My parents immigrated to Canada over 40 years ago – my father made the journey first, looking for a better education and job security. My mother followed shortly after through ties of marriage, and together, they worked hard to make Canada their home. Starting a new life wasn’t easy, and at times my parents, like many other immigrants, still feel like they are on that journey.
I was talking to a friend about all the issues I see newcomer Canadians struggling with, and how badly I wish I could help. She made a quick comment and changed the topic, “why do you care so much anyways, you were never a newcomer”. She continued on to talk about her husband and plans for the weekend, but I found it hard to hear anything she was saying.
The loss of identity, language barriers, depression, not to mention the financial burden of relocating their lives, it all seems like too much for anyone to bear. But why does it bother me so much, why do I feel such an attachment to newcomers? Instantly I began to think about all the stories my parents had told me growing up, about their own newcomer experiences. My brother and I used to laugh and say that my dad sounded like Bill Cosby telling scary tales of struggle to his children, but deep down inside we both knew they were true.
One of my favourites was his story about the mid-winter snow storm that had him walking 2 kms in knee deep snow due to a missed bus after work. After arriving at home, my dad realized that somewhere along the way he had lost his boot, but his feet were too frozen to even notice. Or the many times my parents had to carefully draft out what they wanted to say to the bank teller, in fear that she wouldn’t understand their request. I also vividly remember the looks that people used to give us in our predominantly white neighborhood, or the way the teachers used to speak to my mother, loud and slow…as though she was deaf and they were doing her a favour.
I feel like it is these stories and experiences that have helped me appreciate the trials of newcomer Canadians. I remember when I first started working with newcomers in the schools I found it really difficult. Every time I met with a South Asian man I felt like it was my father, and I wanted to help as much as I could. Every woman that said she felt helpless and alone made we want to jump across my office and hug her…comfort her…tell her that things will get better, I promise.
As a child of immigrants, I feel strongly connected to my parent’s struggle, and want to help other newcomer Canadians as much as I can…you don’t have to be a newcomer to be passionate about the issues, you just have to remember where you came from.
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