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Being an immigrant is hard

Originally published on July 21, 2021 -

People often think immigrants have it easy. They imagine that the country they fled was so bad, anything would be better — especially a new life in Canada.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Immigrants pine for the family they left behind. They grieve the loss of their cultural and social identity and agonize over whether they will ever actually “fit in.”

This is in addition to the usual things that everyone else struggles with, such as finances, changing family dynamics, work and health. They also deal with more mundane things such as learning to drive on a different side of the road, time and seasonal changes or even learning to dress for these changes.

Is it any wonder that many immigrants, desperately seeking the familiar, often choose to settle in the same communities? The following story of is typical of many Canadian immigrants.

When Rob moved to Toronto in the mid ’80s, nothing seemed familiar to him. He was 23 and alone in one of Canada’s biggest cities. Originally from the Caribbean, he gravitated toward Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood for its significant Caribbean community. Seeing faces like his own was comforting. Hearing the unique singsong dialect heard in many Caribbean countries made him feel at home.

Toronto in the ’80s was still trying to find its way in the world. White-power skinheads roamed the streets, and any unlucky brown person — or “Paki,” as we were called — caught in their path could face a severe beating.

Not all racial interactions promised the threat of violence. More so veiled actions and words laced with racial intolerance.

“You people come here and steal our jobs”; or always having the privilege of being the only person with an empty seat next to me on the streetcar — unless it was another Black person or person of colour sitting there; or being followed around the store because staff were instructed to “Keep an eye on him, those people like to steal!”

Given all this, he soon grew tired of the familiarity of his Parkdale-Caribbean home away from home. He wanted to see more of this place he now called home. He had a burning desire to really experience Canada, and he felt that the neighbourhood roots that once nourished were now suffocating him.

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