The rabid, irrational anti-immigrant sentiment that has been growing in the US & elsewhere and the breathtakingly racist Trump order that was enacted this weekend have affected me deeply. I’m trying to figure out why.
I came to Canada as an international student (one type of visitor visa), was a temporary resident in the US (on another type of visa) and ultimately officially immigrated to Canada going through all the associated paperwork, background security and medical checks. I lived in the US as a temporary resident (requiring another visa, more paperwork, while having a transient status in Canada, but always maintaining UK citizenship – all of which has confused a fair share of border guards in various countries). I have plenty of stories of dealing with immigration officials over the years. They ranged from compassionate and knowledgeable to uninformed and abusive. For the most part, I managed to move back and forth across borders, without too much trouble (although frequently delayed by having to go over and over my status and paperwork).
Immigrating, being a temporary resident or a refugee, is not an easy, cheap or fun route to get into a country. I’ve had all the privilege and advantages associated with being white, highly educated and English-speaking and that has made my route much easier than many others. But like other immigrants and certainly all refugees, I’ve given up much – very consciously and intentionally – for the opportunity to gain, and I hope, contribute much. For about 20 of the last 30 years – the first thing I would have to grab in a fire, above and beyond everything else, was my passport, with that special stamp or piece of paper in it. Because that is the essence of your existence – your identity, your right to be here. And in return for that privilege and opportunity, we immigrants give up family and friends, shared histories of our communities or towns or countries, familiar traditional stories, music, cultures, traditional foods and local or regional ways of everyday life. We leave behind childhoods of sports, activities, TV shows, favourite characters that are unknown in our new adopted country. We leave behind parts of ourselves, those things that have made us who we are. But we bring with us new ideas, perspectives, and new ways of doing things. Occasionally, people will say something to me that demonstrates they think of me as “other”, as non-Canadian (usually in reference to my accent). It hurts because I feel I have worked so hard to contribute, integrate and learn new ways. It reminds me that it must be 1000x worse for immigrants who don’t look like me and who sound even “less” Canadian than me. I think that’s why I am feeling the anti-immigrant rhetoric personally – for those who work so hard, give up so much and still are not accepted. It makes me terribly sad.
There is good evidence in support the power of diversity to stimulate and promote innovation and creativity. I am proud to see Canada step up to help those being harassed and marginalized by irrational directives from a racist and dangerous US administration. I’m deeply saddened by the racist attack on people practicing their faith in Quebec.
I remain a proud and grateful immigrant.