Sunday, October 23, 2005

Assimilation and All That

I had a friend over tonight and, while reminiscing about days at the lake (our families camped together for 5 years), we got on to people moving to this country from exotic (read: not the UK or similar). Don't know how we got from camping to assimilation; freewheeling/steam of consciousness or something, I guess.

It is sad but hilarious how Canadians who don't travel -- and going to Vegas twice a year does not count as travel -- have such rude opinions of people who move here from abroad and how those people should assimilate right friggin' now.

So here's the question: Imagine you're the 45 year old man at left here. You have a wife and three youngish kids. You live in a politically volatile environment. You've worked really hard all your life and have managed to get a PhD, which, in your country, doesn't provide you with much beyond a lower middle class existence.

For your children, you scrimp, save and consciously choose to have no extras in order that you can someday move to another country where the opportunities are nearly unlimited and where your children can grow up free from war and the possibility of dying or being severely maimed. You learn the language of that country and after three or four year of navigating the immigration process, you move to a completely, utterly alien culture.

On arrival, you learn that in order to work in your field, the one you're very highly trained for and in which you have some 20 years experience, you must pass a rigorous exam, which requires another year of study and a relatively large application fee.

Add to this the stress of living among people whose dress, customs, religion, food, norms and mores are entirely unknown to you.

How fast could you assimilate? I'm thinking it would take a while, hmmm?

Add to all that, one of your physical characteristics marks you as an outsider and, for whatever reason, predisposes people to making all sorts of erroneous assumptions about you and causes them not only to be frightened of you but also suspicious.

You finally find solace in the small community of others who come from where you came, which, although it provides you some peace and respite from the strange, serves to further alienate you from the larger population.

Do you think it would be easy?

So here's my question: why is it that so many Canadians think that people who come to this country can somehow instantly turn off their own ingrained culture and suddenly become fully assimilated into Canadian culture (whatever that is)?

Could you do it? Could you pick up and move to Nairobi, say, and instantly become African? Instantly understand all the subtle points of culture? Instantly understand the African way of life, African manners, business? I think not.

So, next time you get into a cab with some guy with skin so black it looks purple or with a turban on his head, or with a thick Balkan accent, consider what that person has chosen to give up in order to provide a life for himself, and possibly his wife, children and maybe even his parents. Consider that he has probably worked for many years as a professional, only to come here and be forced to give up his profession for a year -- or sometimes forever. Consider actually talking to that person and finding out who they are and where they're from. Guaranteed you'll be surprised.

Canadians who bitch and moan about immigrants or who bitch and moan about living in this country should do us all a favour and go traveling to somewhere uncomfortable for two months. Go to where people emigrate from, sit yourself down there and contemplate just how difficult it would be to leave your life, your family -- everything you know -- permanently, for something possibly better.

And while you're at it, imagine living in a place where, at any instant, you child could be shot at or blown up on their way to school; where you might have to walk 10 miles to get your sick child to the doctor and where there may not be a doctor for three more days; where there is lots of disease but not a lot of treatment; where the government is beyond corrupt; where the religious establishment controls everything including how long you can grow your hair and how high off the ground your daughter can raise her eyes without risk of being stoned to death.

Then come back to Canada, sit down and think about how rich you are here. And think about how lucky you are to live here already and how bloody great it is that there is so much opportunity, so little risk of having your favourite cafe blown up, and how really quite funny our politicians are. I'm pretty sure there aren't any pictures of Saddam or Osama coming to a press conference in a wet suit...

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