence and the complexities of any person’s strengths and failings.