Exploring multiculturalism and immigration during these turbulent times
The word ‘immigrant’ evokes many emotions in me every time I hear it. It connotes a sense of hope and excitement that a family will be starting their new life in this country, yet it’s paired with a sense of nervousness for the trials they will face. Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and many citizens will be marking this day by reflecting on their own cultural diversity, demonstrating how immigration has essentially shaped this country over the last century.
Being an immigrant anywhere in the world is often a daunting and terrifying experience. To gather up all you own and say goodbye to the home and friends you’ve always known for a chance at something better is a perilous task many of us will never have to face. I myself have had the privilege of being born a Canadian citizen because my parents immigrated to Canada from Pakistan over 30 years ago.
“One out of five people in Canada’s population is foreign-born” according to a 2011 report released by Statistics Canada. Approximately 1.1 million foreigners immigrated to this country between 2006 and 2011, according to the same report. New data should be available in the near future though, considering the Trudeau government conducted a nationwide census in 2016.
But the question remains—is Canada truly home for immigrants and their families? Yes. I think many immigrants would agree. Canada is the country that has given many a new life, opportunities and freedoms. For my father, it’s a place where he has been able to see his children benefit from things he could never have dreamed of as a child, such as the education or healthcare systems.
Many families who have immigrated are now seeing their former homes face catastrophic war or other devastating situations. This strengthens our sense of gratitude for our new home and the opportunities it has brought our families.
However, it’s not as if we’ve forgotten where we came from. Many of my friends refer to themselves as Pakistani-Canadian, Syrian-Canadian or Vietnamese-Canadian, and consider both Canada and their former or parent’s former country as home.
Sadly, Canada still has a long way to go to be considered truly multicultural. For example, public schools rarely celebrate or educate their students about any holiday traditions other than Christmas, such as Hanukkah, Eid, or Diwali. Though the cultures are prevalent, they are not really celebrated in the mainstream.
Without question, the experience of being a non-immigrant Canadian is much different than that of an immigrant, or the child of an immigrant. I can’t count how many times, after telling someone I’m Canadian, I’ve gotten the response, “No, I mean where are you actually from?” Though harmless questions like that are the least of my worries, I am concerned by the recent surge in racist propaganda that has popped up on Canadian campuses, including McGill and the University of Toronto. Flyers with “Make Canada Great Again,” or “Fuck Your Turban” strewn across them in big letters have made appearances at across schools in the country, according to CBC News. So, although Canada is unquestionably our home, there’s still a sense that many people here don’t agree. And what can be done?
Realistically, we have to continue moving towards bringing multiculturalism to the forefront, especially to the younger generations. Growing up, it was rare that anyone was curious about my Pakistani heritage, but as I got older and met international students, I found they were much more open and curious about my culture. This is the key—to open our minds and continue to learn about each other’s pasts.