Our neighborhood is a microcosm of Canada. A predominantly Portuguese and Italian locality just over a decade ago, it is now home to newcomers from India, the Philippines, China, Romania, South Africa, Pakistan, Jamaica, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Sudan and several other countries. Each time my wife and I set out for a stroll, it gives us a lot of joy to watch young kids around the block – literally representing the globe – shooting hoops, playing street hockey or soccer, or simply speed-chasing each other on their cycles. They are oblivious to all the divisive labels being used to define humans.
One morning this past week, I walked into the room where my wife was watching one of her favorite shows on TV. The four ladies hosting the popular show were discussing hot-button topics in the news. Each of the ladies is a first or second generation immigrant to Canada. Canadian elections and the increasingly belligerent pronouncements from the “illustrious leader” south of the border were being discussed. Touching on the subject of immigration, one of the hosts shared with the viewers that she had a nanny from the Philippines for her baby-girl. A young mother herself, she could not imagine how painful it must be for her nanny to leave behind her own kids and shower love and affection on another child. She said no mother deserved to be separated from her children just to earn a living and felt that the least she could do was to try and reunite the nanny with her family. The young lady added she was trying her best to bring the nanny’s family to join her in Canada and had written to several MPs, MPPs and Councillors to explore options. It was most heartening to watch the audience reaction; they applauded her actions and spontaneously shouted out expressions of encouragement and support.
Those of us who have lived in the Middle East, are familiar with the plight of “maids” and nannies. Middle-aged and young ladies predominantly from the subcontinent and the Philippines were a common feature in each home. We had L, less a maid or nanny and more a family member, who was with us for almost 10 years. After her day’s chores were done, she would cuddle up with our then six or seven years old son and wrapped up under a blanket, the two of them would enthusiastically enjoy their favorite World Wrestling Federation (WWF) episodes on TV. She had left behind her two daughters and would often have tears in her eyes when she received a message from her mother “back home” bringing her the latest news of the young girls she had left behind. After we immigrated to Canada, I was jobless for a year. L would call regularly from Dubai to wish each of us on our birthday, Christmas or other special occasions. In spite of our insistence that we would call her back, she refused to provide us with her telephone number, confiding to my wife, “Madam, Sir does not have a job. Things are difficult for him right now, so I only will call you”. What value can one place on such a relationship that is priceless!
Each of us has her/his own story of landing in the country of our choice with the proverbial “X” dollars in our pocket. Years later, it is with pride that we now recount how our parents and/or we overcame the challenges of settling in a new country. If we look back at those initial days that were full of hope alternating sometime with hopelessness, frustration countered by encouragement from unexpected sources; we are also able to recount acts of kindness by people known or alien to us. Helping hands that pulled us up when we were down, words that comforted when all seemed lost and random acts of kindness that will forever remain fresh in our mind.
Now is the time for us to pay it forward. It is too shallow an excuse to take refuge behind empty slogans and disallow those in need from following us to this land of immigrants.
In an interview, Doug Saunders, author of Arrival City: The Final City and Our Next World, states, “There is a transitional culture for the first few generations where people have a divided sense of where home is. But we don’t need to get too pinned down on specifically what home is. If conditions on the ground are favorable to people, then it will become home to them.”
Let us make Canada a welcome abode for those that wish to call it home.